When you first got married, your husband couldn’t keep his hands off of you. Now, he can’t keep his hands off of his PS4 controller. And even though he continually brushes it off as no big deal, if his video game is getting in the way of your relationship, let’s face it: This is a problem. (In fact, the World Health Organization officially recognizes “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition—yikes.) But before you take a hammer to his Xbox, try five more, uh, compassionate ways to address the problem.
1. Figure Out Why He’s So Obsessed. The last time you played a video game was…a few rounds of Mario Kart in college. For you, it’s easy to dismiss them as a pointless, juvenile waste of time. But believe it or not, the average gamer is 34 years old, and 60 percent of Americans play video games daily, reports the Entertainment Software Association. According to a study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia Department of Psychology, most people play video games for three reasons: to escape daily life, as a social outlet (i.e., playing with friends, either virtually or in the same room together), and to collect in-game rewards (which satisfies the same reward pathways in the brain that gambling or eating a cookie does). Once you realize that he’s glued to Red Dead Redemption for the same reason you tune in to This Is Us every week—because it helps you decompress and unwind after work—the more you’ll be able to sympathize with the way your partner spends his free time.
2. Acknowledge That Gaming Is a Hobby, Not the Enemy. When you’re feeling wound up, you go on a ten-mile bike ride. When he’s feeling stressed, he fires up his Nintendo Switch. And yet, if he ranted that your damn bike riding was getting in the way of your relationship, you’d probably laugh him out of the room. And while biking obviously has physical benefits that gaming doesn’t, you are both entitled—and encouraged—to have your own separate hobbies. (That said, his hobby shouldn’t prevent him from doing the dishes or showing up to your mother’s house for dinner on time, the same way yours doesn’t.) If you can think of gaming as a hobby, not some annoying habit you have to deal with, it will be easier to talk about the problem from an objective place, and he’s less likely to feel like he’s being nagged or put on the defense.
3. Start the Conversation After He’s Finished Gaming. We know, it’s tempting to voice your opinions as soon as he starts playing. (“Ugh, do you really have to play that now? I need you to do a load of laundry.”) But trust us, this approach is going to do more harm than good. Instead, wait until later, when neither of you are distracted, and you can have a calm, face-to-face chat about it.
4. Suggest a Compromise. We hate to break it to you, but “stop playing video games forever” isn’t a fair request. (Sorry.) Instead, communicate how you feel and clearly outline what could help you feel better. Here’s how the conversation could go:
You: Hi, do you have a sec?
Him: Sure, what’s up?
You: I know you really love playing video games after work, but when I’m making dinner and you don’t ask if I need help, it makes me feel unappreciated. I know you’re tired and want to unwind, but I worked all day, too. If would really help me if you pitched in at dinnertime, and then you can play video games after.
Him: OK, that’s fine. I’m sorry you weren’t feeling appreciated, I didn’t realize.
5. Know When to Find Professional Help. If your partner’s video game playing has veered into full-blown addiction (think: he’s frequently staying up all night playing; it’s getting in the way of his work; or he never leaves the house on weekends), it’s time to call in some extra support. Consult a couples’ counselor and voice your issues in a session, encouraging your husband to come along. Once you both have a clear idea of the difference between healthy and unhealthy habits, you can get on the same page and, if you’re both committed, work back toward a closer relationship.