How can I help my husband?
March 28, 2007 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Is my husband's behavior normal, or is this indicative of depression or some sort of anger-issue? And is there anything I can do to help?

I've been living with my now-husband for four years, and it seems like there has been a slow change in his personality over the course of the eight years I've known him, and not necessarily for the better.

He has always been a gamer, so there's sort of always a minor element of laziness there, since he likes to sit and play video games for hours. However, this is getting more and more pronounced. He seemed really motivated to start biking or doing outdoorsy things, and even bought a really nice mountain bike. The bike now sits unused (for 3 years now, and it's only been used maybe twice), and he never really wants to plan a trip to go biking or camping or whatever, even when I suggest it.

I've also noticed that games tend to really frustrate him a lot more than I think is normal. If there is a glitch in the game, he screams at it and throws a little hissyfit. A bad game can ruin his entire night.

He also gets really angry while working on computer stuff or putting things together. He's an engineer so he has always done stuff like this. But little setbacks send him grumbling and cursing and again seem to ruin his night.

If he's not angry, he's usually kind of apathetic. If I ask him his opinion on something, like what I should make for dinner, where do you want to go out for dinner, what movie we should go see, his response is usually "meh". It's not that he's not listening, he just doesn't have much of an opinion on anything. Either that or he gets argumentative over stupid little things.

I don't want to make him stop gaming or doing the relaxed, fun things he likes to do. But I hate seeing him get so angry about such little things. I don't feel like he is getting any relaxation or true enjoyment out of games anymore because he seems so angry and stressed out while playing them. I play the same stuff as him at times, though not nearly as much, but I don't see what there is to get so angry about. Also, his anger and yelling makes me feel very anxious and stressed out. Not because I am afraid in any way, just because it's stressful to hear someone yelling and carrying on about stupid crap ALL the time.

He doesn't do the things he always says are his major goals. He had seemed to want to ride his bike and do things outdoors more. He says he wants to write a novel. He says he wants to travel and go sight-seeing. But he just spends all of his time playing games or watching tv and seemingly feeling really grumpy.

What can I do to help him? Can I do anything to help him? I love him dearly - when he's not in a bad mood, he is the funniest, sweetest person on earth. I just want him to relax before he blows a gasket during one of his hissyfits. I want us to do fun things together again. I want him to want to do fun things together other than in the video game world.
posted by catfood to Human Relations (52 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
catfood, seriously: I had to reread your post to make sure I hadn't written it and then forgotten I had. It also looks like we are apparently within half an hour of each other. Email me (profile) if you want to commiserate! I had this same exact discussion just last night. Our husbands are probably slaughtering each other online.
posted by theredpen at 9:24 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: omg. yours is on the wow too. are you my twin?
posted by catfood at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2007

Sounds like a touch of depression to me-- lack of opinion, easily irritated.

Have you been able to talk to him at all? Tell him how his behavior makes you feel? It sounds like childish, selfish behavior in some ways, and perhaps he needs to grow up a bit. You might ask him if this pattern of behavior is working for him. Is he happy with the way life is right now?

Full disclosure: I'm a WOW widow and we've had great success talking about limits on gaming. He has all of Thursday night to play, and often has time on weekends and another evening or two. But I expect him to carry his weight with housework/chores, etc., and also to spend time with me and not be thinking about the game the whole time. We both had to do some adjusting of expectations and it's working out well now.
posted by orangemiles at 9:31 AM on March 28, 2007

I think depression is entirely possible. One way it manifests in men is anger at little things.

Another thing-how are things going for him at work? If he has stresses and irritations there they may be following him home. I can ALWAYS tell what kind of day my hubby had by his demeanor at home.
posted by konolia at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2007

If you've tried to motivate him to do the things he says he wants and he still won't then maybe an intervention of sorts is in order. Have you talked this over with other members of his family, say parents or siblings? They may be able to share some insight into his behaviour.

Have you asked him outright if he's OK, if he's happy with the way things in his life are going? Maybe he just needs you to show that you've noticed his behaviour. From what you've described it sounds like he's suffering from something. He doesn't sound like he's enjoying his life. Some form of change is clearly required, at least IMHO. Sign up for a couples class like ballroom dancing or maybe something a little more outdoorsy like kayaking? Something that gets him out of the house and into the real world. He may resent you in the beginning for interfering but hopefully he'll see it's because you're concerned about his wellbeing and will be appreciative of the effort.

Also, and this is coming from a gamer, maybe it's time to put the games away for now and focus on the real world. Games are fun but they should never be one's life especially if they're causing stress.

Good luck and I hope things work out for the both of you!
posted by LunaticFringe at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2007

I think we may be long-lost twins. I even used to have a username like yours ... freaky! Email is in my profile. Sorry for you that you're going through this too, but you're not alone. (shouting out window) I am here for you!
posted by theredpen at 9:35 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: I try to talk about it, and he will either sigh and say "I know" if I remark on how much time he's been playing or if I comment on him getting angry about little things, he says that it's because he doesn't get enough sleep. When I suggest that he goes to bed earlier so he'll feel less crabby, he insists he can't fall asleep that early. When I suggest that he has trouble falling asleep because he's all riled up from playing video games instead of doing something more peaceful, he just dismisses that idea.

He has been really closed up in terms of talking about how he feels as well. I would suggest therapy but I can't even find a non-idiot therapist for myself, so I'd rather not subject him to it until I was able to find someone who's not a total imbecile.
posted by catfood at 9:36 AM on March 28, 2007

Offering my consolation as another WoW-widow (I thought I made up that term!). I used to have a significant other, and what I have now is a lvl 54 Horde Pally who from time to time drops in on the real world to say hello to me.

