I am a life coach, licensed clinical social worker, and wife to a devoted, adoring, video game playing husband.
What Do You Do When Your Partner Is a Gamer?
When I first met my husband, he was a single guy living in a studio apartment. He would go to work, come home and eat cereal for every meal while playing video games on his computer or video game console. When he played video games, he wasn't neglecting anyone or anything. He was simply enjoying his free time fighting dwarfs, gnomes, elves, trolls, and humans. His friends also played the games so they would connect online and have fun playing together in groups.
My initial reaction to him playing video games: Wow! I'm so glad you have a hobby that you really enjoy doing and it's a great way to stay connected with your friends. Sure, I will try to play too.
Then our relationship continued to develop and became more serious. As we grew closer and spent more time together just "being", I began to see just how much he played these games. I had known early on that he felt like he had a responsibility to his group on Tuesday nights and barring a life or death emergency he couldn't get out of playing his game that night for any reason. This game was important and serious and he couldn't let these people down.
There's the slippery slope. ^^^ see it?
Is Gaming His Priority?
Before my husband was involved in a relationship with me, he was the perfect gamer. Dedicated. Serious. Passionate. High Leveled Character. Single. Then he met me. He was still trying to be the perfect gamer while also trying to be the perfect boyfriend.
Want to guess how long that lasted for? At first, it was fine because in reality I was trying to be the perfect girlfriend. The cool girlfriend who didn't have any issues with her boyfriend spending lots of time on a hobby that he really enjoyed like video games..... until I did. I did care. I always cared. (Well, maybe not right at the beginning because we were both trying hard to impress the other one so he definitely chose hanging out with me over his game... but once we got comfortable with each other? Once we knew we had won over each other's hearts? Yep. You got it. That's when things started to change and I started to care a whole lot more.)
I didn't care that he played video games. I cared that he chose the games over other more important things like spending time with me. Or that he would be playing and he would be "stuck" there for hours and couldn't dare do anything else because he just had to finish this "thing" that he was doing with his group because if he left the group or stopped playing right then, then he would a) have to do the whole thing all over again and it had already taken 3+ hours to get to this point and b) he would be letting down a large number of people/friends in his group.
Does Gaming Cause Arguments?
This is when things got tricky. I would start yelling about how stupid video games were and how much I hate video games. I would say things like, "I hate you playing your stupid video games!" or "Really? You are still playing your stupid game?" We would argue all the time. He would feel judged by me every time he played his games and I would sit and stew angry that he was playing his games instead of doing something awesome with me. Then there were the times where he would see that I was upset so he would miraculously log out of the game and then we would sit on the couch awkwardly with nothing to do or say to each other and eventually he would just go back to the game. (And at that point, what was I supposed to say? "No! Stay here with me and do nothing!" ...?)
We were both pretty unhappy with the situation. Neither one of us were able to enjoy our down time because while he played his game he would be sitting there feeling guilty and judged and disliked by me and I would be sitting there feeling rejected and bored. (Now before someone suggests trying to join in on the fun with him, I tried to. I played one of the main games briefly but didn't find it fulfilling or entertaining. It just wasn't my thing.) Something had to change!
Two Issues: Respect and Priorities
For change to happen, change has to occur. Make sense? We had to stop doing the stupid little dance that we had created-- the negative dynamic that was making us both so miserable-- but first we had to figure out what the true issues were and what, specifically we needed to change.
Two main issues were: Respect and Priorities.
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Respect was an issue. I didn't respect my husband's choice of a hobby. In fact, I repeatedly told him it was stupid and that I hated it.
Priorities were an issue. My husband's game often times came before other more important things like family time.
I had to respect my husband's choices even if I didn't like them. (My initial reaction to that is, "but but but what!!!!!!!!! why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!") He liked playing his games and that's what mattered. They weren't stupid and I blamed the games for his behavior instead of blaming him and how he chose to prioritize things in his life. When I pondered the question of "What do I need from my husband?", I found that my answer changed over time. My initial gut reaction answer was, "For him to never play games!" but was that really what I needed or wanted? I realized that what I was trying to say with that gut reaction answer was that I needed and wanted my husband's attention and that I wanted to be his priority always. (Notice I said "Priority always", not priority too, not priority when he's not playing his game, but priority always, including when he's playing his game.) Now this was something we could work on because I was able to express my needs in a way that he could hear without getting defensive. (You can never play games again! vs. I want to spend more time with you and need more attention from you because I miss us, and I really feel ignored or unimportant sometimes. See the difference?)
Priorities. This was a little more difficult. My husband has always adored me and loved me but he was a single bachelor for a long time and was used to doing what he wanted, when he wanted and for how long he wanted. So even though he was the one that proposed and wanted to get married (ok, ok, I obviously wanted to get married too!!), the transition from single person to married person with responsibilities to his spouse was a major adjustment.
Does Your Gamer Admit It's a Problem?
One thing that helped us to address things initially was that he made the decision to stop playing one particular game because he admitted that he didn't know how to play the game without the total and complete dedication and timewarp that it caused. He still played video games but ones that didn't require an all or nothing gaming strategy. Looking back now, I think his decision to take a sabbatical from his favorite game really allowed him the chance to grow into the new role of husband and to fully embrace (accept?) the additional (new) responsibilities.
After a while my husband told me he wanted to start playing his old game again. I flipped out. I told him that I thought we were done dealing with that game, that didn't he realize that game almost ruined our relationship, and how could he even think of doing that to me again! This is where trust came into play.........
Trust Is Key
Did I trust him to honor our relationship and create healthy limits with his old game? What had changed? Why could he now play it in a way that he couldn't play it before? He explained that he really likes playing that specific game and that he realizes that he just can't participate in certain aspects of the game because it's not conducive to his lifestyle now. I reluctantly agreed to him playing again. (This is one example where I was trying to respect his hobbies.)
We have been together for almost 7 years now. This is just one topic that remains a constant in our lives but our conversation about it has drastically changed over the years. We now have a mutual understanding and respect for each other's feelings around gaming. We both understand each other's concerns and what we both feel is important to one another. My husband still plays this specific game, but instead of dreading it I actually encourage him to play it with his friends. I help him find time in our busy lives so that he can have time to actively play his video games.
How to Keep the Relationship Healthy
Something that we have found important in keeping our marriage healthy is engaging in independent actions based on love and respect and sometimes good faith versus "I'll do x if you do y first." "I will respect your hobby only if you finally spend time with me!" The "this for that" dynamic doesn't usually work out very well because you end up in constant competition and a weird dynamic of choosing actions based on what you will get out of them versus choosing actions based on love and respect.
We strive to incorporate love and respect into our daily lives and sometimes that means accepting things that maybe we wouldn't otherwise choose but we do so for a loved one. Video games are important to me because they are important to my husband. I like seeing him get excited over something he enjoys doing.
Now it's important to note that I didn't get to this place overnight and that it's taken us our entire relationship to get here, now -- right here, and that it's still an ever-changing place. I don't always love him playing video games. We still negotiate and compromise weekly and sometimes daily, how often and when it's a good time for him to play his game. We check in with one another to make sure that we both feel "good" about his playing and we bring up when either one of us needs something to be different.
I've found that being married to a gamer doesn't have to leave you a "video game widow", and video games don't have to be a constant source of conflict in your marriage.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.