I am sick of this club
December 14, 2012 10:01 AM   Subscribe

My husband is a longstanding member of a club that is full of drama. He feels compelled to listen to and give advice to any of the ranters in the club whenever they call which is, at the moment, every second day. Afterwards he feels anxious and shitty and dumps it all on me. Then I feel shitty.

TL:DR: What do I do to draw my boundaries and so I don't get so frustrated and resentful anymore?

I am getting so angry at my husband and at the phone whenever it rings. We have talked about the issue. Here are more details:

- The drama is mostly due to a visionary but emotional leader who is bad at managing conflicts, and a very ambitious goal they want to reach in Spring. Husband says he will leave the club after the goal is achieved. Drama involves people trying to oust his leadership, spreading discord, flaming out etc.
- Husband is good friend with this leader and feels compelled to keep him from making mistakes. I am also friends with him and was part of the club but resigned years ago because the drama frustrated me.
- Husband feels meh about his (actual) job which pays well and is not stressful but is a bit of a dead end. He has too much time on his hands.
- He suspects he has a winter depression that makes him obsess about negative things (I am planning on getting him a mood light for X-mas! Brand recommendations welcome)
- He catastrophises in an attempt to control all possible outcomes. For instance: "What if Mike wants revenge and he calls my boss at work and lies to him about misallocated funds at the club and I lose my job?!" He admits that these scenarios are ridiculously unlikely.
- He already spends two evenings a week in a telephone conference or a meeting with the club, and every second Saturday at a club event. This is more or less okay with me. I'd prefer he had more time for me and our toddler, but he picks up the slack at other times. But I feel really mad when it takes up even more of his time and emotions.
- He says if he doesn't pick up the phone he worries even worse about it. Also, recently he said: "I just turned off the phone even though it is only 8.45 pm. Do you think that is ok?" WTF! Of course it is ok, why does he have to be available for anyone who calls any time!
- I am feeling kind of blue myself. My job sucks, I've been stuck in it for years (too good to leave) and I feel like no other job will have me if I do apply. Also, we are in the middle of an IVF for a second child and I am feeling the nervousness and hormones. I want his TLC and he is so often emotionally distracted. And I feel like his therapist.
- If I tell him I don't want to hear about the club he will stop talking about it but he'll still be distracted.
- Husband reminded me that he was very supportive when I had a phase of ranting about my frenemy that lasted for several years. He is right, he was brilliant, so I don't want to be unsupportive.

Things that annoy the shit out of me:
A week ago husband, I and our toddler had what should have been a lovely Sunday out at a farm with friends. We don't get to do this so often. He had just gotten over the three people that ranted at him two nights ago. But of course someone called in the morning, he had to solve some crisis and then he was basically absent all day. It felt like I had to prod him whenever I wanted some response. In the evening we had a long conversation about his emotions that left him feeling relieved and grateful and me feeling drained and resentful.

After I told him how I feel he said he felt guilty about dumping on me. And I think he is trying. But.

Yesterday, I brought the kid to bed and said "let's watch a dvd". He said, "Um. Ok, yes." Then proceeded to read and answer club related email, then called the leader. Then we watched the dvd and he said that was a great episode. "And I just had an idea: I think I should call Leader and warn him that X might happen, what do you think?"
I told him I don't care, I don't want to hear a single word about the club anymore!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest counseling for the two of you, together. Your husband's lack of boundaries with the people in this club are causing him a ton of stress and it doesn't sound like he's making your marriage his top priority.

"What if Mike wants revenge and he calls my boss at work and lies to him about misallocated funds at the club and I lose my job?!"

I'd be worried for your husband's mental health if he's having a lot of thoughts like this.
posted by alphanerd at 10:19 AM on December 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you need to stick to the "I do not want to hear about it anymore, period" plan, with an additional "when we are doing a thing together, your phone/laptop must be off" rule. It sounds like this is in some respects a short-term problem, but not so short-term that you need to put up with his wildly disrespectful behavior.

And that's how I'd frame it - not about the club or the drama or whatever, but "you are disrespecting me and our marriage and I won't have it." Set some hard-line boundaries and make it very clear that this is an Actual Problem.

