Question:

My question is how to deal with the problem of husbands “hooked” on TV sports that spend hours each week year round resulting in wives who feel resentful that he prefers spending his time that way than with her? Is there a compromise that might be acceptable to both parties?  Do men realize how unhappy it makes their wives but they don’t care?

Answer:

I must confess that I’m having difficulty isolating your question to just the husbands. While it might be true that lots of guys are hooked on televised sports, I think it’s also safe to say that both men and women are hooked on screens of all shapes and sizes. In fact, my observation is that this discussion needs to be more inclusive of both genders and all ages if we’re really going to address the problem of checking out of family life to watch a screen.

Even though I still hear the familiar complaints from wives about their husband’s sports addictions, I’m hearing much more than that from the husbands. In my more than fifteen years of counseling couples, I have watched a steady increase of complaints coming from the husbands about their wives getting hooked on social media (i.e., Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter) and neglecting family members.

I’m not suggesting one group is more hooked than the other. I can’t say that I even know which group struggles more. I can say that I know this isn’t just a guy problem. I would hope that both groups could be honest about the impact their distracted behaviors have on their families.

Dr. Joseph Cramer recent wrote a short piece for the Deseret News where he talked about emotional attunement between parents and children.

He emphasized the need for parents to be emotionally tuned into the presence of those around them. He said that in order “to have perfect emotional attendance, a person has to be aware of his or her absence.” I found this thought to be quite profound, as I know it’s not always easy to be aware of when we are absent from our family members, even though we might be in the same room.

A few years ago my then 10 year-old son courageously asked me to not be on the phone when I picked him up from practice. I had no idea he even cared. He would climb in the truck and say very little on the short ride home. I mistakenly thought I could just finish up work calls before I arrived home. Little did I realize that as soon as my son entered my world, I was home and needed to be present.

In the same way, I challenge both men and women to be aware of their absences in their homes. Being home doesn’t equate to being present or connected to those you love. Before you criticize a family member’s absence because of a screen, look honestly at how present you are with your family. Sometimes people create a chain reaction of disconnection when they assume their presence doesn’t matter to others in the family.

If you have a loved one who is checked out on a screen, speak clearly about the impact this has on your connection with them. Let them know how much their presence and awareness of what’s going on in the family makes a difference. There is a place for screens in a family. In fact, we have several screens in our home. However, we don’t turn to screens unless we make sure the relationships around us have what they need.

Competing with screens creates unhappiness and needs to be addressed directly until it is resolved. Compromise often misses the mark because it doesn’t fix what is causing the true source of pain. Addressing the feelings of loneliness and disconnection doesn’t require compromise. Instead, it creates awareness that family members need more connection and decisions are made to put the most important people first and screens second.

Take inventory of your screen habits in the family and make adjustments where necessary. This takes honesty, courage, and sacrifice. It’s much easier after a long day to check out in front of a screen than to spend time listening or engaging with a loved one. This is an investment that will produce a lifetime of joy and satisfaction.  

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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