April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Concerned That My Wife’s Hobby Will Pull Us Apart

Dear Dr. Chani,

My wife and I have been discussing an issue repeatedly over the past year and I would love to hear your perspective on it. I can see my wife’s point of view but I am not sure that she can see mine. I’m wondering if I’m totally wrong about the way I think or if my feelings have some merit.

We’ve been married for over 20 years and our children have begun to leave our home and move on in life. Our youngest is now 7 years old. While our children were growing up, my wife worked part-time as a teacher so that her schedule would match our children’s routine and she could be home when they came home. She has always been dedicated to our family and put me and my children first.

Now that my wife has more free time on her hands, she would like to pursue a passion she never had the chance to develop—to perform ballet. In order to do this she plans to travel an hour away two evenings a week to a place where there is an Orthodox Jewish ballet academy.

I understand that my wife has talents that she would like to develop and that now is a time in her life that she can turn her attention to ballet. She feels that now is a unique opportunity for her to invest time into ballet since she is still young and athletic enough to dance but doesn’t have the same demands for her attention at home.

That last point is where my wife and I differ. Although our children are more self-sufficient than they were while they were school-age, I think we still need her around. I feel like she is kind of putting me and our children in second place behind her dream of becoming a professional ballerina. I fear that if she starts ballet, we will often end up coming home to an empty house and will have to make supper for ourselves. I dread the feeling of my wife and me being in two different worlds, leading parallel lives, and drifting apart.

What do you think about my wife’s goal and my opinion of it? If you agree with me, how can I convince my wife not to pursue her passion?

Thanks for your help,

Josh

Dear Josh,

Your questions about your wife’s plan to actualize her potential for ballet are understandable and thought-provoking. It sounds like you sense how important ballet is to your wife. At the same time, you are uneasy about upsetting the status quo. You worry about the ramifications it might have on your family dynamic and your relationship as a couple. Let’s explore some points for you to consider as you navigate this issue.

As with any difference of opinion among couples, it helps for you to first self-reflect about what is bothering you. When couples have a disagreement, they tend to keep repeating their positions about what they do or do not want without explaining where their opinions are coming from. Sometimes this is because they themselves are not aware of why they feel strongly about a specific position.

Try to break this cycle of simply repeating your opinion by asking yourself, “What is most concerning me about my wife’s plan?” “What past experiences may shape my opinion about it?” Think about what it means to you for your wife to choose to stay home and what it would mean if she traveled to practice ballet instead. One thing you might notice about yourself is that when your wife is at home and makes supper, you feel “taken care of,” and this really matters to you.

Another possibility you might observe is that having your wife at home is part of your cultural expectation of how spouses should divide their roles and responsibilities. You might come up with additional thoughts. Your answers to these questions can help you understand your position more, and perhaps convey your feelings to your wife so that she can also better understand you and address your concerns.

Bear in mind that, according to your description, right now you seem to lose either way. If your wife is not home in the evenings, you will feel lonely and sorry for yourself. Yet if you do not support her dream, this will also affect your relationship. It will be like immobilizing the wings of a beautiful butterfly. It is likely that your wife will feel stifled and resentful. So what can you do?

The way that you approach this challenge can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can do a lot to affect the outcome of this decision. The more you fear that your wife will become lost in her own world and distance herself from you, the more likely this is to become a reality. On the other hand, having a positive attitude towards your wife’s dream can help you and your wife work together to create a reality that satisfies both of you.

Part of the way to create a positive attitude yourself is by seeing the benefits that might result from supporting your wife. One of the ways spouses can enrich their relationship is by taking an interest in each other’s interests and supporting each other’s dreams. The relationship of a happy couple can be visualized by two circles that overlap. It is healthy for each member of a couple to have aspects of their lives that involve both of them. This is represented by the area in which the circles overlap. Yet it is also healthy for each member to have areas of their lives where they can express themselves as an individual. This is represented by the non-overlapping part of each circle. Within this space, each person can pursue his or her own interests, goals and dreams.

Research by Dr. Arthur Aron and others has demonstrated that couples who take an interest in each other’s interests tend to be happier. As they learn from each other’s interests, each partner grows—in a process Aron calls “self-expansion.” You may consider your wife’s interest in ballet as an opportunity for you to grow and learn something new by asking her why she enjoys ballet.

Self-expansion begins before your wife enrolls in the class. The more you show an interest in her interest in ballet, the more you can feel connected to each other. Furthermore, it will allow you to have a more collaborative conversation about your wife taking ballet. When someone senses that we are interested in their interest, they see us less as an opposing force and more as someone who wants to understand them.

The concepts of your own deeper reflection and of self-expansion can help you frame the conversations you have with your wife. Some of the most productive conversations a couple can have center around each of them sharing their own needs and thoughts, and trying to craft a win-win situation. Instead of looking at each part of the couple’s wants and opinions as mutually exclusive, put them on the table side by side, and work together to try to have as much of both of your needs met as possible. The experience of working together to get both of your needs met can be a catalyst for growth and connection as a couple, regardless of what you decide to do. It allows each person to express what they want and what is important to them. In addition, it helps the decision to be mutual, because the couple worked on it together.

Keep these points in mind as you proceed to discuss your wife’s plan to pursue ballet. A combination of being more in touch with your own feelings and aiming for a win-win solution can be helpful ways for you to navigate this challenge together and become an even stronger couple.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com 

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