Friday, September 25, 2015

When You're Married to a Hermit

Bob and I both smiled when we saw the notice of the reunion show of the "Monty Python" stars last year. From the earliest days of our relationship, we've laughed together and tried to recreate famous lines from the Parrot Sketch, the Lumberjack Song and all the rest of the memorable songs and sketches from the popular t.v. show of the Seventies. This latest reunion show would be screening live and replaying once only later in the week at select locations, none of them especially close to us.

"But it would be fun to see..." I said.

"It would..." Bob said, leaning over Ulysses, his latest reading project, and making notes.

With that faint but audible encouragement, I went online and bought tickets.

When I told Bob we were set to go, he looked distressed. "I have my life exactly as I like it, my reading projects, my music, my Netflix films," he said. "I don't want to drive an hour and a half to see this. I don't want to disrupt my routine...."

I nodded. I understand the comfort and safety of routine. I enjoy our home, too. I've always thought of myself as more reclusive than not. But I'm coming to realize that, in comparison with my spouse, I'm a social butterfly.

What do you do when one of you prefers more solitude than the other?

Accept each other's preferences and discuss how to handle these.  Get clarification, before acting, regarding just what the other person is willing to do.

In the case of the Monty Python screening, we both did go, Bob somewhat reluctantly but understanding how important it was to me. We both agreed that the show was a bit of a disappointment but also enjoyed getting out together.

In terms of socializing, Bob's needs appear to be met largely by weekly guitar jam sessions with our friend Theo. I have a greater need to have and see friends, though my work schedule of late is making me positively hermitic. I do go to L.A. from time to time to see old friends while Bob stays home quite happily with the cats. I'm becoming more comfortable attending social gatherings alone. Quite frankly, I would rather go alone than to see Bob uneasy. And I'm finding that attending events alone is, over time, increasing my sense of confidence and autonomy.

Reject the martyr role for either of you: Forcing a spouse to participate in an event he or she doesn't want to attend isn't worth his discomfort, your unease and an altogether wretched time. On the other hand, don't sigh and stay home if you're really wanting to go. I went on a trip to Palm Springs last year to see the "Palm Springs Follies" with a busload of neighbors and made some lovely new friends along the way.

Realize that you may simply have different ways of meeting your social needs. There are some people who would never believe that Bob is reclusive. When he walks to Starbucks and the grocery store at dawn each day, he talks enthusiastically with baristas and cashiers, making them laugh, remembering to ask about their families, their pets, their health issues. After half an hour of visiting, a cup of coffee and a blueberry bagel, Bob is sated and ready for another day of treasured solitude. He knows many more people than I do at our local shopping center. (My shopping style is to be pleasant but to dash into the store and out as quickly as possible.) If the Safeway and Starbucks personnel were asked to pick the hermit in our family, I'm sure I'd would win by a landslide. And yet...I sometimes yearn for a different type of socializing: long conversations, one-on-one. I find myself missing friends in L.A. with whom this is easily possible and friends in Arizona who, because of their schedules and mine, are not able to sit down for a good afternoon of talking story, as the Hawaiians call it, as often as I would like. But I also see this as my challenge to solve, not Bob's responsibility.

Be aware of changes in behavior that could be problematic. Some people are content with their own company. It's simply a long-established personality trait. Some others may have a deep-seated need to avoid social interactions. When this causes distress, either to the person or to the spouse, some psychotherapy or marital therapy may be in order. For others, sudden reclusiveness may signal depression or another issue that signals the need for a trip to the doctor for a checkup.

 One of my neighbors became a sudden recluse, for example, when he began to lose his hearing and could no longer understand conversations, especially in crowded, noisy venues. His physician referred him to a hearing specialist. Now that he has hearing aids, he's back on the local social circuit.

The red flag is a definite change of previous behavior, perhaps sudden, that signals the need to look for possible physical or psychological factors with the help of a medical professional.

Develop friendships with others who enjoy some of the same activities that you do: Go to shows or out to dinner or even travel with friends. This keeps a travel-adverse spouse happily at home and allows the partner with the desire to visit new places and attend special events to be satisfied as well.