Actually, to be honest, he's not real bad and does make a real effort to balance the real world (by which I mean ME) with WoW. We make it a point to eat dinner together, talk, spend some time before the gaming starts, to go out together spending no-WoW nights, etc. In turn, when he's done what I want and it's WoW-time, I try to leave him alone and let him sit around playing the damn game if that's what makes him happy.
posted by bunnycup at 9:37 AM on March 28, 2007

OMG. I love you guys. I have also been calling myself WOW widow.
posted by theredpen at 9:39 AM on March 28, 2007

This is addiction. Yes, addiction and depression can be part of a very vicious circle, or the depression part could just be the "meh"ness that you get from never going out in the first place.

There are lots of resources about gaming addiction, you should start reading up... just keep in mind that it's relatively new, it's really personal (each person is different, things that work for one person may not make sense at all in the context of another person's problems), and some of the people writing about it are really freaking clueless.

(You don't say, but I'm going to guess wildly that the games you're talking about are mostly multi-player, and the stuff below is mostly geared toward that.)

Anyway, I can't help too much because no one helped me, I just woke up one day and realized that my game wasn't fun any more. And then I quit for a couple of months and relapsed. Repeat twice. I haven't played in 3 months (this time)... I just thought I'd give you some insight into why people keep playing even when it's not fun...
  1. You feel like you must log in because your team (your friends) needs you...feeling needed and feeling like you can make the difference between winning and losing (even when it's not true) are powerful things.
  2. Just like dead end relationships, you keep remembering How Great Things Were and the game developers keep promising new features that will bring back that rush you felt when things were new, so you keep hanging around hoping that it'll go back to being amazing.
  3. If you quit, you've suddenly broken ties with all of your friends (or worse, you still talk to them, and they can talk about nothing but the game and always ask when you're coming back)'ve also probably got no way to make new friends, because the only way you've made friends for the past couple of years is through gaming. AND you've got nothing to do with your time on top of all that.
..and basically more like that. Anyway, I know I'm rambling at this point so I hope this helps and I'm actually going to go Outside(!) now, I'll probably come back and write more later since this is obviously a topic that hits a nerve for me...
posted by anaelith at 9:46 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

No easy way out here. Anytime one partner thinks another should spend less time doing something he/she loves, there are bound to be a lot of hurt feelings.

Try building the impression of being intolerant of his bad behavior instead of his gaming hobby. You don't want to sound parental (and the last person who told him to stop playing video games was probably a parent). Since he doesn't seem to be all that clued in to reality, I bet he'd be surprised if he knew how much these fits of temper irritate or upset you. The next time he's having one, try calling him on it. "Do you need to step away and take a break or something? Because I'm trying to read in the next room and you are aggravating the shit out of me." And if he protests about why such-and-such are worth getting upset over, don't let him off the hook. "Listen to yourself. If you can't play a game without getting this upset, I'm really worried about you. It's not healthy. Maybe you need to give yourself more breaks so that you can clear your head more."

And so forth. Choose your battles carefully, but be consistent and keep him aware of the fact that his video game fantasy-land overlaps with reality in ways that affect more people than just himself.

As for the bike, tell him you are feeling cramped by all the things in the house you never use and you want to sell or donate them. Include the bike on the list. See what he says.

He's in pretty deep. Before he can want to want to do these other things with you, he has to remember that he wants to. So as much as you are longing for him to initiate these things, swallow your pride and start initiating them yourself. A weekend trip. A long walk, just because. Maybe this will jumpstart him. It's important for you to do this either way, because if he winds up turning you down, then you have a valid complaint to approach him with: that you are trying to spend time together by appealing to the things he always claims he wants to do, without any luck. Does he really want to do them at all? A conversation begins there. I hope it tells you what you need to know.
posted by hermitosis at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

So catfood, did you see theredpen's thread about WoW before? Lots of discussion of the same topic there. Also here.
posted by salvia at 9:55 AM on March 28, 2007

This situation sounds intolerable to me. This is going to ruin your marriage. You need to do something about this. This is a serious problem.

Ask him whether or not he WANTS this situation to stop.
Tell him you won't be with someone who is like this.
Come up with a plan that you and him feel is fair.
Make him stick to it.
posted by xammerboy at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2007

As an individual who recently kicked the WoW addiction (2 months, 8 days clean) and as someone who was exhibiting the same behavior for the previous two years of video gaming sessions, I would say that just dropping comments won't work. I 'wow-widowed' a girlfriend, and ignored my family -- answering phone calls only between raids, and while I was doing mindless tasks in-game. They dropped plenty of comments to no effect.

In part, what finally snapped me out of my addiction was the realization that there was no way to 'win' the game, and that any progress I made there not only had no meaning in the real world, but it had no meaning in the game as well. I'm sure that Blizzard has a picture of Sisyphus hanging on the wall in their offices.

Bartering for time won't work, because the question isn't "Do I want to spend time with my wife?" it is "Have I spent enough time with my wife so I can play the game unmolested?" Similarly, being passively supportive won't work unless you are prepared to hang around until they decommission the game or he has a spontaneous moment of clarity.

I'm not sure an in-your-face intervention would have worked on me, but no one really tried. The key thing to getting off the wow is finding a way to supplant the social heirarchy that it provides. Put real life friends in the mix, throw parties, be his cruise director. Alternatively, go travel without a laptop or means to play the game. Getting away for a few weeks can help regain perspective and improve attitude. (I got really sick, didn't play for a few weeks, and I'm still off the wow two months later.)

Either way, good luck and have faith that the non-wow-addicted person you obviously love is in there somewhere.
posted by idlyadam at 10:04 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by hermitosis at 10:07 AM on March 28, 2007

My take is that this a way to avoid becoming more intimate, as in closer emotionally, not ripping off your clothes and jumping in bed intimate.

My husband does this too sometimes, and it seems like a cop-out to me. Like he can keep his life with me at arm's length if he avoids it by refusing to become invested in any sort of decision about even mundane things like meals or movies.

And everyone else here has said what I think, that there is an element of depression.

