My husband just plays video games

His pending medical discharge from the military seems to have crushed his spirit

Published September 10, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am seeking your advice regarding how I can best help my husband to mature and take responsibility. I know that I can't change who he is (and I would never desire to do so, for he is incredibly kind, intelligent and sensitive), but I need, for the sake of our future, to help him grow up.

My husband is in his mid-30s and is in the process of being discharged from the military due to medical issues. He is dealing with the impact of this by becoming even more withdrawn and irresponsible than he was previously. I am at a loss because the military never suited him. Every evening of our seven-year marriage, when he was not deployed, I have been regaled with horrifying stories of the insensitivities and brutalities of his co-workers. Still, he had spent 15 years of his life there, and he was going to attempt to reach retirement before the combat-related medical issues arose. Therefore, I am aware that he is emotionally and mentally coping with a lot at the moment.

However, he has been irresponsible for quite some time, and his lack of maturity seems to be growing. He loves video games and will spend hours enjoying them.  While I also enjoy gaming, I limit my time doing it so that I can accomplish things like cleaning, cooking, taking care of our pets, working, writing and visiting friends. My husband will, if left to his own devices (i.e., no prodding or prompting from me), sit at the computer all day. Usually, this does not cause many problems for me other than the mounting feelings of resentment at having to handle everything at home, but today he neglected to go to a meeting necessary to continue the processing of his application for assistance with his medical issues. I called him from my work to see how the meeting went and his vague responses added to the sound of his video game in the background let me know that he had not, in fact, gone. When I asked again, he admitted that he had not gone because he did not feel like it.

He is in his mid-30s, has above-average intelligence, and recognizes the possible ramifications for his actions. Each time there is an incident like this, he tells me that he knows I am correct and that he needs to change, but it never happens. I do not want to leave him, but I do want to have a secure future with a partner that I respect and trust has our best interest at heart. I am not sure if I see him as that partner any longer. Should I issue an ultimatum? (I do not like the idea of that.) Should I simply back off and let him handle the repercussions of his action/inaction despite the negative effects it could have on me as well? I am worrying over what will happen to him once he is discharged to the point where I am having anxiety attacks. I have never had an issue with public speaking, and last week when I walked in front of a group of my co-workers to read a report, I froze and felt my throat closing. Meditation helps my anxiety, but it does not solve the problem. I appreciate any insight you or your readers may provide.


Fearful and Loving in L.A.

Dear Fearful and Loving,

As you say, he is "emotionally and mentally coping with a lot at the moment." A psychologist might call what your husband is going through an "adjustment disorder."

The U.S. National Library of Medicine's PubMed Health site has useful information on this, as does the famed Mayo Clinic. As a military veteran, your husband also has access to many mental-health resources that can help him through this hard time.

Help is available. That does not mean he will easily or quickly accept that he needs help. Even as he comes to accept that, he may still be slow in taking the necessary steps. You will have to be patient. You may have to adjust some of your own views about who he is and what he is capable of.

This will be a tough time for both of you. But you can get through it. You will encounter resistance, and it will not be easy, but once he gets the help he needs, over a period of months, he will adopt the needed coping skills and begin to exhibit his old self again.

Hang in there. When people are in a stressful transition, their usual habits and methods of coping can fail them.

Of course, knowing this doesn't make it any easier for you to live with and accept. His adjustment may take longer than you would like. This is often the case with emotional and mental adjustments. It takes us longer than we realize.

My observation, based on the many letters I receive, is that we humans more or less systematically and predictably underestimate the time it will take us to adjust to new situations. I'll bet there are studies on this. You could probably look it up. Some rare people adjust quickly. Most of us take time.

That's my anecdotal observation. I would love to hear what clinicians and experts have to say about it.

By Cary Tennis

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