Beyond that, I agree with alphanerd that your husband needs to manage his mental health - I don't know that I'd recommend couples counseling before therapy for him, but if his depression isn't being treated at all then that's a good place to start. But that's on him to follow through with - in the meantime, just require that he behave as though you're more important than this club.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:22 AM on December 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

- He suspects he has a winter depression that makes him obsess about negative things (I am planning on getting him a mood light for X-mas! Brand recommendations welcome)
- He catastrophises in an attempt to control all possible outcomes. For instance: "What if Mike wants revenge and he calls my boss at work and lies to him about misallocated funds at the club and I lose my job?!" He admits that these scenarios are ridiculously unlikely.

From your desription of the situation, and these two points especially, I think the club is a red herring. It sounds like this is more than seasonal affective disorder. This sounds more like your husband is suffering from something more like depression/anxiety. A doctor and therapist could be hugely helpful in treating the actual disorder. Can he go check in with his GP and start getting diagnosed/treated for that?
posted by pie ninja at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing - that drama creates a cognitive feedback loop that is very hard to disengage from, especially when a person is bored/depressed in their "real" life. (He thinks it's making him stressed, but actually it's a welcome distraction from depression, and it's emotionally rewarding to feel so needed.) So while I totally 100% agree that boundaries are in order and your lives would be better off without this nonsense, he may need significant (even professional) help to disengage from this stuff.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:46 AM on December 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Husband reminded me that he was very supportive when I had a phase of ranting about my frenemy that lasted for several years. He is right, he was brilliant, so I don't want to be unsupportive.

This is commendable, but I think you both should consider adjusting your understanding of what is supportive, in this context. It's nice that your husband is patient enough to listen to you complain about your friend for several years. But, honestly, at a certain point the supportive thing to do is to say "you obviously do not like this person, she is causing you a ton of stress, and my listening to you vent about that stress is enabling this toxic friendship to continue. Therefore, I will not be listening to you talk about this person any more, in the hopes that this will encourage you to remove her from your life."

Similarly, your support, in this case, is allowing your husband to stay in a bad situation. It's ok to say that you can't listen to him talk about this club anymore, as long as you explain to him that you're doing so from a place of love.

Finally, you are absolutely, 100% right that his particular flavor of anxiety comes out of a desire to control outcomes and plan for all contingencies. I have struggled with this in the past. The two things that helped me were 1) therapy and 2)really understanding that I was trying to plan for every bad thing that might happen, and that this was impossible.

Good luck! This sounds like a tough situation, but you seem to have some pretty solid communication. I think you'll be fine.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:53 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

You both seem to have non-demanding jobs, and your husband has too much free time to imagine worst case scenarios. You have the distraction of IVF, but he is letting the Club take over his life. Would counseling help? Would he see that the Club has moved into the vacuum created by his lack of interest in a broader spectrum of issues. You are not his first priority now when you need him, and that is frustrating and wounding you at a time when you should be calm, and focused on your medical procedure.
posted by Cranberry at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2012

Central to marriage is the idea of helping hold each others burdens. He did it for you for years, as you say. You called him brilliant. Would he say the same about you currently?

I don't think the solution is therapy for him, in relation to you. It should be therapy for him - solely for his needs, without the baggage of your dissatisfaction with him.

Ultimately, that would help you, which is your goal anyway.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Honey, I can't listen to your endless venting about your club, because it is stressing me out. You need to find someone else to talk with about this; I'd suggest seeing a therapist, who might also help you figure out why you get so enmeshed in this stuff and why it's hard for you to let things go. I love you and I want you to be happy, but I need to keep myself happy and this club drama is too much for me."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, while I do think this is more about his mental health than anything else, if he's the sort of person who likes to think about group behavior dynamics, it might be useful to point out that he is actually enabling if not encouraging the drama by participating in it so enthusiastically. Sometimes being able to reframe this sort of thing from "I am being a good friend and a helpful person" to "My behavior is part of the problem" can help me, at least, start to disengage from shitty group dynamics.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:08 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

re: "very ambitious goal they want to reach in Spring"
Will people die if the goal is not reached? Physically injured? Mentally abusive trauma? Will it make a lasting difference in art or culture or science? Would failure contribute to a species going extinct?
If not, then perhaps suggest chilling out and putting things in perspective, especially as a way of prioritizing things and setting boundries.
posted by Sophont at 11:17 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sit down with your husband and discuss these two distinct problems.