I would be more assertive and say you need him to be more present in the relationship--otherwise it is just you by yourself struggling with him.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2007

I'm a guy, and I am pretty much identical to your husband in this respect. In fact, you could be my wife. She calls my computer "my other girlfriend". Here's the deal: It's not the computer or the games that's the problem, it's the behavior. Kinda like when you spend hours laying on the couch and staring at the TV or reading a book or knitting a sweater or doing crosswords or whatever it is that you do to chill out. You just don't do it as much as he does, and that's the difference. If he didn't do "Non-productive activity X" as much as he did, there wouldn't be a problem, right?

It could be that he's depressed, it could be that he's lazy, it could be that he's distracted by pressures at work. None of that matters. The reason he's doing nothing is of intellectual curiosity only.

The point is this: He'll come out eventually, because everybody always eventually does. You may be able to help him, but only if you realize that he already knows what he needs to do to come out of his hole. You said yourself he has goals, but doesn't seem to achieve them. I'm sure you don't spend every moment methodically checking items off your to-do list in order of importance, either. Maybe you do, and you're just that much better of a person than him. I can only relate my own experience, but what finally did it for me was for me to realize that I was being a sorry sack and to just stop making excuses for myself.

From a practical standpoint, keep encouraging the sunlight and exercise, maybe try yoga or white-water rafting or having a big party. Whatever social activity he's most likely to do with you, without you having to nag. What about his friends? Can they invite him out to go do stuff? He just needs to have that perspective-shifting event where he's able to look at himself from above and see what he already knows is true. That's how you can help. Talking about it, not so much. Passive-aggressively bustling around him cleaning while he's playing his game, very much no.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2007

The anger issues sound like depression to me. I spent years dealing with a family member who was "argumentative over stupid little things." Your comment "little setbacks send him grumbling and cursing and again seem to ruin his night" applies too. The overblown anger at inanimate objects and minor complications stressed me out incredibly. Eventually this person started picking fights with the rest of the family, with random customer service people in stores and restaurants, etc. to the point that I could not stand to be around this person, much less in public with them.

Addiction, immersing yourself in a fantasy land, ignoring responsibilities, not caring about things in your life... All of these are classic symptoms of depression, too. Please work with your husband to break this cycle, whether it takes counseling or medication or just some serious change in routine. From my experience, I'd say the longer this kind of behavior goes on, the more difficult it will be to change.

And I really have to applaud the tone of your question. It's clear that you really care about him and that his happiness is your primary concern here, even though his behavior is starting to infringe on your own happiness. For whatever it's worth, my experience says that an "I'm concerned about you" conversation will get through better than a "Your behavior is unacceptable" conversation, though they may both be true.
posted by vytae at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the issue here is less addiction and more Depression (the clinical, capital D kind, not "I'm kinda bummed out"). I know WoW has this reputation as a Shiva-like destroyer or relationships, but your original post doesn't mention it, yet it's got a lot of classic Depression indications (isolation, lack of motivation, anger at "little things").

What I'm getting at is that simply getting him off the WoW crack pipe isn't going to fix what I think is a bigger underlying issue. LunaticFringe (ok, irony) makes the excellent suggestion of simply asking him if he's OK. It may sound stupid, but there's a door you need to open for him. Ask him every day, and don't take a shrug for an answer.

Also, schedule dates with him- set times or you to go do something together. Make it a regular schedule, like Date Night. He needs to get out and socialize, but he's not going to do it on his own. Don't emphasize the negative aspect of his sitting around on his ass, focus on all the great things you could be doing together.

Do not, however, attempt to cut games out of his life- he'll instantly see it as a threat and will fight you on everything else. If you show that you understand that it's important to him, he should recognize that respect and reciprocate.
posted by mkultra at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Do you have anything in your own life that you enjoy to the same degree? Maybe, if you did, this would become a non-issue.

When you are doing that thing that interests you the most right now out of all things in the world -- you get intense with it. You get frustrated by setbacks -- maybe to the point of throwing a hissy-fit -- but that doesn't mean you're not enjoying yourself, or that you are depressed or angry in general. Don't get me wrong -- if someone is throwing fits over WoW pwnment, a busted derailler gear, a fallen souffle or anything else that scares his spouse or kids, he needs to chill out. It's just that caring intensely about something, and getting pissed when it doesn't go your way, doesn't make you a rage-aholic.

The fact that other people don't get why you would care about something so dumb (as is invariably the case, no matter what it is) doesn't make you care less -- it just distances you from them, and makes you want to talk to people who share your interest. Maybe a little of that has happened with your husband. Maybe he feels like you are trying to pull him away from his thing, and he has to resist with all his strength or he'll be spending all his evenings taking long walks or shopping for bedspreads (or whatever you want him to do) forevermore -- it's a vicious cycle now.

So stop. This is his thing. Find your own thing. Do whatever you have been meaning to try -- salsa dancing? Potting? Learning Japanese? When you find that thing, that one thing you like, that thing you think about all the time and get up in the morning to do -- you'll appreciate where your husband is coming from.

If you miss him and feel neglected, cuddle up next to him while he's playing and -- make a blatant play for his attention. But make him keep playing. (That is so fun -- try it! Try it!) Or feed him something he likes, and make him keep playing. Or rest your head in his lap and read your pottery book, or listen to your Japanese tapes, while he's playing. Everybody get to do what he wants. Everybody wins.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:28 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

He'll come out eventually, because everybody always eventually does.

I have to disagree, Mr. Gunn. Yes, a guy isn't going to come out of this kind of thing without first deciding for himself that something needs to change, and no amount of nagging is going to help him reach that point. But ignoring the problem is not necessarily going to make it go away on its own. What if he comes out of it 10 years from now? Is that really an acceptable solution? What if he just comes to think it's normal to be belligerent and angry all the time, and he never comes out of it?
posted by vytae at 10:31 AM on March 28, 2007

He has always been a gamer, so there's sort of always a minor element of laziness there, since he likes to sit and play video games for hours.

This sentence raised an eyebrow. This is a judgmental assumption, and it might help him if you avoid such behaviour.

That said, I don't know that he's depressed. It sounds to me, from someone who's been in his shoes, that he's obsessed (not addicted -- addiction and obsession are similar, but not identical). If he is not participating in his obsession, he will be irritable and distracted. He will lose interest in things other than that obsession.

