To Play or Not Play Ball (When you’re married with small kids)


Marriage Dilemma: Wife's resentment at husband's sports league commitments.

There's a good chance that when you first got together with your now-partner, him playing on a sports team with his friends was all part of the fun.

But now that you are married with small children and limited family time, this activity may feel like a luxury that's beyond the family budget and one that causes on-going resentment every time he grabs his mitt and heads out the door.

For husbands, playing on a team with your friends can be one of the highlights of the week. A place where you can go to have some fun, be physical, and have some male bonding while playing a game with clear, simple rules that isn't about feelings or complex social guidelines or having to change diapers or deal with bills or the latest broken thing in the house.

Unfortunately the cost of this indulgence falls on your wife's plate and can understandably cause feelings of resentment. Especially when you're out 2-3 times a week (nights and weekend days), enjoying yourself, maybe even having a few beers while she's are home with the kids wanting a break herself. On top of that, she may be feeling hurt that your priorities haven't shifted to put your family ahead of yourself.

The trouble with this conflict is that, like the game of baseball itself, partners often go at it as if their mates are on the opposing team. Which means that for one side to win, the other has to lose. And while that might work in softball, it isn't a good strategy for a strong, long-lasting marriage.

So what to do? Each couple has to figure this out for themselves but consider these aspects that are likely getting in the way.

HUSBANDS - How you take the lead on this is possibly the most crucial part of the process. It starts to go wrong the minute you don't appreciate that you are taking from the family pot when you decide that you are going to join a sports team. Dismissing this fact, and acting like your life hasn't changed and you don't have a family that needs you too is the first challenge. If you want to try to play ball AND have a good marriage to come home to, dismissing this fact will not get there. So the first step is to acknowledge the reality of the situation. "I want to play ball and I know that this gets in the way of family commitments."

WIVES - if your husband doesn't see the ramifications of his desire to play a team sport (denial is a wonderful thing), you still have a choice on how you ask him to notice - nicely or naggingly. Often wives minimize their husbands' needs and act as if their men should just get in line and not have any needs. (Sex comes to mind here too!) So if he has already been caught in the trap of giving something up only to find that this is barely acknowledged, you can see why he may be hard pressed to just keep going down this path. Especially if what waits for him at the end is the complete disappearance of himself.

So what's my call? Here it is:

HUSBANDS - if at all possible, give something up. Show your wife and family that they matter by limiting your time away. Consider joining a league with a lighter schedule, less practice or better hours. Sacrifice in other areas and don't just be a taker. How about coming home after the game or not joining a league for every sports season - softball, football, basketball, golf etc. Also be the kind of husband that your wife WANTS to sacrifice for. Before you head out to the game help out. And step up when you get back. Support your wife in getting some time away too. Though suggesting that she is also free to go out for some fun isn't always a genuine option, especially if you've already taken so much of the family time.

In fact - while you are asking your wife to be generous, you might also consider a grand gesture of not playing for a few seasons until your kids are older and not so physically demanding. Especially if your wife is truly feeling overwhelmed at home and really isn't able to give any more. Don't just say - too bad I'm doing this so deal with it. You may get to play the season but it will definitely cost your marriage in the long run.

Hopefully it doesn't have to be that drastic. But showing your partner that she actually has a partner who cares can be a brilliant idea. Of course that goes for wives too.

WIVES - If you genuinely feel like you cannot handle the stresses of your home life without more help then let him know that. It can be a very tiring few years when your kids are small and needy is so many ways. But if at all possible support your husband in finding a way to play - even doing so with a generous heart because that is the true foundation to a good marriage.

Does he work hard? Is he a decent husband and dad? Does he help around the house? Consider this - If it's important to him it should be important to you. He's getting exercise and it's FUN. (Remember that word?) Don't belittle his enjoyment and don't minimize what you are asking him to give up. Can you be creative in getting support with the kids? Extended family, a sitter or mother's helper? How about taking the kids to a few games to cheer daddy on?

The very complex secret to a good relationship is this: give your best not your worst, give the most not the least. It does take a certain amount of selflessness in order to have something bigger than yourself. But if you are EACH willing to offer something to the other you can find a solution. Make your moments with your family count! And most importantly, be supportive of each other and appreciate that support.

Here's to a great season!


Annie Zirkel is a Relationship Consultant, Workshop Presenter and Author based in Ann Arbor, Mi. who, spontaneously, joined a softball team this summer and is loving it! I see the attraction. You show up, you bring a mitt. You try to hit something and you try to catch something. Yes husbands - I can relate. (Though my kids are now teenagers.) Contact her at Creative Commons photo credit ShutterBugChef