Are video games stealing your husband–and your marriage?

One of the things I really wanted to talk about this January, as we start a new year, is how the habits we have can stop us from living a big life. I shared this picture of a poinsettia that I saw in Costa Rica last month. It’s huge. It’s vibrant. All because it has the right conditions to flourish.

Living life to the fullest--what a poinsetta plant should look like

But many of us are living much smaller lives because we’re letting things steal our time and energy. And one of the biggest causes of that can be video game addiction.

I thought that rather than write this post myself, I’d ask my son-in-law Connor to write it. Connor’s been dealing with finding a healthy balance with video games as he reached adulthood, and it’s something that many of his friends face, too. Tomorrow on our podcast he and Rebecca (his wife; my daughter) will be sharing his personal story and how they dealt with it in their marriage, but here are his thoughts about why video games can be so alluring, how to know when it’s become a problem, and what to do if it has.

Here’s Connor:

There was a time when video games were for kids, just as nerf guns, comic books, and Lego were.

But those kids grew up. Now we have college students engaging in nerf wars, 30-year old comic enthusiasts still growing their collections, and savvy traders making more profit than gold-investors by buying and selling limited edition Lego sets. I myself got a small Lego set at a gift-exchange this Christmas, and within 20 minutes of getting home, it was assembled and proudly displayed on my work desk.

The video game industry in particular has done an excellent job of evolving over time to keep its audience engaged even as that audience aged and matured, becoming professionals, spouses, and parents.

I am a husband, and have loved playing good video games since I was 12, but life changed as I grew up. As a kid, playing video games for 6 hours straight every day was a big no-no because there were other things I COULD be doing. Now as an adult with more freedom and responsibility, it’s an ever bigger no-no because there are other things I SHOULD be doing. Nevertheless, I have seen plenty of cases of grown men neglecting important elements of their lives and marriages thanks to excessive video game use.

So how can you tell when your husband is gaming too much, and what can we do about it? Allow me to share some thoughts.

I want to start by asserting that video games are not inherently unhealthy in moderation.

They are designed to be fun and enjoyable, and can be an excellent way to recover some mental and emotional energy after a long day. There are some games out there that contain objectionable content and promote harmful messages, but they are in the minority and can generally be recognized from a distance.

Modern psychological research is also pointing to a number of surprising benefits of playing video games. Just like knitting, piano, soccer, and other hobbies, it develops certain mental and physical skills and capabilities.

But video games don’t do it all.

Not even close, really. Aside from providing fun, building visual-attentive skills, and making you a better laparoscopic surgeon, they don’t actively contribute much to your life.

Making money, staying healthy, getting involved in your community, and nurturing important relationships (especially with your spouse and with God) are all things that require time out of your schedule. It’s one thing to fit video games into gaps in that schedule. It’s another to clear your calendar so you can dedicate more time to gaming.

Tune in to the To Love, Honor and Vacuum podcast tomorrow to hear Connor and Rebecca talk about their journey with video games! Listen to it wherever you find your podcasts!

How do you know if your husband’s gaming is a problem?

There is no official diagnosis of video game addiction. You can’t open up a psychology book, go through a checklist, and then tell your husband he is officially addicted (Actually, you can’t do that for ANY disorder without a license, but you get my point). Instead, you should focus on two criteria.

Firstly, if the amount that your husband plays games is directly having a negative impact on his quality of life, or the quality of your marriage, there is a problem. This includes health, finances, job performance, and emotional state.

Secondly, (and this one often goes overlooked) if your husband wants to stop or cut back, but finds himself unable to, there is a problem. I strongly believe that this applies to a lot more than just video games. When a person no longer wants to do something but continues to do it of their own volition over and over again, that behaviour has an unhealthy hold over their heart.

So what do you do about a husband playing video games too much?

Many of you may have a husband who is perfectly capable of putting aside video games when there is something else he knows he should be doing. The problem is that he doesn’t think of what else he should be doing. This is the husband who doesn’t see the dishes piling up on the counter. The husband who doesn’t notice the kids are hyper and could use a walk to the park. The husband who has been meaning to make a doctor’s appointment for a month, but only remembers when he is too busy to make the call.

If this sounds like your husband, you don’t necessarily have a lazy man on your hands. Just one who isn’t very conscientious. What’s the solution? Clear expectations.

Lay out ahead of time what you need from him. Ask if he can shovel the driveway at some point before you need to leave. Remind him about that call to his parents he should make. Let him know you would like to spend an hour or so with him before bed, etc. And if there are no more expectations of him after he gets x, y, and z done, let him know that too! When he can see all of the pieces of the rest of his day, he can make the decision of how they fit together. He can accomplish what is required and game without guilt.

Remember though, you are neither his secretary nor his mother.

It is not your responsibility to plan out his whole day every day for him. As part of the process of laying out expectations, there can be a conversation about things that he is expected to be responsible for. For example, you might agree that if one of you cooks dinner, the other one does the dishes and puts away the food once dinner is finished. Maybe he is responsible for reading the kids their bedtime story. Maybe he plans out at least half an hour of time spent together each day. Chances are, neither of you want you to have to micromanage your husband’s life, so a little structure can go a long way.

For more tips on splitting up household chores, check out these posts:

What about when the problem is more extreme?

What if you can’t tear your husband away from the screen? What if he is playing games with disturbing, sexual content? What if games are winding him up, making him agitated, or even sending him into depression? What if important areas of his life are being willfully neglected? What if YOU are being neglected? You need to make sure he is aware of how his obsessive gaming is harming his life, and how it is harming you. If he is neglecting the family’s needs in order to partially satisfy his own through gaming, that is being selfish. Plain and simple.

This is not a fun conversation to have, but we have some posts that can help you:

Find out why he plays games. Figure out what can replace them

People who play games excessively are generally using games to satisfy some need in their life that they feel is unmet. If you can figure out what this need is, you can work with him to find a more fulfilling and satisfying activity.

If he plays a lot of online games and first person shooters he might be craving that feeling of developing and demonstrating his skill over other people. It could also be the social aspect, or even a blend of the two.

If he likes role-playing games, or games that are heavily number and stat based, he probably likes being able to see clear and quantifiable improvement in what he does.

Maybe he likes large open world games for the feeling of exploration and wonder, or maybe he likes story-focused games for the engaging narrative.

As you can see, there are a lot of different reasons someone could get hooked on video games, and that knowledge is a tool you can use. You can connect him with friends who are interested in doing non-video-game activities together. You can look for more constructive activities and creative outlets to satisfy the unmet need he is chasing. Possibly something you can do together. Maybe you try traveling more, or even just getting out for a hike now and then.

Games are designed from the ground up with the help of psychologists to be as rewarding and motivating as possible. So if you want to free someone who is obsessed with of video games, you need to make motivation work for you.

If that’s not enough…

If he is completely resistant to giving up or cutting back on video games, or he is open to the idea but can’t seem to break away, it may be time to get help.

We can’t always solve all of our problems by ourselves. It is okay to seek support and guidance from your community, and from licensed counselors. If an obsession with video games, or any other habit, is disrupting your life and your marriage, please do not be afraid to look for professional counseling. Your problem is not too small. Your pain is not too trivial. God wants something greater for both you and your husband, so you owe it to yourselves and God to work at it.

Tune in tomorrow to the To Love, Honor and Vacuum podcast when Rebecca and Connor share in the Millennial Marriage segment about their personal story with finding balance with video games!

When Your Husband Plays Video Games Too Much: How to find balance

Have video games been an issue in your marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!

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