Feeling Distant Doesn’t Necessarily Mean That it’s Over
Linda: Warren loved to watch spectator sports on TV. In the summer he watched baseball, in the fall he watched football, and in the winter he watched basketball. He’d watch golf, tennis, and even wrestling. He viewed a number of other shows in addition to sports events, but sports were his favorites.
The TV went on as soon as he woke up in the morning. The first thing he did when he came home from work was turn on the TV, sometimes walking right by Justine without greeting her. One person might say Warren watched a lot of TV; another person would say Warren watched TV compulsively. TV has been called the “plug-in drug” and Warren certainly used it to alter his mood. He didn’t like his work and used the TV as soon as he got home to forget his work hassles.
Justine had enabled his habit by bringing him dinner on a TV tray so he could continue watching his programs while he ate. But Justine was suffering from neglect and growing more and more lonely in the marriage. She sometimes stood in front of the TV to attempt to talk to Warren, which irritated him. Justine’s efforts to bridge the terrible distance between them had not been working. She began to despair that the marriage was over, and she began planning for the divorce and being single again. Justine had had enough. She decided to make a last-ditch effort. They had a “showdown.”
In this impassioned discussion, Warren told Justine that he loved her. It was the first time in a very long time that Justine had heard this, and she was encouraged. She told him that her preference was not to leave the marriage, but that she was very unhappy, and did not feel loved. She told Warren that she couldn’t go on the way they had been. Warren agreed to ration the TV watching time and to spend at least 15 minutes with Justine when he came home from work to debrief about their day. He also agreed to sit down at the kitchen table to share dinner with his wife and to plan outings with her on the weekends.
Tearing himself away from the TV was painful for Warren. He didn’t do it very gracefully at first. He felt deprived and controlled, but he didn’t want to lose his marriage. Over time, he came to speak of the stress at his job that he had been avoiding with all that TV watching. He shared more of himself with her. He shared how ashamed he felt at not being able to change things at work or to leave the job. Justine wasn’t judgmental, and they got closer from their conversations, creating a deeper intimacy.
Justine had taken a risk when she drew her boundaries and asked for what she wanted. She didn’t know if Warren would choose separation and divorce or to change. Her risk ended up benefiting them both, and they improved their marriage. Both of them derived satisfaction from the rearrangement of their free time. Sometimes we have to risk it all to have it all.