When I came home from my extended business trip, it was clear: My husband and our boys had together adopted a new world and language.
My trip was longer than most I've done recently, and my husband had held down the home front. Before my trip, we had both simply put up with our kids' new Minecraft obsession, and worked to control our eye rolling when they talked about "battling the Ender Dragon."
But when I returned, I could see that the three of them had formed a special bond through a Minecraft world during my absence.
I felt stuck on the outside of my family's relationship over this game -- a feeling I assume many troops experience when they return home after deployment. I struggled for the next few weeks, watching them play together and sometimes go over what we had before decided was our max on electronic time.
From my outside view, this whole thing looked like a video game problem that needed balance.
But for my husband, their newly shared hobby was a fun platform that not only gave his mind a break from work, but provided father-son quality time.
In my head, I wanted to sit in my feelings of resentment and jealousy over their time together and force them to see what I considered a problem.
When it comes to marriage, it is far too easy to assume that our spouses are the problem, especially when it involves hobbies that aren't shared. In my counseling practice, I often see intense conflicts between couples when one is invested in a hobby more than other would like.
There are endless examples of activities that start off as "cute" in the relationship, only to drive a wedge later -- hunting, crafts, sports, clubs, video games and more. At some point, the hobby isn't cute anymore because one spouse is enjoying it "too much" -- a level that the frustrated spouse has determined on his or her own.
Military life doesn't exactly help with that. When so much time is spent apart, both the service member and the spouse have to find their groove separately. We each invest in activities that interest us, fulfill us and maybe even bring us a sense of purpose. When we come back together, our worlds conflict because, frankly, we each needed different things during the separation.
If you're a service member, you may have found activities that helped you compartmentalize or deal with boredom. If you're a spouse at home, you may have immersed yourself in activities that involved community or provided a sense of purpose.
It makes sense that the two separate worlds conflict at homecoming. But that collision can create a gap in our relationships that makes us feel even further apart. We begin to see our spouses as wrong and their interests as destructive, often because they are not interests we share. And if it gets really bad, we start making ultimatums.
The number one complaint I hear from military spouses is that they feel their service member chooses video games or friends over them. And the number one complaint I hear from service members is that their spouses choose the children over them.
The conflict is real.
Regardless of which spouse you relate to, there is something in all of us that gets disappointed, even hurt, when our spouses don't appreciate what interests us. Whether our spouses care about what we do matters, especially if they don't share the same passion for it we do.
Balance and moderation are necessary, but so is room for different interests and hobbies. My conflict at my homecoming was not about Minecraft or parenting differences, it was about believing the best about one another and truly listening.
By paying attention only to my perspective, I missed that Minecraft was more than a strange digital world of building blocks -- it was an opportunity for my husband build something with his sons. Through Minecraft, he was rebuilding relationships that had endured separations and plenty of previous missed opportunities.
My own mini-reintegration gave me an opportunity to think about how many times my husband faced the same dilemma of being the outsider at homecoming. It's entirely possible that in the past he had experienced the same choice I had in that moment: Stay on the outside of the hobby or choose the harder option to reintegrate through acceptance and growth. I don't have to love Minecraft, but we all can benefit from me valuing what is important to them.
You can make this choice too. Choose to believe the best about your spouse. Choose to become interested in what he or she finds exciting. Choose to communicate instead of assume.
Celebrating battling the Ender Dragon together was far better than watching it from a distance. And even better is understanding the sweet exchange between father and sons because I have chosen to listen.