Is Golf a Marital and Family Problem?
As spring arrives, golf becomes a major topic for many of the couples I see. The game has exploded in popularity over the past decade for both men and women. But some men seem to become glazed over as the grass turns green, unable to think about much more than their handicaps. One of the problems with the game, as it pertains to relationships, is the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf. Add to that the strong desire to watch golf on television (there is an entire cable channel devoted to the game) plus the need to practice driving and putting. You can see where being a "golf widow" is far more serious than being a "football widow."
Wives express a number of concerns. Most significantly, they feel pushed further down on the list of what is important to their husbands. Other complaints include loss of time spent with the children and chores that dont get taken care of. The husbands counter that they usually go out early in the morning and are home early enough to do whatever needs to be done. They claim that they dont miss any of their childrens important weekend activities. They claim it is a healthy activity that allegedly reduces stress. (That latter point is sometimes debatable!) It is also often a mixture of business and pleasure. In fact there have been a number of articles in business magazines about women executives taking up golf because it does provide a context for networking.
So is this really a valid issue and, if so, what are some strategies to reduce the conflict? The validity issue really varies. Clearly it is a function of two factors -- the amount of time actually being devoted to the game and whether the sport is being used as an avoidance of relationships. Some men definitely overdo it. For them golf is addictive and they really cant get enough of the game. An honest examination of the time being devoted to golf along with recognizing what their absence means to their family sometimes helps these men to create a little better balance. I suggest addressing this question as I do with other possible addictions, including recent concerns about overuse of the Internet. Keep a daily log. Enter time spent reading, watching, or playing the game. Review it daily with your wife to validate the entries. Do this for a few weeks and then evaluate. In most cases, if it is taking up more than 10 hours per week, it is a problem.
In other relationships, I find that the wifes perception is distorted. This occurs when there is already a problem in the relationship causing the wife to feel disconnected from her husband. Golf then becomes just one more item on a list of complaints reflecting a feeling of not being important to her husband.
If the game really is an obsession and is taking away from other obligations then the husband needs to face that honestly and work at reducing the amount of time. This can be done by making decisions about what is most important about the game, e.g., it could mean reducing TV time or practice time and not necessarily playing time. It may mean limiting playing golf to just one of the weekend days.
It is more complicated if this issue is occurring in the context of other relationship problems. This requires facing those problems. The "absent husband" complaint, whether it is about being at the office too much, heading off to the computer once at home, constantly working at projects around the house, or being immersed in other hobbies is nearly always a sign that this man is having difficulty spending time with his wife or children. The question to be explored is whether it is a personality issue, e.g., shyness or lack of interpersonal skills based on experiences in ones formative years, or reflects an actual relationship problem? Answering these questions often requires help from a specialist who works with couples.
Many times I find that there are some relatively simple solutions to the challenge of integrating a love for golf into a love of family. The husband needs to recognize that his focus on the game does create an appearance of being less available and less caring. Therefore, he needs to make a much more conscious effort to help his wife and children feel that they are more important to him than golf. Talking about the problem and clarifying the needs of family members will help. It may mean simply working out a schedule for spending time with other family members. That could mean taking care of the children for a few hours so your wife gets some time to pursue her needs. It may mean creating some one-to-one time with each family member.
It is clearly especially important to discuss the weekend schedule with your wife and ask what she needs you to do. In this conversation, make it clear that part of your goal over the weekend is to spend some fun time with your wife. Also look for other ways to say thanks to her for being supportive of your taking this extra time away from her and the children. A phone call after the front nine just to check on how things are going at home conveys a message that you dont forget about the important people in your life. Stopping to pick up a little treat or running an errand that she didnt expect you to take care of are other ways of showing that the family really is your priority. Be more willing to do something that is important to your wife. It all comes down to demonstrating your commitment to the relationship.
One final point. Women can make a simple adjustment that can significantly change the context of this issue. Take an interest in the game. American society has undergone a significant change regarding women and sports. Young women play sports with the same intensity and popularity as their male counterparts. The recent success of womens soccer, hockey, and basketball teams in attracting a national audience bodes well for a future in which more couples are able to share a healthy, mutual interest in competitive sports.
The problem for many of the couples I have spoken with is that the wives are just a generation behind this social change and experience no interest in sports. These women are watching their daughters play but still from a distance. There is much to appreciate about sports. If it is a strong interest of your husband you may be surprised how easy it is to become involved, either as a player or a fan. The more shared interests a couple has, the easier it is to have a healthy marriage
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