What Can I Do?
By Dr. Brent Conrad
Clinical Psychologist for TechAddiction
Video Game Addiction in Relationships
If you read the research and media stories on video game addiction, you may believe that it is only something that happens to teenage boys and single men in their twenties. Unfortunately though, many people (from teenagers all the way to those in their 60s) find themselves in relationships with boyfriends or husbands who are addicted to video games.
Of course women can also become addicted to computer games, but the research consistently finds that males tend to be more at risk for video game addiction.
For the partners of people who are obsessed with video games, it feels as if they are being ignored or even abandoned in favor of their boyfriend’s or husband’s latest computer game obsession.
Is It Worth Getting Upset About?
There are those who argue that if this is your situation you really shouldn’t complain too much about it – after all wouldn’t a drug, alcohol, or gambling addiction be much worse? In fact, even if your husband or boyfriend plays video games too much…at least he is right there at home with you and “not out at a bar somewhere”.
Not very comforting is it?
The fact is, you chose to be in a relationship with this person and he chose to be in it with you. And it is safe to assume that you both made this choice because you wanted to share part of your life with this person. To do so however, requires that you actually spend meaningful time together (not just “time”).
Meaningful Time Together is the Key
So what is meaningful time? The definition will obviously vary from person to person, but would you agree that this time has to (at the very least) be both voluntary and chosen over other options?
For example, let’s assume that the only regular time your boyfriend or husband spends with you is during the commute to work or school and for an hour or so during dinner. Otherwise, when he has the option he spends all of his time at home with his favorite console or computer game. His evenings and weekends are devoted to video games, not you…or anything else.
There is nothing wrong with having some alone time, even when you are in a relationship – in fact it is actually quite healthy. The problem here is not that your boyfriend or husband plays video games – you would likely be just fine with occasional play as a way to distress or relax at the end of the day.
The problem is that when given the option, he appears to be choosing video games over you.
How Your Boyfriend’s or Husband’s Video Game Addiction Affects You
Needless to say, feeling as though you are less important than a video game character is not what you were looking for when you entered this relationship. When someone is dating or married to a video game addict, it can have quite an impact on their self-esteem and their security in the relationship.
They may feel:
Taken for granted
Given these feelings, it is not surprising that they start to wonder if the person will ever cut back on gaming time, or if not, whether they should remain in the relationship.
How Do You Know if Your Boyfriend or Husband is Addicted to Video Games?
While there is no formal diagnosis of video game addiction, an obsession with video games can definitely have a negative impact on the quality of a relationship. What are the signs that your husband or boyfriend is addicted to video games?
Take our informal quiz to get a sense of whether computer game addiction is a problem in your relationship.
Video Game Addiction Test for Partners
1) My husband or boyfriend is happier when he is playing video games than when he is spending time with other people.
2) My husband or boyfriend would almost always rather play video games than go out socially.
3) My husband or boyfriend often plays computer games for hours every day even when other responsibilities are not taken care of (e.g., school, work, kids, household chores, etc.).
4) My husband or boyfriend spends almost every evening playing video games.
5) The work or school performance of my husband or boyfriend has suffered as a result of excessive computer gaming.
6) It is common for my husband or boyfriend to stay up past midnight playing video games – and he is often tired the next day as a consequence.
7) My husband or boyfriend no longer participates in sports or activities he once enjoyed and now devotes most of his time to video games.
8) When I ask my husband or boyfriend stop playing and spend time with me (even if he has already been playing for hours) he gets angry or irritable.
9) Other people have commented that my boyfriend or husband plays video games too much.
10) My husband or boyfriend often eats meals while playing computer games rather than taking a break to eat.
11) My husband or boyfriend lies about how much time he spends playing video games.
12) My husband or boyfriend promises to just spend a few minutes playing computer games, but this often turns into hours.
How many of the above statements are true for you? Although there is no cut-off indicating that video game addiction is present, obviously the more items that apply to you the greater the likelihood that excessive computer gaming is damaging your relationship.
Advice for Stopping a Partner’s Video Game Addiction
1. Don’t offer to join him.
If you have already looked for advice online on how to deal with a partner’s video game addiction, you may have seen the suggestion to join him in his hobby. That is, take an interest in video games yourself and this way you can spend time with your boyfriend or husband while you both play games together.
Yes, it is true that in some relationships both partners are gamers and enjoy spending time together in this way – it can happen. However, this usually develops naturally from a mutual, pre-existing interest in video games, and not from one partner who is desperately trying to be noticed and valued in the relationship.
There are many problems with this “solution”, the most obvious being that it does not address the issue of choosing video games over your relationship. The person is still defaulting to gaming when given a choice. Simply being allowed to play with him is unlikely to make you feel any more important in the relationship. Saying “If you want to spend time with me no one is stopping you from picking up a controller” still sends the message that video games take priority over the relationship.
Additionally, you may have absolutely no interest in playing these games…and he may actually prefer to keep gaming as “his thing” (which is usually just fine if he still makes plenty of time for you).
