Q. My wife is constantly on the computer. She surfs the internet or plays computer Solitaire. When I complain, she'll say, "I just want to check out a couple websites." But then two hours go by. Sometimes I wonder, Did she marry me or the computer? How can I get her to stop spending so much time on it?
A. There is, with many women, an increasingly disturbing trend toward computer addiction. Some people play games for eight hours a day and get irritable and moody if they can't have constant access to their computer. Research has found that 65 percent of us spend more time with the computer than with our significant other!
Obviously complaining hasn't changed the situation. But you do need to talk with her about what her habit is doing to you, her, and your marriage.
Before you rush into a conversation, though, it's best to be prepared to present your case sensitively. It's vital that she feel your compassion and not just your fear, frustration, and disappointment. Don't complain. She needs to hear your love and concern for her, your desire to be with her, and your commitment to having a great marriage.
Be specific about how her behavior has changed, and how it's negatively impacted your lives. What does her excessive time on the computer keep her from doing as an individual and how does it rob you as a couple? When she wasn't spending so much time on the computer, what kinds of couple things did you do that she enjoyed? Remind her of some of the fun things you both enjoyed doing together that you probably haven't done in a while.
If this conversation doesn't help, meet with your pastor or a mature couple in your church whom you know has a great marriage and whom you both could trust. Sometimes a "second opinion" can be invaluable and can provide a fresh perspective, prayer support, and encouragement.
If the situation still doesn't improve, get some professional support. People who spend excessive time on the computer are usually medicating something in their life. Has there been a recent death or other kind of loss? Have you started traveling more or working longer hours? For some it's an attempt to deal with anxiety and depression, although it actually tends to increase anxiety and depression.
You can find some great resources at The Center for Online Addiction (www.netaddiction.com).
Q. Help! My mother-in-law is driving me crazy. Every time she visits, she tells me how I should run my house. My cleaning, my cooking, my decorating—nothing ever satisfies her. It's really starting to wear on me. What can I do?
A. Although there aren't any simple solutions, there are steps you can take that will likely improve the situation. Also, know that this isn't a problem just for you as an individual; it's a couple issue. When she attacks how you organize and run your home, she's attacking both of you, and the most effective solutions will involve you and your husband working together in dealing with her.
First, you need to discuss the issue with your husband. Jot down specific examples of the core concerns. Ask yourself: Is this just about her problem and her issues, or do I have any insecurities that might be causing her to misinterpret and overreact? Does she do this just with me or is this her way of operating with everyone? Does she ever have any good suggestions?
After you're clear about what the core issues are, it's time for you and your husband to sit down and plan your next move. Hopefully he'll be mature enough to understand that this is an important couple issue.
Is he aware of the problem? What does he feel when he sees you being dumped on? What does he think the best next step might be?
Now it's time to have a couple conversation with her. One husband, with his wife present, looked his mom in the eyes and said, "Mom, when we go to your home we don't tell you how you could run your house better, but since you've arrived you've made more than ten criticisms of how we do our home. I believe you mean well, but it would be more helpful for all of us if we agreed to honor each other's differences and not give advice unless it's asked for."
The sometimes difficult reality is that you don't have the power to change her behavior. You do have the power to control how you choose to interpret it and how you choose to respond.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.