Captain and Bored Passenger

Reader:  Hi Athol,
Last night I watched a William Shatner produced documentary called “The Captains” in which he interviewed all the actors who were Star Trek captains throughout the “franchise”.  It struck me as understandable but very sad to hear them speak of the failure of their marriages due to the extremely long and taxing production schedules. “Capt. Picard” said with the deepest regret in his voice that his two failed marriages were his greatest regret. They all spoke of the tremendous hardship also on their children. Kate Mulgrew talked about how wrenching and physically demanding it ended up being.
Though they recognized the great acting opportunity this gave them, the cost was personally very,very high. You have used the captain analogy before and that’s helpful but in real life acting that role meant a heavy toll on marriages and children and the man or woman involved. All of them divorced at the time ,Kate Mulgrew was a single parent and I don’t know that she ever remarried, and the only one so far that is not divorced is the actor who played the young Kirk in the most recent movie.
Fascinating interviews but acting is a rough profession!
Athol:  I think this is an example of going too far to the Alpha and not balancing it with the Beta. At first it’s exciting to have your spouse becoming famous and being on TV with a hit show, but after a few years you start feeling like the only place you actually see your spouse is on the TV. When the deepest relationship your spouse has is with their job, it’s direct emotional effects on you are not wildly different than them having an affair that you haven’t discovered. You’re just slowly robbed of their time and attention. At some point, it becomes very tempting to start looking outside the marriage to sustain yourself.
There’s plenty of similar professions where there’s this dynamic: Doctors, pilots, human services workers, politicians, high level executives and so on. There’s something about a job with crazy scheduling, high caseloads and/or on-call responsibilities that can simply suck you into it and take over your life. The money may be great, and ironically many men do these jobs in order to be good providers, but end up loosing their family in the process.
In short, if you turn yourself into someone that is essentially never there, and just acts as a wallet for the wife and kids… you’ve already got one foot in the divorced lifestyle. When divorcing you means “not much would change really” to her, you’ve wandered into dangerous territory.  
Importantly it does not take long for your family to start getting to the point where they no longer miss you. Somewhere between 6-12 months of you being AWOL… Always Working Overtime Lifestyle… and the emotional vacuum of you being constantly gone can start to be filled.
You must find ways to stay in touch with each other. It’s not even wildly important how you do it, or how long individual touches are. You just have to stay in constant contact. Simple texting during the day is quick and easy. Ping an email to each other. Leave the office on time and go home. Do breakfast together once a week. Simply anything that is direct contact with each other. This is all Beta stuff, but if you’re working in an Alpha profession, you have to add the Beta to balance things and keep an emotional connection going.
Switching to talking about Jennifer and myself…
We’ve talked together a lot about what our plans are for the upcoming year in terms of growing MMSL. One of the things we’ve talked about is doing seminars and that would involve some travel. Using Google Analytics to see where I have the most readers coming from, I identified twelve primary cities and thirteen secondary cities that look good for doing something. So what does that mean? Three months of me being gone every weekend to hit the primary cities? Three months of us going and leaving the kids behind? Dragging the kids with us? Me just being gone for two solid months touring and hitting both primary and secondary cities? The whole family touring for the entire summer? Many difficult choices and we both hate being apart from each other. Six years from now when youngest is in college, this is all easy as we’d just go on tour and anywhere that would have us, but tricky for now. So we’re still brainstorming on this issue.
The point is though, we’re a Captain and a First Officer on the same ship, heading in the same direction and we’re both engaged in this activity. MMSL is a massive time sink for me, much less so for Jennifer, but she supports it by picking up the slack on some of my household chores. She edits my writing and I write in the living room – the same room she is in. We discuss together some of my reader email questions.
If five years from now MMSL hits the big time, and I’m gone for half the year but rake in a million bucks a year, while Jennifer stays home… lonely and bored… well that would obviously be a bad setup for us. For sure I’d be a Captain, but she wouldn’t be my First Officer as I’d written her out of the script. Captain and Observer or something.
If you’re in an Alpha profession, you have to try and actively maintain the emotional connection with each other. If you’re the Captain, you’re more responsible for that than she is. I’m not saying 99% of all contacts are started by you as you act like a needy Beta, I’m saying if the mutual contact seems to have taken a decline, it’s up to you to say “I think we’re getting off track with each other.” and restart the communication lines.
Importantly you won’t be told when the lines of communication are broken… because the lines of communication are broken… that’s what broken lines of communication means. You have to notice you aren’t getting her messages. If she not obviously happy with you, her mysteriously stopping nagging looks like a good sign, but is in fact a bad sign as she’s withdrawing from you further.
“Yes” that’s running awfully close to “blaming the male for not manning up” or whatever. I’m just telling you how relationships work in reality. Most women want to be led in a relationship, so you have to act like a leader.
The other thing you can do is try and create opportunities where both of you have shared time and attention on a common task. Maybe that means she has a meaningful role in your workplace – I’ve seen plenty of doctor/nurse pairings where the wife runs the front of the medical practice and the husband the back for example. Or it’s some sort of complementary professions where you have some sort of contact like a real estate lawyer and a real estate agent.  Or it can be something outside of work, maybe that’s coaching kids sports, being in a band, working on the garden or… going to church even. Any shared activity works. Take up ballroom dancing, or samba or something. Truly anything is better than nothing.
Just pay attention to the essential pitfall…
When you put a woman in the lap of luxury and deny her either (1) an emotional connection or (2) having a meaningful task required of her, she will be greatly understimulated. Or put more plainly, just bored.
It’s very predictable that bored wives will find something else to do… or someone.
Jennifer: Athol and I have only been apart for one weekend since we married. Three years long distance before we married was quite enough! The MMSL dream is that we get to be together all the time.  


