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What are the consequences of excessive video gaming in a relationship

28.04.2020 09:21 - Produced by Family Federation of Finland
Arguments related to time use are common in relationships. One topic that many couples talk about is gaming.

Gaming can be a positive thing in a relationship when the interest is mutual. The couple’s own perception of whether playing video games is a problem determines its impact on the couple’s well-being. In many relationships, time spent gaming is reasonable and is not perceived to weaken the meaning of the relationship. However, in many respects, gaming is perceived as problematic. In a survey of 900 married couples, 35% of the couples disagreed on gaming and it caused arguments. Both women and men may engage in excessive gaming, but studies show that men are more likely to be addicted to gaming.

Currently, the average age of the players is 35. Thus, the disagreement in gaming is not just about young couples, it is also a problem for many families with children. It has been researched around the world that approximately 36 percent of the players are married and 22 percent have children.

More and more attention has recently been paid to the addictive nature of video games. In 2018, the World Health Organization added compulsive video gaming to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). So far, help is rarely sought for video gaming, although some studies suggest that 10-20 percent of the players meet the addiction criteria.

Video gaming and affinity: Are you in the virtual world or are you here for me?

Excessive gaming may damage the relationship. Players who played more than 20 hours a week reported significantly lower levels of satisfaction in their relationships than those who played less or none at all. It has been found that active gaming reduces important activities, from the relationship perspective, such as time together and taking care of the home. Gaming is different in nature than, for example, twiddling the cell phone. Video games require the player’s full attention. They cannot be terminated in the meantime, because then the merits already gained will be lost. You can shut the TV or put your phone on the table, but it is difficult to stop playing. Many also play with headsets on, thus they are clearly in different worlds with their senses.

The nature, intensity, and attractiveness of gaming are poorly suited to a person’s need to get their loved one’s attention when needed. We humans are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partner. At best, in a relationship, both are available to each other and respond to each other’s request to connect.  If we feel that the other is not available and the emotional connection is broken, this is a warning sign. The absence of the other causes anxiety and objection, insecurity. Sense of security derives from the presence of another person. Gaming easily intervenes with the emotional connection in a relationship. The three most important questions in a relationship are:

  1. Are you available? (The player’s spouse may feel that the player is not responding or reacting)
  2. Do you understand me? (The spouse may feel that the player does not understand their anxiety and why gaming is a problem)
  3. Are your feelings present? (The spouse may feel that the player is only marginally available at an emotional level)

If the attempts to connect fail, affinity behaviours arise: anger, demands, objection and withdrawal. Affinity behaviour may weaken the connection of a relationship, which in turn may increase the use of video games. In fact, playing video role games has been observed to increase the amount of arguments in a relationship. Arguments often affect the amount of gaming and have a direct impact on relationship satisfaction.

 “My spouse’s grandmother was coming over to bring a gift for the baby. I asked him to stop playing but he was nasty towards me. I was so upset that I left… when I came back, I said he should choose between me and playing. I was not surprised when he walked out the door… ”

Every person has the need to feel that they are the most important thing to their partner. Video games may come between this. Some studies have shown that players may value their virtual relationships more than they do those in the real world. The more important the virtual world becomes, the weaker the real world relationships turn. Game world can be a getaway where you do not have to face real world relationship problems.

“Is there anyone else who is breaking up with a good partner who chooses games over family?”

The objection and demands of the player’s spouse can be seen as a cry for help of lost emotional connection. However, it may be difficult for the player to understand why the spouse is so negative. Playing is also a hobby and the player may feel that the partner gets in between the hobby and friends. In such a situation, it is understandable that you want to defend yourself in order to protect a meaningful pastime.

“Some people think that gaming is a less valuable hobby that you can complain about all the time. Many times, it comes down to a lack of understanding of what gaming is, especially nowadays. Some ridiculous stigmas are still associated with gaming.”