2. Don’t call it an “addiction”.
Although excessive computer gaming is often referred to as an “addiction”, it is not an officially recognized mental health diagnosis. The use of the term addiction is mainly used as a simple way to refer to “unhealthy or excessive video gaming habits that significantly interfere with social, relational, educational, occupational, or emotional functioning”. Clearly it is much easier to use the term “video game addiction” than the previous definition!
Given that video game addiction is not a recognized disorder and that using the term will likely only make your boyfriend or husband even more defensive (“It’s not even a real disorder – how can I be addicted?!”), there is little practical use in using the words “addiction” or “addicted”.
3. Don’t automatically assume that excessive video gaming is a “symptom of a deeper underlying issue”.
Yes, it is true that turning to video games can be a way of dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, or interpersonal difficulties – this should not be overlooked. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, video game addiction is simply an unhealthy obsession with games – this is the issue. The person is drawn in by the challenges, strategies, competition, visuals, rewards, and feels a sense of accomplishment when mastering the game (see Why Are Video Games Addictive?).
The problem may not be that he is depressed or socially anxious, but that he has prioritized video games over other activities and has difficulty setting limits on his gameplay.
4. Avoiding or ignoring it won’t make it go away.
If your boyfriend’s or husband’s video game addiction is significantly interfering with the quality of your relationship (you should have a sense of this by taking the quiz above), something needs to be done about it. Too often the partners of video game addicts avoid talking about their concerns because they are afraid that it will make the situation even worse. True, it may cause a temporary increase in the overall stress level in your relationship. However, the purpose of discussing relationship problems (whatever they may be) is to deal with before them become out of control.
Let your partner know:
that you love him or care about him
that you are concerned about his video game habits (not “addiction”)
that you miss spending time with him
that you believe it is affecting your relationship
that spending so much time with video games makes you feel ignored
that it is very important to you that talk about this and address it as a couple
5. It is OK to offer suggestions.
Hopefully your partner is receptive to the conversation above as initiated by you. If so, you may be wondering “now what?” Obviously the steps that are taken from here will depend on your specific situation. However, it is perfectly reasonable to offer a few tentative ideas for his feedback:
“I care about you and I care about this relationship. But sometimes I feel ignored when video games take so much of your time. I think that this is affecting our relationship and I am worried that we may not be spending enough quality time together. I know that you like playing these games and I’m not asking you to stop. But maybe we could agree to cut back to an hour or two per day so that we still have time for each other? This is very important to me. What do you think?”
5. Don’t settle for being less important than computer games.
Asking that your boyfriend or husband spend more time with you than with computer games is not unreasonable! Occasionally, couples become so comfortable with each other that they stop putting time and energy into the relationship. They may mistakenly assume that the other person will always be there no matter what.
When someone stops trying and their partner no longer feels special, appreciated, or important, this is the beginning of the end for the relationship. No one is in a relationship to be ignored – you cannot settle for this and do not need to compete with a video game for attention from your boyfriend or husband.
6. If necessary, consider couples therapy or other treatment options.
If your partner is unwilling to discuss or compromise on his gaming habits even after following the advice above, consider couples therapy.
When suggesting this, try to avoid making statements like “We need to go to couples counselling to fix this”. Also, don’t make this suggestion in frustration or anger after a huge argument. Rather, wait until you are feeling close to your partner. Comment on the good day (or afternoon, or morning, etc.) that you have had together and how great it would be to have more times like this. Introduce couples counseling as a way “feel even closer to each other” and as a way to be “stronger as a couple”. That is, focus on the positives that can come from this rather than presenting it as a last attempt to “save” your relationship.
Often, making the decision to try therapy is the largest hurdle to overcome. If this applies to your boyfriend or husband, suggest it as “An experiment - let’s just see what it is like. No commitments. If it is helpful, great! If not, we don’t need to go back. Can we try this?”
If your partner is still unwilling to try couples counselling, consider looking into individual therapy. If he is reluctant, he may be willing to read this downloadable workbook for video or computer game addiction.
If he refuses all of these options and you strongly believe that obsessive computer use is harming your relationship (and how you feel about yourself), you need to seriously evaluate whether you can continue to invest time and energy into it. Talk to friends and / or family about your situation and ask for their advice or feedback. You may also want to book an appointment with a psychologist or therapist for yourself – this can be very helpful for generating ideas, reviewing your options, and deciding how (or if) to proceed with the relationship.
Leaving the Relationship
It is definitely possible to overcome video game addiction, so don’t give up on your partner too easily. But if it is clear that:
1) playing video games is his number one priority
2) you are putting far more effort into the relationship than he is
3) you often feel ignored in favor of gaming
4) you have repeatedly asked him to cut back on his gaming time with no success
5) he is unwilling to talk about this issue
6) he is unwilling to seek help
7) he is not motivated to change
…this may unfortunately mean that leaving the relationship needs to be considered.
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