  1. This advice needs to be in your (next) book.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Pdwalker +1

    While many factors took out my previous marriage, this was just one of them. Had we not had the other problems, Athok's advice on this.would have definitely fixed it. But, because he had personality disorder issues, he actually exacerbated this by fluffing up his importance in hiss wirk and purposely excluding me because I "wouldn't understand."

    If i'm not smart enough to keep up with you, why did you marry me?

  3. Athol, I've seen it work where one spouse does their book tour two weekends a month (bi-weekly), and tries for one weekend being when the kids have school vacation. That way, they have the option to come with…or you can still get home and spend time with the family.

    Of course, in that family, the spouse who writes books quit the full time job to do so…which might be a serious consideration for you too. Lots of would-be independent businesspeople are held back at the "should I quit my other job?" fork in the road.

    Back to you and Jennifer, I hope you get an editor for your book this time…I've been reading my copy and there's some weird typo stuff going on there. Also check your sidebar here on the website…you have two paternity testing categories (one spelled wrong).

  4. "If i'm not smart enough to keep up with you, why did you marry me?"

    Exactly. I don't know how many times I've seen one spouse get a promotion and act like they're super smart. Unless they promoted you to Head Genius, I don't think so.

  5. You know we all go through periods of intense work for long term gain. If you have to be gone for a few weeks in the next year or two, tell Jennifer to sit quietly on it and deal with it. Athol, the balls in your court as to how long you go on the road and how much money you want to make at this. The lure of the almighty $ can be strong, but if you want to keep your marriage together for the long term, just don't go on the road all the time and not make as much money as you possibly could. I'm still not convinced that going on the road is your best way to make money.

  6. This post hit home in a couple of different instances.

    I have always been ambitious, to a fault. I have a hard time being happy with the status quo.

    When I was younger, I aspired to go to law school and become a lawyer. Then I watched a friend work 70 hour weeks while he articled and then had the bar to pass, and then had to work his tail off as a junior at his new firm all while accumulating massive amounts of debt. Not the life my wife and I wanted.

    Fast forward to about six months ago, I was offered a position at a new company doing the same thing as I am now, but on a much larger scale. More money, way more people working for me (alpha points) but obviously a huge time commitment away from the family (wife, two young kids).

    We discussed the opportunity, floated the idea of me doing it for a few years, but in the end decided against it.

    All about work – life balance. Unless you are a business owner, your job is an income source, most males need to keep that in perspective. One of the things feminism has not changed, is the societal pressure that is placed on the male to earn as much money as possible for his family; like Athol said, its too bad cause ironically that can ruin marriages and thus the family.

  7. Trimegistus says:

    Athol: I'm speaking from experience here. If you can make MMSL your full-time job, you'll be working form home, doing something which doesn't look a lot like working to most people. ("You're just sitting at your computer staring out the window!")

    Unless you're extraordinarily successful and can make more than both of you are earning right now, your wife will probably still be working.

    There's an inevitable, unconscious tendency for the person working at home to become the stay-at-home parent. You're there, after all. Can't you watch the sick kid? Can't you run the dog to the vet? Can't you stop at the grocery? Can't you put on a pot of spaghetti 'cos I'm running late?

    Less and less of your real work gets done.