1. You do not want to hear about the club, have your plans impacted by the club or have the club be something that extends beyond the walls of the physical building the club is in .

2. You believe that your husband is too involved in this club, it's unhealthy for him, and consequently unhealthy for you. Help him frame some specific boundaries.

For 1, this is the script: "Sweetie, we both have a lot on our plate, with work and family. I understand that you have this club and that you want to be involved. As it stands right now this is negatively impacting me in the following ways:

A. You're not available to me or our child because you're either on the phone about the club, worried about the club or angry about something having to do with the club.

B. You are dumping all over me about these issues and seeing you so upset, upsets me.

C. I don't feel that you are fully engaged in family activities, this makes me sad and angry because I feel like I'm picking up your slack."

Which leads me to item 2:

"The length to which you are involved in the club is unhealthy for you. I know you want to stay engaged until the X project is complete and I support you in that. I also want to support you by helping you establish and keep boundaries. Here is what I propose:

A. No club business in the house. No phone calls, no after-hours work, etc. You have club meetings in which to thresh out all these issues, they shouldn't bleed over into our home-life.

2. No club business during family time. Not when we're watching movies, or out at a farm, or on the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

3. Tell the other club members that you're committed to the club through X project, but after that you're out. Tell them you want to start shifting responsibilities to other members. Tell them that you won't respond to email or voice mail messages at all.

I am doing and saying this to protect you and to protect our family. Also, I think you need serious counseling because this is WAY out of hand.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:21 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You mentioned that he's made a decision to quit after the Big Project comes and goes. Part of me just wants to scream "Why not NOW?!?" but I know from my own personal experience that you can end up feeling obligated to a situation like this. One feels they have to serve notice, sort of like a job. If the organization does any sort of charitable work, one can feel really shitty if backing out involves letting innocent people down, regardless of how much the club's leadership may "deserve" it.

So without knowing more, I'd suggest:

- if it's a damn bowling team or the like, you might encourage your husband to just quit already.
- if it's something like building a Habitat house, your best bet might be reinforcing the decision to quit. When he goes blank after a stressful conversation, the positive reinforcement might be "think goodness this will be over ____; I'm so looking forward to that."

I've always been a joiner and I'm currently part of an organization with a similar vibe. I could be your husband, except that (I think) I usually manage to (eventually) step back and ask myself "Is this so crucial to my family, my living, etc. that I really have to take this latest crazy thing?" I myself am stepping out of an activity where I really, really like the Thing They Do, enough that I've put up with years of crazy leadership. I've dealt with the hopes that things will get better, I've at times convinced myself it's getting better. Having gone through all those stages of grief and denial I'm now getting out after a project is over.

Here's the thing - I had to find another outlet for the Thing They Do before I could let go of it. I don't know if that's an option here, but it might help.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2012

It is entirely possible that your husband's depression (it may vary seasonally, but it sounds like he's been suffering year-round for years) is making it so he can't see how unacceptable this is. That happens, depression makes you incredibly self-centered, up to and including feeling responsible for the entire world.

I think you should go back to him and say "hey, when you put up with my insanity back then, that was a wonderful thing you did in being supportive for me. Except that my behavior then was wildly inappropriate, I realize that now and I'm sorry. I should have put a stop to it, or you should have come to me and said 'Enough. This is not healthy.' I am now saying to you: Enough. This is not healthy. We have a kid learning this from us, right now, every day. The stakes are higher now. I think we need some help."

And if he won't get help, you can go by yourself.

Man, I usually don't believe in ultimatums, but I think you should put your foot down. He resigns now, and disengages, with the explanation that he must focus on his family. Sane people are not going to argue that. Insane people will, and he will just have to keep saying "no, sorry, family."

Unless he doesn't believe your family is more important, which is something you'll have to deal with sooner or later.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:31 AM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

"I can't help you with that. Child and I are having fun berry-picking and you're invited to join us in having a good time!"

I'm more like your husband than I care to think about right now. But sometimes it makes more sense to redirect in the moment than to have Big Talks about it.