See value of other's point of view and bend on occasion.  Not all hermit-spouses stay happily at home and not all of those with a bit of wanderlust head off happily alone or with friends. There can be tension, hurt feelings, unhappy compromises. What can help, in such situations, is a conversation about what's possible and what's not, with no blame or accusations, but understanding and valuing each other's perspective.

It can also help for each partner to make occasional concessions. The recluse may need to hear that at least a little socializing can be a major health benefit and venture out from time to time. The more social spouse may come to recognize the value of quiet and solitude on occasion, finding that time at home to relax, to reconnect with each other and to look within can be a blessing.


  1. Dr, McCoy, you've hit quite close to home here. My wife (since 1970) enjoys going out shopping and lunching with her friends while I satisfy my social needs with interactions in stores and other everyday crowds one encounters. Yet, where I would like to attend a class reunion, she would not. We've achieved some workable compromises in the past but I see we're going to have to keep at it. You give some excellent suggestions on how these adjustments can be made. Thanks!

  2. So many things you address in here relate to Rick and me, though no one would accuse either of us of being social recluses! But we do have different interests and over the past nearly-20 years we have worked hard to figure out how to integrate those so we both win. Today is a good example. Here at the lake, I'd like if we went on a long color tour farther north where it's a bit brighter. But it's a flawless day and there won't be a lot of flawless days left for cycling, so Rick is doing his 100 miles. I will go to the farm market and maybe after, make a detour north to see what I can find. We'll have a lovely dinner together and all will be well. It's the same at home. We'll both go to each others' official functions but I am the quiet shy one when it's not my arena (contrary to popular opinion among those who think they know me). So, we pick and choose carefully. Meanwhile, there are the bike guys and the book club girls and seldom the twain shall meet. And somehow, we aren't quite sure how, but somehow, it works!

    Wonderful points made here, and important to mention when the rules change suddenly and one is out of character. Definitely something to be aware of!

  3. You always have such a good sense of perspective and so much wisdom. Thank-you for sharing it with us :)

  4. My husband and I have different social needs as well. He is up and out in the early morning, and by 8 a.m., when I get up, he's back for a quiet day. I need one-on-one conversations with friends over lunch or coffee. We do well with this arrangement as long as I don't interrupt him when he's sitting at the dining room table working the crossword puzzle or reading the paper or napping.

  5. Think you have great solutions for a common problem. When I was married, my husband either wanted to stay home or hunt with his buddies. I kept my friends to do the things I liked. It worked for awhile. We broke up for totally different reasons.

  6. Boy did this post hit home for me and my spouse. In our relationship...I am the RECLUSE. I am perfectly comfortable puttering around the house, reading, watching Net flix...etc. My Soul Mate, on the other hand needs more HANDLES the social calendar. I agree to go when he has arranged somethings and be happy doing it. Although, sometimes I just SHOW UP, SHUT UP AND WEAR BEIGE!! LOL LOL LOL



  7. Good discussion. I think it's important for a husband and wife to have a social life together, and then also a separate social life with some of their own friends. That way one can be more social than the other, and you don't get on each other's nerves. Good point about watching out for a change in behavior., P.S. I like Monty Python; but I dunno if I like them enuf for a 1 1/2 hr drive!

  8. Excellent article! So many are so self absorbed that considering the other person's feeling, thoughts, wishes... seem remote in this it's-all-about-me day and age. Years ago one of the many good books I read and that gave me great insight was Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand. Give one a different perspective on life

  9. Hi my hubby and I are early retirees and live abroad. He doesn't phone his grown up kids unless it's their b.days whereas I text or speak to mine most days. We cannot speak the language and live in the countryside with no neughbours. It's 16 mile's from the nearest town. He is quite happy not to see anyone but it is getting me down as we meet up with other ex.pats occasionally but he's not bothered if we don't go. I've tried explaining how depressed I'm getting because of the everyday isolation. I cannot drive and there's no buses that come out where we live. I feel that this life is just a waiting game as he decides everything where we go when etc and I am just waiting for his instructions. I cannot return to the UK as I have no job and no house to go back to. He has always been quiet and not sociable but he's now becoming a hermit and I feel like I'm in a prison.