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My wife says pursuing my hobby will end our marriage. Let’s call it, hypothetically, motorcycling | Relationships

I’m towards the latter stages of my career and have also raised a large family over the last 25 years with my wife. I don’t have or find much else of interest outside work and my immediate family, but I’ve been increasingly keen to take up a hobby that I used to have before I got married. For the sake of this question let’s call this hobby, hypothetically, motorcycling.

My wife has no interest in joining in this hobby and also does not want me taking up this hobby, ardently enough to get to a place of saying it’s a choice between marriage and the hobby.

It’s impossible to break up, too complex, and I don’t want to do that for many reasons. But how do I reconcile accepting that in order to have a harmonious relationship, I have to give up hopes on what is, again, my only interest outside work and family?

How do I give up that interest without resentment of a level that would, I am quite certain, very negatively affect the relationship? I can’t see any other hobby to pursue. I’m also not prone to obsessive interests for short periods of time so this interest is not a passing fad. It seems to be a lose-lose situation. Where’s the win-win? I cannot see a happy compromise or middle ground for either of us.

Eleanor says: It’s hard to imagine what this could be, given your wife has such strong feelings about it and you don’t want to name it. Is it illegal? Is it a sex thing? Is it actually motorcycling, or something similarly dangerous, and she’s afraid of becoming a widow? Those are the only scenarios I can imagine that could make her feel so strongly. If it’s any one of those, denuding it of its features to call it a “hobby” might feel to her a bit like calling it a “group activity” when people get piercings and hang from hooks on the ceiling. Sometimes we have to deal in the specifics.

Without those specifics, it’s hard to give you the “win-win”. I will say that when your spouse tells you something is going to affect them so negatively that they’d rather leave the marriage, you have to listen. That’s just a condition of being married. The term “win-win” is in this regard a little misleading: marital compromise is not just a matter of weighing one person’s interests against another’s, like strangers in court. There’s a third thing, the marriage itself, which needs to be weighed. Really what you want is a win-win-win.

One useful way to start might be to look deeply at why this “hobby” has such enduring appeal. Is it a feeling of danger, youthfulness, losing oneself, risk, reinvention? (I guess these apply equally, whether it’s sex or actual motorcycling.) If you can get to the root of why it appeals, you’ll get two useful things. The first is one you won’t want to hear. It’s to try finding something else that scratches the same itch.

It’s easy to get fixated on the value of the thing we can’t have. That way, we get to resent someone even more for standing in its way. We don’t want something else to hold our interest or make us happy, because then it feels less egregious that we were robbed of what we truly wanted. But as the saying goes, don’t cut off your nose to prove a point about your wife. You can still bristle at being told what to do; you can still feel the loss of not having what you really wanted, while also trying to find something that might feel just as good. Try not to keep your life devoid of other interests so it stands as a monument to this one. It might be fun to learn whether something else feels as fun – but the best way to make sure nothing else will come close is to decide in advance that it can’t.

The second thing you’d get from reflecting on why you want this is a more productive conversation with your wife. She might have legitimate objections to the particulars here (if it’s actually motorcycling, the risks; if it’s a sex thing, monogamy). And she might be entitled to hold on to them. But if you can tell her what you want to feel, whether it’s excited or invigorated or like your own person again, it’s a lot harder to just say “nope”.

Whatever you decide to do together, it’s likely going to need to start with naming more than just the hobby itself – it’s going to start with naming exactly what it means.

This letter has been edited for length.


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