If he can't quit, he needs therapy. Or you need to move on.

I don't think there are any other workable solutions for most people. You could negotiate when gametime is available to him, but the fallout from that may be obsessive thought during non-gametime and resentment. Works for some, but not for most.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:32 AM on March 28, 2007

I am a WoW addict - but not nearly as much as some in my guild. Some of them are there EVERY NIGHT, ALL NIGHT. I often wonder if they have jobs or families. Of course, a lot of them don't because they're too young - but it sounds like most of you here aren't surprised to find that there are a LOT of WoW widows out there.

My SO is a WoW-widow. Sometimes he talks to me and I don't hear a thing he says. Other times he says he 'hates that damn game' and would delete it if he could figure out how. I've tried to get him to play, but he refuses. Instead, I've gotten my brother and 76 year old Dad to play even more than I do (Pops has a Lvl 69 Druid at the moment).

WoW is fun. WoW is social. WoW can be just as interactive socially as the real world, especially if you combine it with Ventrilo or one of the other voice chat programs. But if your hubby ALREADY has a real world that he's ignoring - then you have to confront it head on and place some limits.

Give him one or two WoW nights a week - negotiate a deal w/ him where you will not interrupt him (i.e. let him run a full raid). In exchange he MUST stay away from WoW on non-wow nights. No thottbot, no guild forums, nada.

It's the only way.
posted by matty at 10:34 AM on March 28, 2007

chocolatetiara: "My husband does this too sometimes, and it seems like a cop-out to me. Like he can keep his life with me at arm's length if he avoids it by refusing to become invested in any sort of decision about even mundane things like meals or movies."

Any two people who spend that much time with each other have a much closer and deeper bond than any cheap pop-psychology maxim can hope to address. It's fear of finding out who you really are and what the other person really thinks of you that keeps people from realizing the connection that does exist. Why would you believe so easily that your husband wants to keep you at arms length?

The "put your foot down and demand he spend more time with you" solution only works if you're OK with having a husband that lets you boss him around and treat him like a kid.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: I think it might be worth mentioning that I do not have a problem with games or gaming or even WoW. I play WoW too. I have a lvl 56 warlock. Granted, it took me 2 years to get there, but it's not like I don't understand how it can be fun. It's also fun because a lot of our mutual friends play WoW. At least 2 of them have admitted addiction problems with WoW. One of them quit it and was very adamant about staying "clean" off of WoW when he stopped. But once my husband and the other friend started playing again, this friend quickly relapsed. They all have multiple level 70 characters. Do you realize what kind of time committment that takes?

I know games are a part of his life, and I'm sorry of the "laziness" comment struck some chords. Several of our friends are game developers and I think games are cool. I don't care if he could play it like a normal person. Or if he even seemed to enjoy it.

But seriously, it has started to seem like he is just angry when he's playing and cranky when he's not because he's missing out on some raid or something. He will skip dinner because he's in the "middle" of something important. He will stay up until 4 am on a work night to finish a raid. He never seems happy anymore. I come home from work, and he's playing WoW. I go to bed, and he's playing WoW. We watch a movie together, and he is chomping at the bit to get back to Azeroth, but to what end? Why is he so compelled to do something that is clearly not making him happy?

I mean...I have dealt with Depression myself, and I know it can be hard to follow your big-picture dreams and get off your ass. Trust me. But I also log out and resume real life if the phone rings while playing a game, or if dinner is ready.

I don't know. I wish there was an easy answer.
posted by catfood at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2007

It's escapism. It can end in addiction, and it can be born in depression, but it's what people have always done when they are "tired" of their world -- zone out.

Gaming, especially social gaming, is just the most "life friendly" zone out activity of the moment -- many of the people who play WoW endlessly now are the folks who spent endless hours on message boards in the 90s, read books all day in the 80s, etc. They're the folks who want to get away from their world, but not so much that they feel a need to radically change it, so they zone out at home where they can do so "responsibly." The common thread is that these folks are home and available when their real lives demand it... if you ask them, they will often site this as having been a large part of their reason for undertaking the activity.

But of course, this can rapidly turn into something unpleasant. Addiction's the far end, but the social nature of net-based escapism can cause trouble long before that point -- online social lives can rapidly substitute for or replace real social lives, and when one of a pair switches social circles, it tends to pull the pair apart.

If you ask them, they'll say all the right things... and do something else. They're not happy with their life, but not willing/able to change it, so they duck dealing with it. They aren't necessarily unhappy anything or anyone specific -- it can be as simple as their looking forward and realizing that their life is "over." No more new frontiers, new experiences, or anything in particular to look forward to except a whole lot of years of being "settled" until the end.

If you want to help, find a way to convince them that there are still new thrills and experiences ahead in life. They need a reason to get out of bed in the morning besides the fact that they are "supposed to" -- and when they have that, they'll be off the computer for the same reason. Until then... they're just killing time.
posted by Pufferish at 10:45 AM on March 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

I think the number one thing you can do is to go out without him sometimes and develop your own friends. This gives him some time to do whatever he wants without any guilt. It also gives him a chance to miss you, and will give you some non-work stories to tell him.
posted by teleskiving at 10:45 AM on March 28, 2007

Why is he so compelled to do something that is clearly not making him happy?

Maybe he doesn't want to do something that he's scared might make him even less happy. Maybe he's at a junction in his life, and is scared of making the leap, and is hiding from it?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:49 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: I think the number one thing you can do is to go out without him sometimes and develop your own friends. This gives him some time to do whatever he wants without any guilt. It also gives him a chance to miss you, and will give you some non-work stories to tell him.

Thank you, I have my own life and friends, and I don't solely rely on my husband for social support & entertainment.
posted by catfood at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2007

I feel ya, sister. I play WoW too, randomly. (One lvl 61 character, 1 lvl 38 character...had the game since launch.) But WoW widowship has made me less likely to play, simply because someone has to do all the stuff around the house that needs to be done.