Or you could try to physically locate the drama. Like "honey, lets go to the kitchen and talk about this -- I can give you five minutes." Any time he starts to talk about it, you say "can we talk about it later, when we're in the kitchen?" And when you get home say "I can give you that 5 minutes in the kitchen now."
posted by vitabellosi at 11:46 AM on December 14, 2012

"What if Mike wants revenge and he calls my boss at work and lies to him about misallocated funds at the club and I lose my job?!"

Your poor husband is at the breaking point if he's thinking this. He really, really needs professional help. Even though he was patient and supportive when you had your problems with your frenemy, that does not give him an unlimited number of chips to call in on his part - you have to put your foot down and say, "Honey, I know how supportive and wonderful you were in the Alice situation, and I appreciate that. But when you say that Mike is going to call your boss about misallocated funds, that really, really makes me worry for your health. For the sake of your health, our marriage and most importantly, our child, it's time for therapy."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:49 AM on December 14, 2012

It just sounds to me like your husband is co-dependent. I am one, and when I don't want to deal with my own depression or lack of progress in my career or a dozen other things having to do with my REAL responsibilities, I find some other group or person or project to obsess over.

For real denial, I pick something I can't control (like other people) and then do my best to manage or even manipulate them, by playing mediator or peacemaker between parties who have nothing to do with me, or by trying to smooth feather of easily ruffled group members, or by trying to support people who are perfectly able to support themselves but God knows I can do it better, and if I don't, who will?!

The more I work on fixing other people or groups, the less I have to concentrate on my own mess, PLUS people tell you what a saint you are! Win- win!
posted by small_ruminant at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

Couples therapy is a good idea, plus maybe individual therapy for him --- remember, therapy isn't just a patch AFTER your relationship or your life has troubles, it's also to strenghten your relationship or life so you can weather future trouble.

Meanwhile: just because someone phones or texts or emails does NOT mean you are required to answer immediately! Let callers leave messages, let emails sit until it is convienent FOR YOU (or in this case, your husband) to reply. And if the callers/emailers don't like that? Too bad; sucks to be them. Make it your family rule: NO calls/texts/emails, of any sort, will ever be responded to during family time, dinner time, or before 9am or after 8pm anytime.

There's an old saying that says something about "your problem does not constitute my emergency".
posted by easily confused at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2012

Keep in mind that, even though his attention seems unfairly centered on things outside of your family, finding out that he has not been meeting your needs could be a big blow for him.

That he is so concerned about the club tells me that he puts great effort into trying to please people and smooth relations between them. Right now he probably isn't even aware that he is hurting you and the little one because he's distracted by his humanitarian efforts elsewhere (to distract himself from his anxiety/depression, as someone mentioned upstream.)

So when you let him know that relations with you and your child aren't up to par, which you should, be prepared for him to get his feelings hurt pretty badly. And be prepared to support him when that happens so he can get back to his family rather than getting deeper into his depression.

It sounds like his heart is in the right place, and his loyalties too, in this time of unfortunate distraction. Also, he is undoubtedly stressed out about the IVF and the general life/family concerns you have as well, and that is probably contributing to this problem with the club.

If he's anything like me his body and brain take him on a strange delusive trip when stress starts to build up, which can severely distort priorities and perceptions of others' feelings. Throwing guilt (beyond what he likely already carries) carelessly on top of that situation can be fairly crushing.

So yeah, be assertive in explaining your needs but remember that he is extremely stressed out and probably uncomfortable and/or unhappy with how his situation stands just as you are, and he is probably doing all, in a confusing and difficult time, he can think of to help everyone, even if his strategy is significantly flawed.
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:12 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone else is giving great advice, but I figured I'd just come recommend Verilux HappyLight for your boo's blues.
posted by gone2croatan at 12:12 PM on December 14, 2012

As a side note, I have SAD and the light did not help. Apparently it's not the cure-all I hoped. Fortunately, there are other things that help so it wasn't my last stop.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:14 PM on December 14, 2012

You have a lot going on, too. You're not that happy with your own situation. You are struggling with trying to conceive. It sounds like you need your husband's support, and that part of the reason this is so draining for you is that you aren't getting the support you need, and that instead you are being the support person for him. Both his emotional support and your resources are being diverted to something you don't care about and see as an imposition on your life even without the current drama.

