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How can I explain, to my partner, that my online interactions, particularly here on Stack Exchange, are important and of value to me with the goal of them not feeling frustrated that I'm "wasting" my time?

My partner gets really frustrated hearing me talk about — or even seeing me on — Stack Exchange. It most often comes up in a conversational context. They'll mention something that relates to a question I answered or an interaction I had on Stack Exchange and I'll relate that experience. As in:

Oh, I just answered a question about something like that...

But they tend to not see online interaction as valuable or relatable as "real life" interactions. I would understand simple disinterest in online communities, but disinterest in common causes and topics because they're tied to online interaction seems a little odd.

SE is often meaningful to me because I like the altruism of it. Where else in your day-to-day life do you get to reach across oceans and continents and help someone with a question that's been bugging them?

There's also the community, or social, side of it. Over time you get to know people around the sites you frequent. Occasionally you even grow to like a few of them.

With Interpersonal Skills specifically, it gets a bit more meaningful... for me at least. One of my goals is to be the sort of person that I needed when I was younger. To reach out and help people dealing with some really difficult stuff. IPS gives me opportunities to do that. Offering an answer and a few kind words to someone on the other side of the world who's going through something that I've been through... Well that's some pretty good stuff right there.

I've explained all of this to my partner, at great length, over and over again. They still seem to think that it's a waste of time, and that I could be doing more meaningful things, in real life, like joining an activist/volunteer group, to accomplish some of those same goals.

I've ended up deleting the Stack App and cutting back my time on the network considerably, to be accommodating, and to make my time with them uninterrupted. I figured that it was just a time management issue at first, but it seems like they just don't understand why Stack Exchange is a little different than the usual internet forum and instead see it as a complete waste of time and energy to be involved in any online community.

Is there a polite way to explain why I use Stack Exchange to my significant other in a way that they'll be a little more inclined to accept that it's something that's important/valuable to me?

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    This site is going to run into problems if anything that starts with "how do you explain..." makes it an interpersonal skill. I think polling the community to start listing why Stack Exchange is important to them under the guise of "how do you explain it to others" seems like a poor fit for this site. Any connection this might have to the subject of "interpersonal skills" is weak at best. – Robert Cartaino Dec 28 '17 at 3:35
  • This post is being discussed on meta: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2326/… – apaul Dec 28 '17 at 20:02
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I have friends whose serious and significant hobbies were resented by their spouse. One of my relatives (who works as a full time salaried employee in a public sector insurance company) is deeply interested in Indian Classical Music and he spends a lot of time listening to music. He is a member of a music club in our hometown in South India and volunteers his time to help organize events, and will also go away to nearby towns or cities on some weekends to attend concerts. All that activity is disliked by his un-musical wife whom he married 2 years ago by arranged marriage. Her most frequent complaint was

why do you waste your time with this useless and unproductive activity! If you are meeting some relatives or doing some social work I can understand...

It became a real problem in their relationship earlier this year and what my cousin told me in July strikes me as significant to your situation:

My relationship with music pre-dates my wedding. It is very important for me to listen to music and take part in music related activities because it satisfies a deep inner need that is totally different from my interaction with my wife or other people. I need my me-time and need to spend it in my own way. But she refuses to accept the legitimacy of this need,

my cousin said.

That strikes me as very similar to how you perceive your own activities on Stack Exchange. It is obviously very important to you. But how to communicate that effectively and without hostility to your partner?

This is what my cousin did: he thought about his problem, discussed it with me (another music fanatic) and came to realize that his wife resented his deep involvement with music because she worried that music was more important to him than she was. Once he understood that insecurity he began to work towards convincing her through direct action that she was equally important to him, though in a very different way. He managed to schedule regular we-time with his wife and family but in balancing proportion insisted on having his me-time to spend on music.