I hate to say anything, I know how hard he works, and I want him to have some downtime activities...but damn, it sure would be nice to have him around and not staring at a computer screen some times.
posted by dejah420 at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2007

I find being around anger to be extremely difficult -- it makes me miserable. I left a relationship in large part because my ex was angry and frustrated a great deal of the time. He also had the trait you describe of rejecting out of hand any suggestion for making things better.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:59 AM on March 28, 2007

I've been an online gaming enthusiast for at least 12 years. I've heard the "____-widow" used for everything from Everquest to Counter Strike to Nintendo.

I used to be a very, very active player. When I first got into online gaming, I would be on at 6pm when getting home, and play till midnight. Rinse/repeat all week.

It starts out as a remedy to boredom. My wife has very few hobbies/interests/activities, and I abhor just sitting and watching television. I'd rather do almost anything than sit in front of the TV for 4 hours.

So, when online gaming started peeking through the non-AOL internet crust, I jumped in with both feet.

I spent at least 30 hours per week in Ultima Online, and I really didn't even know why. It very quickly turned into a compulsion rather than an enjoyable activity. You make "friends" in the game, and they ask where you've been, and appear to miss you when you're gone. You do tend to assume "responsibilities" and you feel you're letting them down by not showing up. You also feel like you're "getting behind" on this eternal treadmill that never ends.

My wife and I had a pretty severe run-in over Ultima back in about 2000, and I modified my behavior pretty significantly. But, I still think I have a point. My wife complained because she wanted me to spend more time with her. But, that time was sitting in the living room watching TV. I don't think my time was any more "wasted" than hers.

But, she insisted it was better because we were "together", which of course I agree with.

However, I did point out to her the hypocrisy of her insisting I spend my time watching TV with her, but she would not even consider playing a game to "spend time with me". It was rejected wholesale.

I moved from Ultima through several other games, and also a pretty intense dedication to various First Person Shooters, especially Counter Strike. Then I started playing WoW (World of Warcraft) with an existing battery of online friends.

Those online friends have become very close to me, and I talk to them regularly outside of gaming, on the telephone, and sometimes in person if we visit each other's state. They are "real" friends, not online friends.

Now, my friends and I play together on Sunday mornings, we've all "brokered" that with our SO's. I play almost none through the week.

But, getting back to an earlier point, a lot of that is driven by boredom. Even though I don't game even 1/4 as much as I used to, I still spend a LOT of time on MetaFilter and other online destinations. But, I don't feel the compulsion to play that I once did. I can miss a night, or three, or 10. Hell, we all took 6 months off from WoW, complete absence, and then re-started our once-per-week game, which is working out great.

I still dislike watching television except for short Tivo'd stints.

What broke me of my online obsession? It was multiple parts.

First, my wife let me know it really bothered her, and not just a little, so I made immediate changes.

I also began motorcycle riding about 5 years ago, so when the weather is good, I'm on two wheels, not an office chair. (HUGE benefit: my wife has since gotten into motorcycling as well. She has her license and her own bike. This common activity has really, really helped our relationship.)

Three years ago we had a baby, so my wife hasn't been bored any longer. :-) Also, I enjoy spending time and playing with him, so I have less interest in online games.

But, naturally, he has already declared an affinity for games. He plays Leapfrog games, as well as Nick Jr. and Disney online, as WELL as a few demos on my XBox 360. The kid is a born gamer. We have to be very careful to limit his time, as he becomes instantaneously sucked into the game and almost oblivious to the outside world.

I still think my wife should have at least TRIED gaming. It was very insulting that she would denigrate my time-wasting activity of no merit and forcibly (via complaints of it damaging our marriage) supplant it with HER time-wasting activity with no merit.

Basically, she would say "your time wasting on that stupid game is causing a wedge in our relationship, now come in here and waste the evening watching TV". That's not cricket in my opinion. But, I love the gal, and if watching E.R. together makes her warm and fuzzy, hey, she deserves it.

With all that said, I think we've gotten WAAAAY far afield of your actual question, which seems to hinge on the anger. The angry outbursts are simply unacceptable, and you should tell him that, tonight. They simply will not be tolerated. Whether the angry outburst is from a WoW raid wipeout, or a stray static shock on a motherboard, or if the Bulls blow a 16 point lead, or if he drops a socket wrench on his ankle, no matter what the source... it is totally, and completely, unacceptable, and you need to couch it that way.

Also, Methylviolet, please marry me, and/or talk to my wife. kthxbye
posted by Ynoxas at 11:14 AM on March 28, 2007

I can relate to a lot of your husband's behaviors although I am not a gamer. I think he IS depressed, and probably at a point feeling very stuck and ill-accomplished in his life. I think the gaming is probably relatively incidental. The real issues are the anger, the real-life apathy, and the failure to get genuinely engaged with things he expresses an attachment to.

Unfortunately there is not likely to be any easy answers for you or your husband. I did five years in talking therapy, some with medication added into the mix, basically to save my marriage, and becoming a father has helped me become much more engaged in the here and now, but I still struggle with anger and depression and trying to find my way forward in life on a pretty much daily basis. My wife puts up with a lot but I also work very hard to moderate the negative aspects of my personality and to be there for her and for the relationship and family in substantial ways.

Your husband probably needs some help or at least a strategy for getting his life and emotional/mental well-being on a healthier track, but getting him to agree with that is likely to be an uphill battle. You need to communicate with him about the negative effects his anger and checking out on your shared lives is having on you. If he is receptive, you can help him acknowledge that he is checking out on personally important things in favor of the easy sense of accomplishment of a fantasy world. I think seeking the balance and concessions others discuss above (and finding ways to physically remove yourself from his influence when he is being particularly angry) are good ideas but not long term solutions. Unless he acknowledges that what he is doing is not desirable and that he wants something else it will be tough to get things to change much, and even if he comes around to seeing things more as you do, change is difficult. But communicating about these things, as much discomfort as it will probably involve, is critical to the future of your relationship.
posted by nanojath at 11:18 AM on March 28, 2007

Doing things in the real world is hard. Don't get me wrong, WoW is difficult too, and it takes a lot of grinding to get what you want. But you're sitting in the same spot, working on a similar task, and reaping the same rewards day after day. Pretty soon, other tasks in life take a back seat because there are uneven rewards, require a lot more out of the box thinking, and failure could mean a measurable loss. So it becomes easier to stick to the game. The thing is, the game's rewarding but not that rewarding.

