We often hear about the ways that screen time causes damage to relationships. I think this can be very true. In fact, the story I am about to tell was partially borne out of my feeling that screen time was doing just that. But I want to tell you about one way that screen time, specifically the TV, has been a blessing in my marriage recently.
First, a bit of backstory about my husband and me. In terms of love languages, I am a big “quality time” person. My husband, on the other hand, scores about as high as you possibly can in “acts of service.” Guess which love language is on the bottom of my list. Yep. Over the years, we’ve had a good deal of conflict over this discrepancy. Contrary to many marital stereotypes, he is the one who can’t stand a messy house, and I’m the one always after him to let it go and relax for a while. This has led to numerous hurt feelings when we each felt the other didn’t care about what was important to us.
Another problem: On the occasions when he does want to relax, he often prefers to watch either TV or a movie together. I would much rather do something interactive: playing a game, doing a family activity, playing a game, having a conversation, playing a game . . . You get the idea. Watching something together doesn’t strike me as much as “quality time.” It’s time, yes, but with less quality in my book.
My husband has been asking me to watch one particular show on Netflix with him for probably a couple years now. I didn’t have any objections to the show itself, but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do with my free time. So he would usually watch it while he was out of town. That was fine. And then . . . he started watching shows at home on his phone, while I was around and often available. As you might guess, the quality time monster didn’t appreciate that so much.
So why am I now praising TV? Multiple things that led to this change of heart. First, I expressed to my husband how his smartphone TV watching tends to make me feel, and he graciously stopped doing it (or very rarely does it) in my presence. Second, I have been trying to keep better control of the household mess in order to help him feel more at ease. There is still a great deal of improvement to be made there, but at least he knows I’m trying.
And third, we have hit a stage where we are both simply exhausted. I am five months pregnant with our fifth child, and the pregnancy fatigue, aches, and pains are quickly catching up to me. He is co-running a company, taking a couple college courses, and working on various certifications for his job. We don’t have the physical or mental energy for doing much together at the end of the day. Nothing much, that is, except watching TV.
So one day a month or so ago, he asked me again if I would watch that show with him. I said sure. We turned on something different for the kids in our living room and went to our room to start the series over. Not too surprisingly, I am hooked. More surprisingly, I’m finding that spending that time together has much more “quality” than I imagined. Although he has already watched most of the existing episodes, it’s still enjoyable to discuss the show both while we watch and after we finish an episode. I think he gets a kick out of watching my reactions, and I get a kick out of letting him get a kick out of that. Most importantly, it is an activity we are enjoying together, and that has, at times, been a rather difficult thing to find in our relationship.
Watching things together can be a fun family activity as well. Movie nights are one example, but I see it more clearly with TV shows. There’s something about the continuity of following particular characters that seems to build more camaraderie than watching a stand-alone movie. We will often sit around afterward and discuss what our favorite episodes or characters are and why. Shows that interest the whole family and spark these discussions (while staying clean) can be difficult to find, but the ones we’ve found so far have been treats.
So what’s the point here? To encourage everyone to watch more TV? No, not really. As I’ve said, more screen time is usually not the healthiest option. My point is more that relationship-building time can sometimes be found in unexpected places. Maybe there is an activity that isn’t your favorite, but your children or your spouse has been after you to try it. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy the activity (we’ve had plenty of failed attempts, too), but the more times you try something different, the more things you’ll learn about one another and the more chances you’ll have to find something you both enjoy.
On the other side of things, maybe there’s something you think you’d enjoy, but you just can’t seem to find the time. Might I encourage you to remember that there is always work to be done, but the ones we love will not be around forever? Remember what I said about messes driving my husband crazy? I think he’s left more piles of dirty dishes in the sink over the last few weeks than I can remember in most of our marriage. That tells me something about how important this time is to him. And as a bonus, it’s giving me more of a chance to put my “acts of service” to use and do the dishes for him.
Summertime is a great time to try new things to build relationships and make memories. What could you (or did you) try this summer?
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