I know a young man who married in the last five years. He loves his new wife very much, and they’re having fun setting up their rental house, putting some money away, and desperately trying to finish their education part-time.
They did everything right: they dated for a while, they waited until they were married to make love, they got to know each others’ families. They’re not rushing into parenthood until they have a house and their education completed. But they’re on track to have that well before they’re 30.
There’s just one problem: whenever she’s at work, and he’s not, he heads over to his old house that he shared with a bunch of friends and plays video games. In fact, sometimes when she is home he still heads over there.
He’s at work when he’s supposed to be at work. He’s at church when he’s supposed to be at church. He’s at school when he’s supposed to be at school. But much of his free time is spent playing these games, often at a buddy’s house. And his new wife is sick of it.
I see this increasingly because even good Christian guys from good Christian families grow up playing 3-4 hours of video games throughout their teen years and into their twenties. That’s not miraculously going to stop as soon as they get married.
Nor should it, necessarily! I grew up knitting, and I still knit for at least an hour a day, if I can find the time to sit. I love knitting. We all need things to help us unwind that we enjoy.
But the nature of video games is that what we intend to take half an hour can easily become four hours. And quite often, I believe, it can become a genuine addiction.
Here’s a letter I received recently from a reader, along with my response to it. See what you think. She writes:
I have a question, and was wondering if you could give me some insight. I know that other young married women struggle with the same thing, and so I thought I’d pass it on to you
My husband spends a LOT of time on the computer – playing an MMO (multi-player online game). This is how he relaxes. He comes home from work, says hi, then gets on the computer. He plays for several hours, most nights eating dinner at the computer, and then when he senses that I’m frustrated, he gets off – until he senses that the frustration is gone, then he gets back on. I understand that he needs to de-stress after work, and I want to respect that need, but I often feel ignored (except for when we have sex) – I often feel that the only way I can get his attention is by seducing him, and that frustrates me to no end. I hate feeling like I’m competing for his attention.
I know that he’s not doing anything inappropriate on the computer – no porn, no affair…just a group of his friends playing a game together. I know that it’s important to him, because it gives him the opportunity to make and meet goals (leveling up by a certain time, etc.), build companionship with guy-friends, and relax at the end of a long day during which he has felt beat-down and discouraged by a minimum wage job that he wants to get out of but no one else will hire him at the moment.
All that to say, I don’t want to take it from him, but I do want more quality time with him (one of my primary love languages). I see that he spends hours and hours doing something that, to me, has no eternal significance, and he could be doing other things (like making connections with people to get out of the job he’s currently in, or doing something with me, or helping me around the house, or…or…)
Here’s my answer:
Thanks for writing! This is a really common issue.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing video games for a short period everyday to unwind. We all need things that relax us. The problem comes when the video games eat into his normal responsibilities, and for many couples, that has become the case. In fact, in many men’s lives video games are an addiction (in the same way that soap operas used to be for many women, or Facebook is now).
Here’s the thing: men often turn to these games because it gives them a sense of mastery and competence over something, which may be sorely lacking in other areas of their lives. And it is fun!
But then it can easily become a habit–something we just do because we’re used to it and it’s easy and that’s what we automatically turn to. And video games rarely are something that are played “for just a few minutes here and there”. The very nature of them is that they tend to eat up hours of your time; hours that are better spent elsewhere.
1. Don’t Be His Conscience
I was once very addicted to television. I had it on constantly, and I wasted so much of my time watching shows, especially soap operas. One day God convicted me that I was wasting my life. That was when we got rid of the television and I started writing, and volunteering, and planning fun outings with my kids. My life became so much BIGGER.
The problem is that it is very easy to see that now; I couldn’t see it then. And you can’t convict your husband by nagging him. You may see what he is doing, and see what he is missing out on, but you can’t be his conscience, and nagging him will not work. I do think that we, as a society, need to speak more firmly about not wasting your life, and our responsibility to find our purpose, rather than wasting the precious hours we do have on this earth. But your husband has to see that for himself. You can’t see it for him by nagging him about it.
So what can you do?
2. Suggest Other Things to Do
You’re absolutely right that you don’t want to take it from him entirely, because that’s not your decision to make or your role to say, “I get to decide how you spend all of your free time.” But I think it is perfectly reasonable that you have boundaries over it, so that it’s only during certain hours so you can be together more.