I think this set of behavior is a form of depression, but it's not one that necessarily requires intervention to break out of, only some sort of wake-up call from the outside world. Get your husband to do something that doesn't involve a computer that's going to be low-risk and have a good payoff. It's a vicious cycle when you have an aversion to actually doing non-video game things. You play the game because other things seem to be hard, but eventually you can forget that you're going to get few rewards in life unless you put effort into it.
posted by mikeh at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2007

Sounds like Deja Vu for me. I basically fit that description to a T since I got married in 1999. Except, I'm not a gamer though I have the same reaction when my computer goes wonky.

Contact me offline and I'll mention what I've gone through. If you're on LJ, friend "bkdelong" and I'll share the related posts.
posted by bkdelong at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2007

I like what nanojath has to say.

This might be specifically a computer/internet addiction thing, or your husband might be an unhappy person. I know somebody who would watch baseball games seemingly just so he could scream at the TV set, and who used to storm around the house getting upset at every little thing. (&c.... also borderline alcoholic....) It turned out he was just miserable at home and took it out on everything he could find. Watching hours of his team play horribly was, at least, a way to escape home life. Finally he left his wife and his behavior is much less annoying now.

I'm not saying that's what's going to happen here, or if the marriage itself is even what he's unhappy about, but the incessant game playing might be, perhaps in addition to it having an addictive component, a means of escape or avoidance.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:02 PM on March 28, 2007

Gamer... I though it used to mean someone was game, for anything....

The gaming sounds like a form of escapism for hb. A reluctance to address issues. Of any kind. All he offers is denial and excuses. Yep, there's trouble inside him he's reluctant to deal with head on. What the hell is it. That takes therapy. The constant gaming is a manifestation I believe of something deep down gnawing away.
You seem to reach out to him a lot. When was the last time he asked how you were or suggested doing something together¿ Will changing the focus on you and him meeting your needs make a difference¿ Anything at this point may be worth a shot at.

The anger is a mask for the underlying issue with him. It's hard to see the forest for the trees, but you've been leading him to the water plenty. Him saying I know and not taking any specific action is a non starter, you should tell him. What's the plan of action now and today. Will there be a tomorrow¿ Ultimatums aren't the best approach I think, but what other option have you. It's gone on long enough and it just doesn't sit well with you at all, which you need to tell him.

Idiot therapists¿ So many, dang, what's in the water. It is hard finding an appropriate one, continue your search. Will he drink from that well once lead, this horse though¿ This needs to be discussed amongst yourselves too.

I wish you all the best. That's love, I tell ya. Peace.
posted by alicesshoe at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2007

I apologize, because so much of this has been said before, but this is my voice. Your post could have also been written- in every emotion, although not in the specifics- by my ex. I am not heavily into gaming, although I do enjoy the occasional round of GTR or Gran Turismo 4. Instead, I read, and read, and read. I read about a thousand pages a week. I spend one to three hours a day sitting on the sofa with a book. Sometimes- usually- it's science fiction, sometimes it's electronics textbooks, sometimes it's my laptop with something from The rest of the time it's metafilter. When I read, I feel like I'm learning something, relaxing, and improving myself. She feels like I'm ignoring her, and that she needs to tiptoe around to avoid disturbing me. When she does interrupt, it's really fine, I'm almost always happy to do something else. But as someone said earlier, she respects my choice of activity, and doesn't want to be selfish by demanding attention.

There's no doubt that this is a serious problem- it's one of the major issues that killed a six year relationship for me recently.

But when general relationship issues got worse, I retreated much further into reading and solitary pursuits. The issue differs from yours in that I wasn't socializing with other people online, which seems to add insult to injury. But I definitely used it as an escape. Frankly, I wasn't able to be talked out of it, because I didn't want to socialize with her. I felt like much of our time was spent arguing, and that we were not progressing in working out our issues. It's my fault as much as hers, but we just weren't getting anywhere without counseling/therapy.

The key to realizing what was going on was seeing that I really, honestly, didn't want to spend my time with her, and that wasn't going to change until something was radically altered about our relationship.

What happened in the long run is that we couldn't break out of our combative behaviors, and we moved apart. When we see each other now, we each have a lot more life events to talk about, and no household or financial issues to deal with. So it makes every evening together feel like a date, where we really pay attention to each other, and I still get to read, and she gets my full attention whenever we're together.

To adapt my experiences to your situation, I would suggest the following:
Spend a little time away from him. Make him miss you a little, and think of the fun he could be having with you. Leave him home alone, and go do exciting things without him. Maybe even go away for the weekend.
Try to make time away from the computer more attractive. You'll know best how to accomplish this- whether it's the promise of pleasures, or just a happier face when you see him. (I hate making this suggestion, because it's playing to his base nature, but it may help quite a bit.)
Fake a little bit of interest in what's he's up to. Just go join him, rub his shoulders for a minute, and be an audience. Ask a couple questions, even if you think they're silly. You're at least interacting with him a bit, and making it clear that what he's doing isn't the problem, it's his escapism and anger that are the issue
And finally, do your best to get him into some marriage counseling. I wouldn't be able to deal with all-together counseling at first, personally. I'd much prefer a bit of one-on-one with the therapist and then work up to both of us; it feels much less confrontational when it's not he-said/she-said.

Best of luck, I feel for you. I hate knowing that I've done this to someone I love.
posted by wzcx at 12:53 PM on March 28, 2007

When a person is unwell, whether it's depression or anxiety disorder or mono or food poisoning, whatever, it's really easy to perseverate on something like video games, to get stuck and get enough reinforcement to keep going back to it. Those things also tend to make tempers short and small slights or inconveniences monumental.

