When I was in community college, I dated someone who was really into the video game Street Fighter. I would come over to his and his brother’s West LA apartment, and oftentimes he would sit me down on the couch and make me watch him play the game. (And I say “make me” because he’d freak out whenever I’d get up, even to get food, and then try to sit me back down as if I were a baby trying to crawl away. That’s how I remember it, at least.)
Before getting up one time, I remember thinking, “Okay, if he’s going to play video games all day, then there’s no sense in my being here.” I got up and told him I was going to head back home. I grabbed my belongings, turned around, and there he was, blocking the doorway like a creep.
“I just want you to sit with me and watch me play,” he told me, as if it was supposed to make sense and be healthy for our relationship. It reminded me of how my cat likes to lure me to the food bowl so I can watch her eat.
He held me hostage like that and even prioritized gaming over intimacy several times during our relationship. I thought it was really strange behavior and, needless to say, I felt trapped much of the time. Clearly, he was deeply insecure, and breaking up with him was like trying to brush a cobweb off my body. To this day, I tend to look back on that relationship (if I ever look back on that relationship) unfondly as the one where video games, among other issues, took their toll.
Fast forward to today, I’m in a very committed relationship with someone who’s cursed with an addictive personality like I’m cursed (or blessed?) with grammatical nazism. While he doesn’t play video games as much as my ex did, I’d often catch him “phubbing” (snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones) during family get-togethers or while I was talking to him. Some of my day-job colleagues do it to me all the time, and yes, I’ve been guilty of it as well.
How Bad Can Gaming and ‘Phubbing’ Be?
“How bad can video-gaming and phubbing be for relationships (of the romantic variety, in this case)?” seems like the stupid question of the day, given the examples I just provided, but I’m calling it out because both habits can be interpersonally destructive, just like any addiction. It can be like the excessive amount of gamma radiation that killed Tony Stark/Iron Man in the movie The Avengers: End Game (gamma radiation = too much gaming, Iron Man = your relationship).
In fact, this online divorce service found 200 divorce petitions between January and September 2018 citing “Fortnite and other online games” as the reason for ending their unions, and this Brigham Young University study found that “75 percent of spouses of sword-carrying, avatar-loving gamers wish they would put less effort into their guilds and more effort into their marriage.”
Furthermore, the BYU study found that the amount of time playing video games wasn’t as poisonous for the relationships under study as much as “the resulting arguments and disrupted bedtime routines.” I found this surprising because I’m the opposite: I’m more concerned about the frequency and amount of time Phillip plays video games than I am about when he comes to bed (with certain exceptions).
On the other hand, if excessive phone use is withering away the bond between you and your partner like a heat wave scorches a once-greening oasis, then this University of California, Berkeley article sums up the issue rather well, with multiple studies from which to draw.
One study cited in the article, appropriately called “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” found that phubbing unsurprisingly “decreases marital satisfaction, in part because it leads to conflict over phone use.” Moreover, the scientists found that “phubbing, by lowering marital satisfaction, affected a partner’s depression and satisfaction with life.” Dayum!
So, too much gaming could be game over for relationships. Too much “phubbing” (which sounds weird at this point) could put relationship satisfaction on the backburner. What do you do when your partner constantly succumbs to the seductive siren that is Fornite, Street Fighter, Reddit, Instagram, push notifications, porn, or Overwatch?
What to Do
Okay, I’ve been calling too much gaming and phubbing “addictions,” which could be questionable for some. So, let me rephrase: if it’s clear that your partner’s game-playing and/or phubbing have:
- become his number one priority, while you’re trying to prioritize your relationship
- prompted him to ignore you a good chunk of the time
- been making it difficult for him to cut back, despite his and your best efforts
- kept him from wanting to talk about the issue
- kept him from seeking help
- kept him from being motivated to change
…then it’s time to consider dropping the relationship like dropping a mic. I hope you’ll agree with me when I say it’s better for you to be single and happy than taken and miserable. You can always find someone who prioritizes you over games and phone use like Billie Jean King prioritized tennis over her marriage in The Battle of the Sexes.
For phubbing in particular (according to the UC Berkeley article):
“Patience and compassion are key here. Understand that the phubber is probably not doing it with malicious intent, but rather is following an impulse (sometimes irresistible) to connect. Just like you or [me], their goal is not to exclude. To the contrary, they are looking for a feeling of inclusion. After all, a telling sociological study shows that loneliness is rising at an alarming rate in our society.”
All relationships require all parties to be present, mindful, empathetic, and authentic. And according to same article, research shows that:
“… altruism and compassion also make us happier and healthier, and can even lengthen our lives. True connection thrives on presence, openness, observation, compassion, and, as Brené Brown has so beautifully shared in her TED talk and her bestselling book Daring Greatly, vulnerability. It takes courage to connect with another person authentically, yet it is also the key to fulfillment.”
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