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Question: I have been married for nineteen years and I was wondering if you know what I should do. The problem is that my husband always ignores me when he's watching TV - no matter what is on - even during commercials. What can I do to stop that? I feel so useless and unwanted. ...Marie
Answer: Since you did not say that your husband ignores you at other times, as well, I have to assume he engages in this behavior solely when he's watching television, and that he isn't otherwise an insensitive jerk. And if this is the only time he ignores you, then I will conclude that this isn't a symptom of a much larger relationship problem, and instead focus my comments on why I believe he treats you this way during TV time, and what steps you might take to change things.
First it is important to understand how most men view television. Often we perceive it as an escape: from our jobs; from our worries; from our responsibilities. In other words, it's a kind of electronic oasis; a safe place for us to relax and unwind; the "cave" that John Gray referred to in his popular book, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" (our other favorite cave is the bathroom, but that's a whole other story). As such, when we crawl into this virtual cocoon, we do it to download. And unlike computers, and well...you - multitasking is not our strong suit. So carrying on a conversation with us while we're blissed-out in front of the tube, can become a frustrating, demoralizing, and ultimately very unsatisfying exercise indeed. Is his behavior rude? Yes. Is it understandable why you'd be upset? Absolutely. So shouldn't your husband stop watching television and pay attention to you? Maybe. But right now his need to relax is being infringed upon by your need to converse. So who's need should win out?
Well, in a fair and equitable world, half the time your needs would supersede his, while the other half, his would be top priority. But very few things in life are fair, which is especially true in relationships. What is also true, is that in the scenario you presented, both of you probably feel like the wronged party. And surprise, surprise, you're both right!
So how can you resolve this impasse and salve your hurt feelings, while still being attentive to your hubby's need for peace and quiet? I would suggest talking to him about this issue when you do have his complete attention, and certainly not while he's focused on ESPN. Explain that you recognize his need to vegetate in front of the television periodically, and that you are going to do your best to respect his solitude in those times. But along with your promise to be mindful and considerate of his needs, on those occasions when you do find it necessary to interrupt his viewing, he needs to mute or turn off the TV and pay attention to you and your needs. If your husband is a reasonable and loving man (if he's not, why are you with him?), as he sees you being true to your word and notices you're being more respectful of his "me time," he is likely to be more open to your interruptions on those now-less-frequent occasions when they do occur.
Please understand that I am not suggesting you give your husband a free pass to ignore you for large amounts of time, just because he happens to be in front of the television. I am saying that everyone needs a reasonable amount of time to themselves at the end of the day, and your giving your husband this time to himself, uninterrupted, will go a long way to improving the overall quality of the rest of the time you spend together. You are respecting his needs, which should, in turn, encourage him to be respectful of yours. If you do this and find that he is still ignoring you, then his inconsideration indicates other, more serious problems in your relationship, and further discussion and perhaps marriage counseling is indicated.
If you have any questions about men, relationships, dating or a related topic, please feel free to email them to me at: david@EveryManSeesYouNaked.com. I will try to answer as many as I possibly can here in my column. If you are interested in a more comprehensive compendium of musings on the male mind, check out David's Every Man Sees You Naked: An Insider's Guide to How Men Think.
(c) 2010 David M. Matthews. All Rights Reserved.