No, healthy people don't act like that. But unless he has reached a point that he's a danger to himself or others, there is nothing you can make him do about it. You will need to decide for yourself what you need and what you want to do, given any possible outcome. I feel bad for the self-identified gamer widows, but there is a choice being made to live like that, and I think the making of that choice sends a signal to the non-participatory partner that he (in this case) does not need to urgently prioritize that person's concerns. I've done it too, and once you've made yourself insignificant it is very hard to get that ground back, especially if the other person is already struggling with perspective problems.

It's like telling him that if he doesn't stop gambling the rent money, you'll leave, but then borrowing the rent from your mom every month. He is gambling your time and your partnership; balanced people are generally pretty careful about not letting any one thing, even important things like work or other family members, or very compelling things like video games or beer or porn, get in the way of their primary relationship.

I always say you can't make other people do what you want, and that's still true, but you can stand up for you. Decide where your boundaries are, state them very clearly, and be prepared to make some difficult choices (whether that's leaving temporarily or permanently, or seeking professional help for yourself at least if not him, because his behavior affects you) if you do not get a response that will ultimately improve your life or at least stop crossing your boundaries. Avoid the temptation to become a mother to him, because that will ruin your marriage anyway and make you crazy to boot - let him be an adult, whether he's good at it or not, and you look after you.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:14 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, I almost could have written this as well! catfood and theredpen I also live nearby. If interested in commiseration, my email is in my profile.
posted by disaster77 at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2007

Maybe all the WoW widows should get together and plan a faaaaaahhhhbulous island vacation somewhere, to be fed margaritas and fanned on the beach, sending home jealousy-inspiring salacious picture messages to the angry, bitter bored gamers who are wasting their entire day running the SAME dungeon for the 15th time praying for their epic pants to drop.

Let's see for $50 to buy the game, plus another $50 for the recent expansion, plus $15/m for 12 months to play the damn game, we're looking at a few hundred bucks that could equitably be allocated to fund that vacation.
posted by bunnycup at 1:23 PM on March 28, 2007

I think your husband's behavior is both normal, indicative of depression, and of addiction. Understand that these games are designed to reinforce and take advantage of compulsive behavior to retain customers, much like gambling. The most worrisome aspect of this is sleep deprivation. It has a variety of ill effects, not the least of which is to impair judgement, resulting in extended gaming sessions at the cost of work performance and family relations. It sounds to me like you have a reasonable attitude about this, and I would continue being so. Online gaming is a really fun pastime, and I am a huge fan. But that doesn't make its pitfalls a non-issue.

You can't fix this for him, but you can communicate your feelings on the matter in a nonconfrontational manner. I don't exactly suggest showing him this thread, but a note expressing your feelings in much the same open and honest style might be in order. Definitely refrain from "enabling" behavior, where you make excuses for or go out of your way to disguise or facilitate your husbands gaming addiction. Do things that facilitate the goals your husband says he has but is not following through on. Set up a bike ride or other outdoor activity and arrange some travel and sightseeing.
posted by Manjusri at 1:36 PM on March 28, 2007

I'll echo some comments made previously but give my insight for what it's worth.

If he's playing or thinking of playing all the time, with the anger issues you mentioned, I'd say he's nearing a burnout on the game. Now that could take the form of a break from it, or a permanent break or he could just trudge on. In my mind it's similar to taking the same drug but not getting the high as often. Ever increasing dosages without the high only make the anger worse. And if WOW is like Everquest(and I'm sure it is), the high-end game can be a time sink where things more often go wrong than right.

I spent 5 years of my life on EQ. My wife and some friends and family played as well. We joined a top guild, raided 6 days a week. Formed our own small guild to downshift (3 days a week) and finally quit the game. At times to make the small guild work I dual wielded characters.

I went to EQ looking for something to "jazz" my life. It did for a while, then took over and finally at the end I too realized I couldn't win and real life was passing me by. I didn't get jazzed anymore but felt obligations to online and family players. My wife and I finally quit playing. I spent some time missing it and looking for something else to "jazz" me. Some of my family have moved on to WOW - others discovered the joy of needlepoint and exercise. I surf the web alot now but also spend time with my wife. When we played we stopped social activities if it interfered with the game. The electronic world did substitute for the real world and getting re-engaged in the real world was my way out.

It's difficult to reach someone in that deep and I wouldn't be surprised if they are angry and afraid if confronted about thinking about where they are game wise. But boredom and the playing rut are a powerful crutch. Theres always the next level, next expansion, next game but when the frustration is often greater than the fun, it's time for an assessment of goals to see if the reason to play is still there. When it's not play anymore, more like it's own job, then a fresh perspective is needed. I hope you can find a way to communicate that. I wish you luck.
posted by bhdad at 2:11 PM on March 28, 2007

Reading this thread, along with the comments from the post in the blue, has really fleshed out my uderstanding of this problem a lot. I'm hard on my partner because of the time he devotes to Second Life, but I'm also really careful about throwing around words like "addiction" in relation to it. Surely this tends, like most compulsive activites, toward some wide gray areas.

I still think it sounds like your husband is sliding toward the dark end of this scale. I hope that you feel validated enough by what you've read here to help him do something about it.
posted by hermitosis at 2:29 PM on March 28, 2007

My SO is a WoW-widow. Sometimes he talks to me and I don't hear a thing he says. Other times he says he 'hates that damn game' and would delete it if he could figure out how. I've tried to get him to play, but he refuses. Instead, I've gotten my brother and 76 year old Dad to play even more than I do (Pops has a Lvl 69 Druid at the moment).

Sure it's social and everything, but so is poker. If you played poker with some friends for hours a night, to the obvious displeasure of your partner, do you think this would be acceptable too?
posted by tomble at 3:12 PM on March 28, 2007

I think there's something going on here, but I'm going to have to disagree with a lot of the posts here about this being a symptom of depression. I think he just really enjoys playing WoW. If I made the mistake of pulling out Civilization IV right now, I'd get nothing done for the next two weeks. It wouldn't be a sign of depression, just a sign of a really well-designed game.