From the player’s perspective, the partner’s negative behaviour may seem unreasonable and absurd. Often, the player’s spouse may quickly raise the issue of addiction, and the player may feel that they are being criticized and invalidated.

While online video role players come from very different backgrounds, age groups and personalities, some common factors also exist. Stress, demands, and the experience of having limited leisure time increased the amount of gaming for all of them. Many felt that gaming brought relief to day-to-day life. Many also said that they considered virtual friends and the community they created to be meaningful.

“Could you and many others realize that for many, gaming is a getaway from day-to-day life and relaxation, just like something else may be for others.”

“It is damn difficult, because I have always played and my friends consist of players as well. They do not have children though, so they easily spend all leisure time live. I have been left out, because I never have time.“

Instructions for a relationship in which playing causes arguments

It is important that the partners try to understand each other’s experience. The player should understand that the behaviour of the spouse is related to the biological need to maintain an emotional connection with your partner. Objection and anger indicate that the spouse wants to maintain the relationship. As long as the spouse’s objection and the experience of being left alone are not addressed, arguments are likely to continue and may also get worse.

Again, the player’s spouse should understand what gaming means for the partner and the spouse should be able to communicate feelings and needs in a friendly, clear and open manner.

For example, if the player’s spouse withdraws while the other is playing, even though they feel lonely and anxious, the player may think that the spouse does not need them, so they can continue playing. This, in turn, can add to the feelings of insignificance and loneliness in the player’s spouse, which may be reflected as bitterness and anger.

If the player’s spouse becomes furious and controls the partner’s playing, it is likely that the partner’s defence behaviour and desire to play intensify.

If, on the other hand, the player’s spouse’s attempts to talk about the problems of gaming are always ignored or feelings are belittled, the spouse will at some point silence the needs for the partner. This may mean the death of the relationship.

You should try to understand the deeper feelings and experiences that arise in gaming arguments. Often, only anger or irritation appears in the disagreement and the softer feelings behind it are hidden. Fear, loneliness, sadness and inadequacy, and feelings of being rejected and left out can be found behind the anger of both the player and the spouse. The most important thing would be to gain a defence behaviour-free connection in discussion.

Couple’s therapy allows for processing of difficult feelings in a safe environment. It is a good option in a situation where it is difficult for the partners to gain a good connection in discussion. However, you can get started by trying to discuss the themes below.

  • Take a moment to discuss the values associated with gaming. Are there differences? What good and bad do you both see in gaming?
  • Talk about the feelings that gaming has evoked in you. Have you experienced being left on the second place due to video games? Do you feel lonely? Do you find it difficult to connect with your partner? Have you experienced inadequacy in the relationship? Have you experienced that your feelings or needs have been overlooked?
  • What kind of beliefs has gaming brought to light about yourself, your partner, and your relationship?
  • What needs have you pushed aside? What would you like from your partner?
  • What kind of nasty arguments or unresolved issues have you encountered due to gaming? Complete the assignment on circle of negative interaction.
  • What kind of rules or boundaries could be created in your relationship so that playing would not take away the connection between the two of you?

Studies show that couples should not focus so much on the hours played, but on why and when playing is a problem. How much does playing affect the couple’s relationship, trust, availability and intimacy. If gaming starts to affect these things, it happens too much.

Coyne, M. and others (2012) Gaming in the game of love: Effects of video games on conflict in couples. Family relations 61:388-396

McClellan, J. (2013) The relationship between video game use and couple attachment behaviors in committed romantic relationships. All these and dissertations, 3606.

Hawkins, B ja Hertlein, K. (2013) Treatment strategies for online Role-playing gaming problems in couples. Journal of couple & relationship therapy, 12:150-167.

Northrup, J. (2014) Gamer widow: A phenomenological study of spouses of online video game addicts. American journal of family therapy.

Hertlein, K. ja Hawkins, B. (2012) Online gaming issues in offline couple relationships: A primer for marriage and family therapists (MFTs)The quolative report, 17(6), 1-48.

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