The problem is that saying to him, “how about if you play from 7-10, but then we spend time together at 10″ sounds weird, because you’re not saying what you intend to do at 10. Why should he stop if you have no specific plans for 10:00? Or if you say, “can we have from 5-8 for just us, doing something together,” he may think it sounds like you want to sit around the house doing nothing.
I’ve often found that a better strategy is to try to replace it with something. So instead of saying, let’s keep these hours just for us, say, “I’d like to help at youth group once a week with you”, or “I’d like to take a walk every evening after dinner together”, or “I’d like to start playing squash twice a week”. When he’s out of the house, he’s not on the game. And then you can spend some time together, and he will be slowly breaking his reliance on games. Then, when you are at home, it can be his choice to play the games.
3. Join Him!
Another option is to play it together with him at times. I don’t think this will fix everything, because you do need to spend time away from the games (laundry does need to get done, you do need time to talk, you do need to eat together), but at least you could share part of it with him. It also won’t work if it’s a genuine addiction he has, but many of my readers have said that they dealt with the problem by joining him, and he sticks to more reasonable hours now and he likes that she’s a part of it. For some, then, this may be a solution.
4. Keep Talking
Keep honest communication so that you can talk to him about what you need. Be sure to show him love in ways that he understands. But it’s okay to tell him, “I feel as if we aren’t spending very much time together. Can we find things that we can share?” That’s legitimate, and it’s a good way to build your marriage.
If you feel as if he really only pays attention to you when you have sex, and that you just aren’t connecting, then try to start finding other things to do together. And, once you’ve established some new habits, start talking to him openly about what you need. Don’t accuse him–saying, “you’re wasting your life”, or “you act like you don’t love me”. Instead, own your feelings and be clear, saying, “When you’re on video games all night I feel as if we aren’t sharing our lives together. Can we talk about how to feel more connected?” Then the issue isn’t the video games; it’s the connection. And that may be something he’s more willing to discuss.
UPDATE: One commenter noted in the comments that if a man is on video games all the time he is not fulfilling his role, and he needs to be confronted. I totally agree, and I think I may have made this section too wimpy, so I’d like to take another stab at it.
Here’s the thing: you MUST confront. As I said in the comments, marriage doesn’t mean you keep your mouth shut and accept everything he does; marriage means you strive for intimacy, which means you become vulnerable and share your feelings. You tell him what you think, how you feel, and what you’re scared of. Don’t “win him without words”, because that won’t work in the case of video games. Video games can be addictive, and you need to confront (winning without words doesn’t work with alcoholism, either). If he is being sinful, you tell him. But I think we need to be careful how we tell him. One commenter suggested saying, “how would you feel if I chose to ‘unwind’ for hours by ignoring you and texting other friends?” (because in multi-player games, that’s essentially what he’s doing). Another suggested sitting down and actually telling him how you feel about him wasting his life.
I agree with both these suggestions, I’d just caution to do it when you’re not angry. That usually doesn’t help.
This is also a difficult topic because some guys are on 2-3 hours a day and some are on 6-8 hours a day. Some can go weeks without playing and then start again; others have to play everyday. If your husband is genuinely addicted, and never talks to you or the kids, then my advice from last week regarding getting help from the church is probably the right course of action.
In summary, what I’m saying is this: Video games are a huge problem in many marriages. They’re unproductive; they steal time; they wreck relationships. Don’t ignore it. DO something. Find other things to do together. Talk to him about it. Confront him about it. But don’t nag (ie. trying to be his conscience), and don’t stew, and don’t try to punish him in other ways because that’s childish. If you’re upset about it, get it out in the open and discuss that issue, and find ways to spend more time together. That’s legitimate, and that’s how we build healthy families.
Does that make sense? Keep talking to him about it, but don’t replace it with nothing. Replace it with something and you may both find life gets a lot bigger.
And you may also want to ask him to work through the 31 Days to Great Sex together. This is actually a topic I address: do you go to bed at the same time? Do you spend time together away from a screen? So it may lead to some good discussions!
Now, ladies, what would you add? Have you found that video games have become an addiction for your husband? How can you find the balance between supporting him having time to unwind as he wishes and still maintaining a healthy marriage?
UPDATE 2: I wrote another post on this topic, clarifying my views a little bit more. You can read it here.