That doesn't mean his gaming isn't a problem. It can still be unhealthy, and is no doubt contributing to his lack of motivation. It's also obviously causing relationship issues, which is not good.

He has always been a gamer, so there's sort of always a minor element of laziness there, since he likes to sit and play video games for hours.

Three of the biggest online gamers I know managed to obtain or are in the process of obtaining graduate degrees while still playing hundreds of hours a month. I don't think games make people lazy.

WoW doesn't have to be unhealthy, and it can be incredibly social. We managed to get a group of about 15 old real-world friends together to form a WoW guild and designated every Wednesday as guild night. It was a lot of fun and a great way to keep in touch with friends who had become geographically dispersed.

About the anger outburst thing, I'm afraid I exhibit that myself. I'll do something stupid like drop a glass and then I freak out. It was really stressing out those around me, which I didn't realize until it was brought to my attention. One solution that really seemed to help is to try to bring the situation into perspective: "Oh no! If only we had more glasses in the cupboard!" or "Fortunately, we have the technology to clean up spills.." (hands over washcloth). This can be difficult to do if you're afraid he'll snap at you.

In that case, or if he can't cut back on the outbursts, recommend anger-management counseling to him. It will also be a convenient way of having a professional determine if he really does have obsessive/compulsive behavior issues.
posted by formless at 3:34 PM on March 28, 2007

How can you help him? You can tell him, when you are clear about it, how you feel - how you feel about your marriage, your homelife, bedroom life, are you still in love, happy, sad? At this point we really don't know why he is so irritable and plays video games all the time. Is this behavior normal? Who knows, but the question I'll ask is "are you happy?" Not him, you.

Man, my wife would not put up with this kind of behavior. No matter what the activity was - gaming, poker, pr0n, smoking weed, tv, drinking (whatever else might eat up tons of time and all of a persons energy) - I would have gotten either an earful or, more likely, a calm, very sad talk, with her telling me that she felt ignored, unloved and unhappy.

The way you describe your relationship sounds like a real drag to me - save for the one line where he is suddenly the funniest and sweetest. Does he have a best friend that can call him on his angry, apathetic crap?

If he ain't depressed, he sure sounds like he is in a rut. And since I'm an old man of 40, I'll go out on a ledge and say that no grown man should be staying up all damn night playing some stupid video game.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some of the problem could also be that Blizzard pretty much screwed up the WoW expansion pack. I've seen a number of guilds self-destruct recently because their notion of how to have fun is all but eliminated in the expac. If you've spent a significant chunk of your life invested in your character, your guild and your process, to suddenly get yanked out of that can make people extremely tense.

WoW is really not a game in the traditional sense. For a lot of people it is or has been something of a serious hobby in the car-guy or model-train-guy vein. Imagine if you're a model train guy, and suddenly Lionel decides to make the tracks 15mm wider, everything comes preassembled and the trains look nothing like real trains any more. Jarring, you bet.
posted by felix at 6:06 PM on March 28, 2007

WoW is a compelling social interaction. You can set goals for yourself and accomplish them with the help of other players in much shorter time than in the working world (if work gives you any opportunity to do this at all), and the accomplishments build on one another. Your character, with skills, talents, gear, and trade crafts, is infinitely customizable and tunable. Most players are probably not getting this from work or their home life.

Unless I have pre-arranged to take part in a WoW session, I will always abandon it for a real organized social interaction. On weekends we ski or snowshoe. Dinner and drinks with friends. Planned a few days in advance. Hell, even honey-do projects around the house provide the same fix that WoW can. It's not that hard.

But, left to my own devices, confronted with an alternative of T.V. or surfing the web, or something similar I'd rather play WoW.

I was ready to give it up after a 3-week trip to Italy. Unfortunately, my wife said "Aren't you going to WoW?" after a couple of days, and I got back into it, bought the expansion and a new computer.

Advice: call up friends, make plans, and give him something just as compelling as WoW to do, and something more to talk about. Buy a copy of Cranium, and a bottle of whatever is it you drink, and invite friends over. At least once a week.

As for the source of aggravation: He knows that WoW is at odds with something he cares about (this is, at least, how I feel). That sort of dissonance can chafe. Also, maybe he needs to work on his PvP skills so he's not getting ganked all the time.

I'm still waiting for a member of a raid to say: "GTG. Wife standing naked in middle of room."
posted by jimfl at 6:48 PM on March 28, 2007

Here's another vote for depression. My ex got angrier and grumpier over a period of time, and it seemed to kind of sneak up. He withdrew into video games, which he liked before, but he spent a lot more time on them, and would get really really angry when things in the game or in real life didn't go his way (the game was cheating, or so-and-so did something specifically to spite him). It wore me down over a period of more than a year.

What helped me get through it (granted, I eventually left, and that's not what I'm recommending) is the depression fallout message board and book. I would definitely suggest checking it out. You can see if the descriptions ring a bell (I read the book and underlined something like half of it as I went).
posted by someone else at 12:42 AM on March 29, 2007

If you substitute Metafilter for wow, you get a reasonable description of myself! I've been increasingly suspicious that I am depressed. I don't, however, feel what I would call 'depressed'. Hmmm.

In the past, depression has been something that ultimately leaves me horribly bored. Boredom I loath, and this motivates me to finally pull myself up by my own bootstraps (as the saying goes), and get out of it. But in the past, there wasn't internet.

So I suggest that wow is the coping mechanism that makes depression tolerable, something that can be ignored. Just an idea that might be helpful.
posted by Goofyy at 1:55 AM on March 29, 2007

Hey catfood, not sure you will ever see this, but if you do: let me know how it's going! I enjoyed the e-commiserating. I'm still working on my addict -- going through a good phase now though. Hope things are going well there.
posted by theredpen at 1:00 PM on May 7, 2007

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