“My wife left me earlier this year,” begins the email I received from a man in response to my recent post on Divorced Girl Smiling called “Do you have an antisocial spouse?” Here is the rest of the e-mail.
We had been married over 10 years and had 2 kids. One of the reasons that she gave was that she wanted to be with someone more extroverted. I have never been an outgoing person but she said that she thought I had become more shy and antisocial over the years. So I can’t disagree with your assertion that having an antisocial spouse can lead to separation and divorce.
What I do disagree with, however, is your contention that this is a character flaw that the antisocial spouse needs to fix.
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” for an insight into what it means to be introverted (she has an entire chapter on how to deal with the issues that arise when an introvert is in a relationship with an extrovert). Introversion is not something that we can just switch off. It is a fundamental part of who we are. It is not because we are depressed, have low self-esteem or are just unhappy, although those things may also be true. It is not something that we should go to therapy to “fix”.
Also, define “antisocial”. I hate being among large groups of people I don’t know very well, and find making small talk very difficult. So I have never enjoyed large parties. However I do enjoy going out in smaller groups, with people I know well and like. I love having people over for dinner and entertaining in my home. At the risk of generalizing, I think this is true for a lot of introverts: we hate making small talk in big groups, but love having deep, intimate conversations with individuals or small groups.
Nevertheless, I agree that you have a responsibility as a spouse to try to meet the needs of your partner. Personally, I was always willing to accommodate my wife and go out to parties with her. But I never enjoyed it, and for an introvert like me I don’t believe that’s something I could ever learn.
But accommodating the needs of your partner cuts both ways. If you are married to someone antisocial, instead of working on changing your spouse’s behavior, it might be more constructive to work on the way you perceive your spouse instead or, as you say, look for social situations in which your spouse would be comfortable. For instance, I frequently suggested to my wife that we invite people over for dinner, but she would rarely agree to that.
You say the antisocial spouse should tell their partner what they want from them. What I wanted from my wife was acceptance. I think the most hurtful thing about my separation was realizing that the person I married couldn’t give me that.
Read Susan Cain’s book. I can’t recommend it enough.
I have a few things to say in response to this. First, I want to acknowledge that I do not think being an introvert is a character flaw. I never said that. And, I am sure I can learn a lot about introverts in Susan Cain’s book. I am not claiming to be an expert on the subject.
But, I do consider myself a relationship expert, which is why I want to voice my opinion and say that it is surprising to me that the two of you got married at all. You were either much more social when the two of you got married, or your ex wife was less social and SHE changed, or, you both knew you weren’t very social and she married you, thinking she could change you.
You say you wanted acceptance from you wife, and I really can’t say if that is justified because I don’t know which of the scenarios is your case. If it’s the last one, and your wife thought she could change you, then yes, she should have accepted you. And actually, if SHE changed, she should have accepted you. But, if YOU changed over the years, than I would say it’s more up to you to try to be accommodating, versus just saying “accept me.”
I still stand by my opinion that in a marriage, each person has an obligation (and should actually want to) do things to please and accommodate their spouse. Going out is one of those things. Yes, maybe she could have had a few dinner parties to make you more comfortable. I wasn’t there.
In closing, I will check out Susan Cain’s book. It sounds like a good read for any introverted person or their spouse.
While I think I am shyer now than I was when we married (we met at a dancing club!), I think the main change over the years was the nature of the social events we attended.
When we first married, most social events had a mix of my friends and her friends (or our joint friends). They were people I knew well, so I mostly felt comfortable at them. I would still enjoy events like these today. The few parties I remember being uncomfortable at, even back then, were parties that were predominantly full of people I didn’t know well.
Over the years, most of my friends moved away from the place where we lived. Then we had kids, and many of the social events became oriented around school and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. As a result, they were mostly full of people I didn’t know well – exactly the kinds of parties I don’t enjoy or do well at.
That’s why I think it’s too simplistic to say someone is social or antisocial – it all depends on the nature of the social situation, who’s there, and whether the person is shy (afraid of the judgement of others) and/or introverted (prefers quiet, minimally stimulating environments).
As I said, I did want to do things to please and accommodate my wife. I never refused to attend an event that she wanted me to go to. And I would try to enjoy them. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t.
The reason I interpreted your post as saying that introversion was a character flaw was the part where you said, “I often wonder how these people become antisocial, and oftentimes I suspect the person is depressed, has low self-esteem and is just unhappy. I’m a big fan of therapy, so if the person is willing to go see someone, either by himself or with you, that is great.” Apologies if I misinterpreted that. All my life I’ve been criticised for being quiet, and my wife leaving me partially for that reason was the icing on the cake, so I tend to be a bit sensitive on that subject.
Thanks for the response and I apologize if I offended you. You seem like a great person, and i bet if you decide to get married again, it will be to someone who accepts you as you are. I hope, anyhow. That was my whole point.
You didn’t offend me. It’s always useful to have another perspective and you made me think about it from a different angle. 🙂