Care and Feeding

My Husband Says I’m “Not Normal” for How I Approach Sports With Our Son

Is he right about this?

A teen boy plays basketball.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My youngest son is a senior in high school and is a second-stringer on the varsity basketball team. The team is loaded with talent, and my son’s coach has told him he will not play a “meaningful minute” in a game all season. My son seems relatively at peace with this, though of course he’d like to play more. He works hard in practice to help the starters improve, and if he plays for two minutes when they are up by 40, he plays as well as he can and enjoys it. My husband is less at peace with it and gives our son tips on what he should do to get more playing time; then he gets aggravated when our son doesn’t do it. I’m proud of our son’s perseverance and good attitude in a tough situation, and I think he’s managing the interactions with all the adults involved in a mature way.

But as you can imagine, my husband and I come to games with very different expectations; as a result, we have very different experiences. And last night, watching a game where the starters ran up a 35-point lead, my husband asked me what I thought the opponent team’s parents were thinking right at that moment. I said something like, “Well, they knew they were playing a state championship team, so it would be a tough battle, so they are probably looking at something each of their kids did well and can be proud of, and then thinking about how their kid can build on that for the season.” My husband said, “Nobody thinks like that.” He told me I’m “not normal” and that the other team’s parents were probably bitter and angry and disgusted—that that is the normal response to a lopsided loss.

I feel very bad about being told I am not normal, but I don’t want to get into an argument with him about this if I am in fact a weirdo and this is an aberrant response. (Some background here: my husband and I met while competing in a different sport on the national tournament circuit, so we are both athletic and competitive.) Is it “abnormal” to react the way I do? Should I push back on this characterization?

—Apparently Bitterness-Deficient

Dear Bitterness-Deficient,

I don’t know what earthly good “pushing back” would do you. And I find it hard to believe that you think there is any chance that your husband, who is being a complete jerk both to you and your son, is right—that you truly think you might be “abnormal.” I also find it hard to believe that you didn’t know that your characterization of what the other team’s parents were thinking wouldn’t infuriate your husband. Weren’t you trying, at least a little, to bait him? And wasn’t he trying to bait you, by asking the question he did?

This is a nasty battle between the two of you that has very little to do with your son. Nothing to do with your son, in fact, except that he is stuck right in the middle of it. Of course I approve of the graceful, mature way your kid is handling the situation; of course I disapprove of your husband’s behavior around it. But your son will soon graduate from high school and go out into the world, presumably as your older children have. You and your husband will be left behind to deal with your marriage. Is he going to continue to insult and demean you? Are you going to continue to virtue-signal, knowing that it presses his buttons? Will he keep setting you up to do so and will you take the bait? You two may need professional help if you hope to stay married without being miserable together. At the very least, you ought to be talking to each other honestly about whatever is going on beneath the surface of this argument. I wish you great good luck with this.

— Michelle

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