My 65-year-old husband is putting his love of clubbing over my health

In this week's Pandemic Problems, a husband dismisses his wife's concerns about him attending a mask-optional rave

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published December 7, 2021 2:59PM (EST)

Older man dancing at a night club (Getty Images/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc)
Older man dancing at a night club (Getty Images/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc)

Dear Pandemic Problems,

My husband and I are 65 and both doubly-vaccinated. My husband likes going to nightclubs, raves and festivals, but so far has only attended outdoor events. He is soon going to a very large, indoor club event which I am very concerned about. There are no vaccine checks at the event and face coverings are not mandatory. Although we have been vaccinated I feel we need to be more cautious than younger people, because the risks of being hospitalized with Covid are higher for older people — even if they have been vaccinated.

My husband tells me I am over-anxious and accuses me of trying to control him. I have asked him to stay with his family afterwards, so that if he is infected he won't pass it on to me. He has refused. He is going with his brother who is younger than him and his nephew who is in his 20s. It is causing a lot of conflict in our relationship. It comes up regularly as this is something he enjoys doing and nothing I say will stop him.

Am I being overly cautious and controlling? I feel my husband doesn't care about my wellbeing.


Dancing on My Own

Dear Dancing on My Own,

I can see how you feel like you're dancing alone in this struggle. As I've told Pandemic Problem readers before, the pandemic has created new obstacles in our relationships— from unvaccinated roommates hosting parties to totally rational fears of nonfunctional masks. In some cases, it has exacerbated long-standing, thorny issues.

But perhaps what I see people struggle with most often is navigating relationships with their partners in this new era. When you married your husband, I'm sure you knew about his love for clubbing— and while it maybe wasn't your cup of tea, you accepted it. Now that clubbing is an activity that could lead to him bringing home a deadly virus, it has understandably become a point of tension.

I can assure you that you're not the only one in this club. Usually, I tell people in similar situations — like the woman whose husband refused to get vaccinated — to go to therapy together, if that's an option. But I know many people, like yourself, want answers now. Plus, this very large, indoor gathering (where there will be no vaccine card checks!) is coming up. So I reached out to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly to help, and I found her sound advice helpful for anyone in a marriage, even if there aren't any immediately pressing issues like yours.

First, Dr. Manly reminds us that one key to having a healthy and loving relationship is "the ongoing ability to empathically collaborate with a partner to find mutually satisfactory solutions to issues that arise."

Marriage is about compromise, after all. (Or so they say!)

"If a partner insists on 'having it my way' to the detriment of the other partner, the lack of empathy and consideration can be very damaging to the relationship in the long term," Dr. Manly said. "Unfortunately, partners who have this tendency often deflect by calling the other partner 'controlling' when, in fact, the insistent partner is exerting control through inflexibility."

Dr. Manly says you're engaging in a "reasonable couple-oriented behavior," as it pertains to your concern and suggested compromise.

"She is accepting her husband's participation in a variety of outdoor social events during the pandemic despite the possible risks, and when her husband wants to attend a large indoor event where masks and vaccination proof are not required, she offers a healthy, win-win alternative of him staying with family after the event in order to protect her health," Dr. Manly says. "Unfortunately, the husband refuses to compromise and appears more concerned with his personal enjoyment than his wife's overall well-being; as a result, the husband is ultimately controlling his wife through his rigid unwillingness to collaborate."

But don't worry, Dr. Manly says — there's a way to rectify this.

"In such cases, the lack of consideration for a partner's feelings and overall health often indicates deeper problems that are manifesting in self-focused behavior," Dr. Manly says. "The fix? When couples find themselves in situations such as this, it's important to stick to a few communication basics."

These communication basics go as follows, per Dr. Manly:

1. Mindfully agree to adopt collaborative, empathic mindsets; take great care to avoid "I want it my way" attitudes. 

2. State your needs using "I" messages such as "I feel unseen and disregarded when you don't consider the impact of your actions on my health."

3. Use "mirroring" or "reflective listening" to give each partner a chance to speak without interruption, and then repeat back (mirror) what the partner said. This strategy, when used mindfully, increases empathy for the other partner.

4. Work together to find a solution that feels like a win-win to both people.

5. If the relationship has a history of being lopsided (e.g., one partner being more self-interested than the other partner), fair collaboration may be difficult until the self-focused partner begins to shift. That said, don't give up. When partners are truly concerned for each other's well-being fair solutions can be found.

And I'd like to add something else. If possible, try to see the small silver lining with your husband's love for clubbing. At age 65, that fact that he still has a zest for life is certainly a good sign for your future together! I hope you can both come to an agreement, and that you no longer find yourself dancing on your own.


Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is an advice column that answers readers' pandemic questions — often with help from public health data, philosophy professors and therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing." Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

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By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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