    So I strongly, strongly recommend you do your work at home someplace else. Rent an office if you can afford it, or just park your butt in a coffeeshop with wifi. The point is that you're not at home. You're working. To put it in Star Trek terms, beam down to the planet of the week even if there aren't any Klingons, because otherwise you'll be stuck looking after that twit Wesley.

  8. Trimegistus, I'm surprised that you would refer to Athol's children as "that twit Wesley". I'm pretty sure he loves his children and does not think of them as twits. (The actual advice about working from an office, if/when it is affordable, makes sense.)

  9. This is very good advice. Sometimes high-career husbands just don't realize what they're doing to their marriages, but sometimes I think it's a male "rationalization hamster" at work. He wants to do what he's doing, so he rationalizes it as "I give her everything." No, you're giving her scarcely any of the one thing she really wants/needs – you.

  10. Trimegistus is absolutely right. Working from home can get complicated really quickly. You can make it work with a LOT of self-discipline and excellent good-at-saying-no skills, but even then other people have a hard time taking your time seriously. Getting dressed and going to another site to work, though, that's not working-at-home. That's being self-employed! The psychological distance between the two is vast, to you as well as to others, even if the practical reality is very similar. It can be very helpful, if you can afford it.

    (At least, as a man, you probably won't have to put up with friends calling and asking for free babysitting "since you're home anyway". If I had $10 for every time I got one of those calls I… well, wouldn't be able to retire, but I could probably buy myself a fancy new laptop. *sigh* Fancy new laptop…)

  11. Shoot. You know, I meant to actually comment on the post, not just the other comments.

    Here's my thoughts on the post – My husband is in a field that is time intensive. Add in a long commute and we don't see much of him during the week. Both of us do what we can to spend time together. Once or twice a year he'll take a day off and we'll spend it together – go out for breakfast, do something "together" even if it's just running errands, then go out for lunch, and get home just before the kids' buses arrive. We don't have to do anything special. I have very fond memories of the day we wound up sitting in the mechanic's front office between breakfast and lunch. Just spending time with my husband was enough.

    The rest of the time I make sure that he's my top priority when he gets home. The way his schedule runs right now he's actually only home and awake for about an hour on weeknights. He spends a few minutes with the kids, then we head for the bedroom. He gets whatever physical attention he wants, but we also spend time just talking and cuddling. I catch him up on what's happening with the family, try to find some way to make him laugh (weird news stories are good for that) and try to make sure he has at least a few minutes of life-beyond-work. I've been in the work to home to work rut and it's incredibly unpleasant. I don't want him to feel trapped in a lonely life, or isolated from his family.

    Of course, this wouldn't work, as Athol points out, if he wasn't making an effort, too. He does have his weekends free currently, and we all love that, because he puts his energies into family those days. If he were choosing to be disconnected from us even when he was home, I don't know how everything would work out. (Not that he spends every minute interacting with us. He's a big fan of naps and usually spends at least a few hours playing on the computer.)

    My sister's husband is a soldier. He has been gone for one reason or another more than half of their marriage. He was gone for a combined total of two of their first three years together, in fact. It helps when the spouse who is left behind feels like they are part of a larger effort. For me, this larger effort is supporting our family. For my sister it's tied up in patriotism. For both of us, we take pride in being a team with our husbands as we work toward a mutual goal. Sure our husbands are gone a lot. That's OK. We are working with them, even if they're in another country. Physically we're separated, and that's difficult, but psychologically we're united.

    So, Athol, you might be able to make seminars work, if you and Jennifer both feel that you are doing this together, even when you are physically separated. If she feels left behind, then you've got a problem, yes. But, if she feels like this is a temporary, unwilling, separation, something the two of you are consenting to for the good of your family, then it becomes a mutual sacrifice, and can actually strengthen your relationship in an odd way. Trials suffered together, and all that.

    John Donne, in "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" handles this subject extremely well, explaining to his wife that their love is sacred and special, that physical separation is only an illusion, because their souls are joined through their love in such a way that they are truly one and never really separated. Her stability at home keeps him stable while he is gone, and draws him back to her. "Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end where I begun."

    Yes, I am a WILDY sappy closet romantic – but that can be used to strengthen my marriage. Reframing is a powerful tool. Is she neglected and he doesn't care, or is she making a powerful romantic sacrifice? My husband would roll his eyes at me and laugh if I told him I was making a powerful romantic sacrifice, but it's a useful trick to get my head in the right place when I find myself getting frustrated or feeling too lonely.

  12. Anonymous says:
  13. Anonymous says:

    Any actors gonna post?