He also managed to communicate to his wife through repeated patient discussions that music satisfies a deep emotional need in his life, but he values his relationship with her just as much. He firmly but nicely told her that he is not going to compromise on music for satisfying her insecurity, nor will he neglect her for music's sake. And by walking the talk he has given her enough confidence that he deeply values their relationship, and this has significantly reduced her irritation with his musical activities.

So they have struck a balance between we-time and me-time. I would stress the need to communicate your position on Stack Exchange clearly to your partner and simultaneously show your committment to the relationship, emphasising the fact that spending time with your partner is extremely important to you, but you also need and value your very constructive altruistic work online as that important me-time activity that every human being needs to balance their professional and personal commitments.

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    Very well said, this is exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. I have made efforts at balance and most certainly at respecting "we-time" deleting the app and not getting pinged constantly has seriously helped with the issue. – apaul Dec 31 '17 at 5:14
  • Glad to help; I am very confident that you will solve this issue in your own way very soon @apaul! – English Student Dec 31 '17 at 5:17
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You have failed at setting boundaries some time ago, I think. You partner should understand that it is possible for you to like something they do not - and prioritize differently - accordingly. I would have - if asked by my partner - answered that I like SE because I keep learning new stuff. Both by attempting an answer to problems I did not know one could have (like this one) - or by reading eloquent answers by others. Some times even the questions are highly informative.

Back to the question, or my reinterpretation of it. How to explain? Don't. Why? You are not obliged to spend every living second with your S.O. - nor to change the way you think or feel. Sometimes, our partners may deserve that we change the way we act - but think and feel: out of bounds. Some times our partners inspire us to change how we think and feel, but what you are describing is not it. If your partner ever asks why, in a tone that is not passive agressive or demanding, try to answer.

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First assess whether you are in fact not too obsessed with Stack Exchange. Make sure that it does not get in the way of your regular life (for example when your SO says the dinner is ready, you need to go out now or you will be late, etc. and you always answer that you need to help some poor soul right now). This may get very irritating if it happens too often.

If your SO is not interested in SE, do not bring the subject with her at all. If your SO brings it herself, do not continue a discussion. Both of you have already established and expressed your opinions.

If you think your level of helping at SE is sane and within the general norms (meaning not yours or your partner's norms as both may be extreme), set the boundaries hard. Do not let your SO repeat herself - stop the discussion when you feel uncomfortable. As you have already provided the explanation there is no need to keep explaining yourself.

An alternative to this is to try and drag your SO into your Stack Exchange activity. I had better success with this approach in life.

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In the comments was raised the possibility that maybe you've developed a dependence, an addiction, of SE, because the overuse of it got to the point to affect your relationships.

You could be and you could be not addicted to it. In any case, I suggest you to make a test. Stay out of it entirely for, say, a month. Don't check it, don't answer to it. Take a time off completely.

I love to play video games in my spare time, but sometimes I can't. It's something I enjoy very much, but is fine if I stay months without it. It is fine, because I can focus in many other things I also enjoy.

I believe that even if you are not overusing SE, a time off will do good to your relationship.

  • Or test it for a week at first... – Tycho's Nose Dec 29 '17 at 22:23
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It looks like your SO doesn't value the time you spend here as socially constructive. I'd concentrate in finding out exactly why: is your SO genuinely worried for you, for instance they see you spending too much time alone? Or it's just a generic preconception about the social use of Internet?

I'd push the conversation to the point of them explicitly defining what do they find wrong about your use of SE. Having this discussion can help both of you understanding each other's reasons.

The following line of action highly depends on the answer that you get and it has been coves by other answers: it can very well be a problem of boundaries ("I don't need to explain why this is important to me, just respect it"), but it can also be that your SO feels cut out of this activity important to you, they can be worried for you, or jealous, or whatever.

Either way, I think that the most important concept to convey is that this is important for you and your feelings are involved. You have the right to ask them in a direct manner to be gentle with it : even if they mean well, they are hurting you.

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