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Dating Maze #376: Married to a Nerd

February 10, 2013 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

I always dreamed of a social butterfly; instead I married an introvert.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I've been married for six months. We dated for almost two years before he "popped the question" and I really thought I knew him well. Prior to that point, I hadn't given much thought to what I wanted in a husband. Now I’m totally miserable and I hope you can help sort out what I'm going through.

We met on a Birthright trip to Israel, while we were both in graduate school. When we became friendly on the trip, I could quickly see what a fine person he was. He knew what he wanted in life, he was considerate and well-mannered, and he had the sweetest, shy smile. He wasn't loud and in-your-face, yet had confidence in who he was. We got along right away, and by the end of the trip I knew this could lead to something.

Even though we lived about an hour and a half apart, we managed to see each other almost every week. It was hard – both of us were in school and had part-time jobs. We would talk for hours, or sometimes just enjoy quiet time reading, studying, whatever. After he graduated, he accepted a job close to where I live, so our relationship could become serious.

I liked the fact that he was a Big Brother volunteer – it impressed me that he didn't only think about himself. He is honest, responsible, kind and hard-working. He gets along well with both of our families, loves children, and wants a family, just like me. I love the fact that he believes a husband and wife should be equal partners in a marriage, and I really feel like we're a team. He adores me and thinks I'm beautiful, and I'm attracted to him, too.

I have to beg him to join me at social events.

So, why am I unhappy? I never realized how uncomfortable he is in social situations. I assumed that he is as at ease with everyone as he is with me, our families, and his close friends. But he's not – in fact, he "can't do small talk" and feels awkward and uncomfortable with people he doesn't know well. When we got married, we moved to a suburb with a number of young, Jewish families. But I’ve had to beg him to go to social events or out for coffee with other couples in our area. The few times we've gone, I knew he was doing it for me; he was quiet, and when he was asked questions, he gave short, stiff-sounding answers. He didn't make a good impression, and I was embarrassed.

I don't want our lives to only center around each other and our jobs. I've always enjoyed getting together with friends, and I imagined that when I got married, my husband and I would sometimes go out with other couples, become active in our community, and even entertain friends in our home. I don't know if that's going to happen now. I love my husband, but I also want a social life that doesn't center around just the two of us. Sometimes, I worry that his discomfort will affect him at work – will he have trouble getting along with colleagues? Will it keep him from getting a promotion?

I don't know if he is socially awkward, or perhaps painfully shy. I didn't see this when we were dating. Am I wrong for letting it bother me? Why am I embarrassed when he acts so uncomfortable with other people?

I used to think I could talk to him about anything, but he is so sensitive about this issue that when I did bring it up, it hurt him terribly and made me blame myself for causing him pain. I know it is not fair of me to expect more out of him if I was the one who overlooked this to begin with.

I would be mortified if my single or married friends knew that I was anything less than happy in my marriage. How can I get through this?


Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Cindi,

We understand that you are unhappy and disappointed, and that you'd like to feel differently about your husband and your marriage. It's good that you are able to acknowledge these feelings and express them, rather than pushing them aside and telling yourself you "shouldn't" feel as you do. Only after you identify and acknowledge how you feel can you deal with and possibly change these emotions.

Let's look at the source of your unhappiness. After you were married, you discovered that he wasn't the "perfect" man you thought him to be. He has a fine character, sense of responsibility, confidence in who he is, and compassion for others. He shares your goals and vision of family life, and adores you. These are the most important qualities for a healthy and enduing relationship, and we see that you value them greatly. But he's also uncomfortable, and even awkward, in new social situations – something you didn't see before, and something that interferes with your picture of what married life can be. Now you're angry at yourself for overlooking this and ending up with less than your "dream.”

Part of the adjustment of marriage is realizing that the person we married is not perfect.

What you're experiencing is a realization that nearly every married person arrives at, often during the first or second year of marriage: There is no such thing as a "dream” spouse and marriage. We can understand the let-down you feel – it is common for anyone who hasn't been prepared to expect this. No matter how well we choose a spouse, nearly all of us discover things that we didn't anticipate. This is part of the adjustment of marriage – not only getting used to each other's rhythms, habits, styles of relating, and expectations – but also getting used to the fact that the person we married is not perfect and may have more or less of certain qualities than we realized.

We've seen many variations of what you’re experiencing. For example, a man who envisioned having many Shabbat and holiday guests hosted by his ever-capable wife may be disappointed that she has no interest in cooking and baking elaborate dishes, or entertaining on a grand scale every week. A woman whose husband is usually good about sharing the housework and child care may feel frustrated that he always needs to be asked to help and never does so on his own. By focusing on the disappointment of unmet expectations, once could lose respect for the person they married and feel it was a poor choice.

Situational Reframe

Or they can take a different approach.