  14. ""If i'm not smart enough to keep up with you, why did you marry me?" "

    Not all men put a high value on intelligence. Even those that do run into this problem. My SO is in medicine, is college educated, and obviously intelligent. I'm in IT, and even though she is smart, she still really doesn't understand most of what I do. I don't talk about work at home with her because it is pointless, unless I'm telling her about social type things. (who pissed me off, what stupid management things are going on, etc.)

    The running joke in our house is: if she can't sleep, she can always ask me about work and I'll put her right out. :P

  15. For years I had a high stress, high paying job that required long hours away from home. There would be weeks in a row where I was leaving before my daughter was out of bed and getting home after she had gone to sleep, with only a cursorly 'hello and goodbye' kiss from my wife.

    After 7 years I quit that job to start my own business, which, while paying less, allows me to be home more and schedule around family time. It was a Beta move, but probably the best thing I've ever done for my marriage and family. My wife went back to work for the first two years of my business to support us financially while I was getting it off the ground. Then she quit to help me run it for a few years, but now has her own side business that brings in a little extra income but allows her more time to be active in our daughter's life and schedule.

    In hindsight, we are much more Captain/First Officer now than we ever were when I had the high Alpha career and the paycheck that came along with it (although it should be noted, I picked well because even when our income was much higher than it is now, my wife cut coupons and bought clothes at consignment stores… the consumption of goods has never been as important to either one of us as the security of savings).

  16. Regarding working from home, my advice would be to start out at home but have plans and goals that involve eventually moving to an office. I was very productive working from home during the start-up phase of my business. After a few years being at home was limiting my productivity and my sense of professionalism (both in my own mind and the way my business could be perceived by my customers). So I got an office when the time was right to do so. Just be aware of yourself, your habits, and your environment and you'll know when it's time to make the move.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Ted D, that's funny, and I work in IT as well, so I can pyt hubby out like a light, too!!

    With my previous marriage, it was a different dynamic. He simply treated me like I didn't have the capacity to think or reason. No clue why he treated me like a trophy wife, when i'm clearly not! that's my best guess as to what he wanted out of the relationshop. He clearly didn't want a functioning brain!

  18. Athol Kay says:

    We're mostly using Jennifer and myself as an example here. MMSL will be multiple small steady steps to ultimate success.

    Don't think Trig meant to imply anything about my kids with the Wesley metaphor.

    The workspace issue is important I agree.

    Ultimately if travel becomes a major element of MMSL, we'll move to a city that is an airport hub. Just imagine the time/cost savings with 100 flights a year as opposed to 200 flights a year.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Would you ever consider a page on some of the more specific verbiage? You and your more longtime readers often use terms that are clearly related to either MMSL (you used them in an earlier post) or other PUA sites. As an example: "swallowed the red pill" or "rationalization hamster" or "oneitis".
    Just a suggestion to help out the noobs.

  20. Close to home will do, btw. It's where you start. If you want to do seminars, you are in a great location (in CT) to do them, honestly. People will come to you — and I'm serious about that.

    But, that's just if you want to do it. I would think that a biannual or quarterly seminar — or perhaps even a workshop with various related luminaries (e.g., a "conference"), it would be less of a time sink. Though, the cash up front for this would have to be managed and would be difficult to plan.

    Anyway, just throwing my ideas out there. You don't have to travel to do seminars for people. People will come to you — at this point anyway.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Anon 7:08: These terms are introduced and discussed in the primer.

  22. This is a great contributor to why my first marriage ended. I don't know why some people have lead shields between their ears and their brain, but my ex sure did.

    He was wrapped up in school and work and his personal projects. All, of course, to give us a better life, but when I would ask for time together he'd suddenly have super duper important homework. He'd play video games all weekend, then couldn't go to the Sunday dinner we'd had planned for a week because work things came up.

    Eventually I asked for two hours of undivided attention a week. When he failed to meet that extremely small requirement (combined with some other issues) I booked it.

    Sad thing is, he's apparently still sitting there going "Wha happen?" Few women are going to stay, or stay and be bitter and unpleasant, when they are clearly not even in the top ten on your list.

  23. Trimegistus says:

    Krysie: Unless Athol's kid is actually named Wesley, I was talking about the kid on Star Trek.

  24. Trimegistus says:

    Krysie: Unless Athol's kid is actually named Wesley, I was talking about the kid on Star Trek.

  25. Trimegistus says:

    Krysie: Unless Athol's kid is actually named Wesley, I was talking about the kid on Star Trek.

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