Can you find the support (or at least distraction) you need elsewhere for now?
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:20 PM on December 14, 2012

Uh... I strongly suspect I might be a member of said club. At the very least, I'm in a club that is going through exactly what you described, right down to the spring stuff. Nobody is happy and everyone presumes hate and rancor from everyone else.

At any rate: in your position, I would be very blunt and say, "I love you [insert reassuring thoughts here], but this club is screwing with us and our happiness. It's time to start telling people that when they call you. If they're really your friends, they will back the hell off. If they won't back off or tell you that this is silly, then you'll have learned something important about all this."

If it's the same club (branches all over the US and Canada? Affiliates in several other countries with an estranged relationship to North America?), I would not go to the point of recommending therapy so much as as emphasizing for your husband, repeatedly if necessary, the strain all this puts on your relationship and your lives (and therefore your child). Tell him it's time to go cold turkey. Tell him to tell that to his friends.

I don't know who you are or what part of the country your on, but if you or your husband recognizes me by the online handle, tell him I'm willing to go cold turkey with him if he is. 'cause this shit we're all goin' through right now is just bad, and I cannot believe that whatever arises from it will be worth the cost we're paying right now. It's just a goddamn club.

Also, FWIW: I have never, ever, EVER spoken with anyone who left the club and voiced regret for having done so. Ever.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:25 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, please remember, regardless of what this club is and what it does: There will never be a GOOD time to cut loose. There will ALWAYS be something on the horizon. Either things will be bad but people working to make it better ("Please don't abandon us now!"), or things will be good and it will seem like there's no reason to leave... until things turn toxic again. Timing should not be relevant here. It's not like this club pays bills for you, right?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:30 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

scaryblackdeath - ah crap, I was willing to accept the club as just a sort of McGuffin in the background of the problem, but now I've got to know what the club is, even though it's none of my business. :-)
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Remind him that the toddler comes first and it's not OK to talk on the phone about club matters when it's family time.
posted by Dansaman at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

He has too much time on his hands.

Ack, tell him he needs to leave the club now to spend more time with his family because he needs to spend more time with his family now.

I am sure a large part of this is that he wants to feel useful - he can be infinitely more useful with his own toddler. His family need to come before the club (and his friend).
posted by heyjude at 2:13 PM on December 14, 2012

It's really validating to be a needed part of a group working together towards a goal. I can't help but compare what he's getting from the club-group vs. from the family-group. Is he focused on the group to avoid this super stressful situation at home, maybe because he feels powerless to help achieve your IVF goal? Is he focused on the group because he is someone who needs drama and your home life is too peaceful and solid to give him that? If the former, I'd do couples counseling and if the latter, I'd say he should go to counseling alone.

The really tough part is that he's probably highly invested in this club's goal. Would it help him disconnect to find a more harmonious group, and consider how much more effective that allows them to be? Often, in volunteer clubs as compared to equivalent professional settings, you see people who are driven by ego and distracted from the mission by drama. (you also find some of the most amazing, dedicated people too, so it's a mixed bag.) But it sounds like he's in an ego/drama club, and I think he could find better ways to serve the goal (again, unless it's the drama he's seeking).

The best tactics I've seen used with people enmeshed in codependent stuff are to raise their awareness of the personal cost they're paying ("oh, man sweetie, this is the third night you've been up late with Bob, it must be so exhausting. I'm exhausted just overhearing it and could sure use a break!"), and to highlight the ways they could better get their own needs met ("I don't know how you do it, i'd have told Bob I had to go to sleep an hour ago" or "why didn't he call Mary? Huh, so SHE turns HER phone off? Hint hint.") I know you're beyond the point of low-level coaching, but I just thought I'd mention it.
posted by salvia at 3:09 PM on December 14, 2012

I am no relationship expert. This is just what came to mind for me:

Is it clear to him how much you need his support right now and what you want from him - beyond not taking calls from the club?

When you talk about this, is it about how he should back away from the club, or about how he should give more to you, and how you are struggling without his help and support?

Does he understand how you are feeling right now about IVF and parenting, and what you would like him to do to support you?

It sounds like he gets that you are unhappy with his level of involvement with the club - and it's great that he's agreed to quit - but perhaps he doesn't yet see this in terms of the cost to his family. You might have more success framing this as a conversation FOR your family rather than against the club.
posted by bunderful at 7:57 AM on December 15, 2012

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