We call this different approach “reframing” – looking at a situation from a different perspective. You might start reframing by considering an observation a friend of ours made after 10 years of marriage: "When I was dating, I was sure that I knew what was important in marriage. After I was married for a while, I saw those thing weren't so important after all. And I was surprised about some of the ‘new’ things that turned out to be important."

Let's look at what really bothers you about your husband. He shies away from social events, feels uncomfortable with people he doesn't know, and isn't the gregarious, outgoing man you imagined would accompany you to parties and social events. It's fine to want him to be more comfortable in social settings, but these aren't qualities you need in order to have a loving, thriving marriage. He still has all the personal qualities that were important when you were dating, traits that will make him a good, enduring husband and father. You'll value these qualities when you return from a discouraging day at work, when you need a listening ear as you describe something that upset you, when a baby cries in the middle of the night and you're exhausted, and when you want someone to share the joy in something you've accomplished.

You might be able to understand why his "flaws" bother you so deeply by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Why is it so important that he be adept at socializing with new people? Is this something you feel is essential to being a good husband?
  • What does it mean to you to be married to someone who isn't perfect? Do you think less of yourself, or worry that other people think less of you?
  • Do you emphasize these traits because they were qualities you admired in your father or mentor? Or perhaps were you embarrassed because your father or mentor didn't have this ability?

There's nothing wrong with answering "yes" to any of these questions – what's important is that you answer honestly, so that you understand where your disappointment is coming from.

It's healthy to be able to say you're disappointed. You don't have to feel guilty that you do. The sadness you feel is part of a process of acknowledging that you didn't get everything you wanted, then accepting it, and being open to appreciating what you do have.

Chana Levitan, a teacher, mentor and matchmaker who wrote the book, I Only Want to Be Married Once, talks about how people experience this process when they are dating, and again when they are married:

Two people meet, they like each other, and share certain goals, values, etc. There is attraction, but they spend time getting to know each other, getting beyond the "image." As they talk and spend time together, some of their faults become more apparent. They don't ignore or deny these faults. Rather, they responsibly consider whether they can handle them. In other words, they are able to assess the "real-ationship" as they progress.

They build a foundation of marriage on shared values, honesty, respect, knowledge and of course, attraction – rather than on wishful thinking, blind attraction, and a false sense of security. Their relationship is built on assessment, understanding, and mature acceptance of their spouses' imperfections – not a denial of them.

Starting Slow

Anyone happily married will admit that these imperfections become more annoying at times. However, because of the strong foundation of the relationship – a relationship based on reality – the faults become less significant. They are not deliriously ignored, as they are with the “intoxication of infatuation.” Rather, the imperfections are pleasantly, and sometimes consciously, ignored and glanced over, as each spouse focuses on the positive, wonderful aspects of the other.

Until now, you've been holding on to an unrealistic expectation – that your husband is close to perfect. Many other daters and newlyweds have the same way of thinking, and they, too, experience disappointment when they learn the truth. (In fact, we guarantee that virtually all of your newly married friends are grappling with some form of "Oh no, my husband isn't perfect and neither is my marriage!" and are also putting on happy faces to everyone.) It's an unfortunate fact that many are not prepared for this fact of life. If you'd known how common this is during the first year or so of marriage, you wouldn't be so upset. You might take it in stride, or at least adjust to your reality more easily.

Imagine how he must be thinking: What did I get myself into with this woman!?

The worst-case scenarios that you describe (e.g. trouble at work) seem to be fueled by your anxiety more than they reflect reality. It sounds like your husband does very well one-on-one, and with small groups of people he knows. He related to you easily, and he was a Big Brother to a boy he hadn't known before. He's also willing to accompany you to get-togethers, even though he feels extremely uncomfortable. (Imagine how he must be thinking: What did I get myself into with this woman!?)

If you address this issue together, we believe you'll find a happy medium. Your husband seems to connect well to people after he feels more comfortable with them. Perhaps you'll decide to get together with one new couple at a time, and slowly develop friendships with a core group of couples. You might consider joining a committee at your synagogue – working on a project may distract him from his anxiety and help him become comfortable with more people. By watching you in social settings, he may even learn how to make small talk, like many other husbands who once felt this awkwardness.

The two of you can plan smaller-scale social activities, such as going out with one or two other couples or inviting a few friends over for a game night, movie night, or dinner. You can encourage your husband to “prepare” for some of the larger social events he’d prefer to avoid – by planning what to say when “mingling,” such as complimenting the hosts, introducing himself to a new person, commenting on a major story in the news. Also, if you can arrange in advance to sit with (or meet up with) people you already know, than can help him feel less anxious about what he’ll be doing all evening.

And of course, going out as a couple is not your only opportunity to socialize – you each have your own friends and can make time to get together with them on your own.

Don't expect your husband to meet all your needs and to be everything for you – that's an impossible task. Instead, strive to appreciate that in spite of his imperfections, the two of you are right for each other and you made a wise choice in deciding to marry him.

Rosie & Sherry

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