“I can’t stand it,” says a young woman client who has recently moved in with her boyfriend. “I’m all for spending an occasional Sunday afternoon watching football, especially when it’s one of ‘my’ teams. But he wants to watch every Sunday. And Monday night. And Thursday night. And then there are the college games on Saturdays…”
And then, from another client, a man married for a little over a year, “I wish my wife liked football. It’s one of the ways I relax on the weekend. It would be so nice if she enjoyed it too.”
Growing up in a family of sports enthusiasts, I learned the basics of both football and basketball almost by osmosis. While I have no interest in the action, a football game on television and my husband’s occasional shouts of pleasure or disbelief or outrage is a familiar and even comforting background sound, bringing warm memories of sitting curled up in a chair, reading or doing homework, as my dad and brothers cheered on their favorite teams in front of our old black and white television.
However, when clients complain that their spouses or partners want to watch sports all weekend, I am sympathetic. I also feel for those clients who wish that their partners understood how important these games are to them. But I think the struggle over watching sports captures something important about being in a relationship. This conflict of interests is just one of many differences that will need to be negotiated over the course of a relationship – and learning how to engage in these dialogues is one of the keys to finding longterm happiness together.
For most couples, these negotiations only take place sometime after the first flush of excitement about being with one another dissipates. Then, weekends begin to take on a kind of routine with each person almost automatically returning to activities they had engaged in when they were single. But since you probably had different routines – maybe one of you went to the gym and came home to relax after a busy week by watching your team, while the other ran errands, went for a run, and came home to get the house in order after a crazy week – you are going to need to talk if you want to spend any time together. This conflict can lead to criticism, antagonism, and frustration.
But finding ways to approach this conflict can be a prototype for dealing with other (sometimes more serious) differences, I hope that these ideas will be of use for more than simply managing Saturdays and Sundays (and Monday and Thursday nights) (oh, and Tuesday and Wednesday nights…) of football…and basketball…and baseball…and…you get the idea.
Obviously, the suggestions I am making are not hard and fast. They are simply ideas meant to help you think – maybe a little outside the box – about ways of handling what is not an uncommon difficulty in any relationship.
1. Remind yourself about what you love (and also what you like) about your partner. What brought you together in the first place?
Most of us don’t choose a partner who is a clone of ourselves, so it’s not at all surprising that you have different styles and routines. These differences don’t mean that you have made a mistake. Harville Hendrix, the popular author of numerous books for couples, says that one of the hardest things we have to deal with is actually getting to know each other! (We all put on our best faces in the beginning – it’s just part of the process.) But when we start to see some of the less positive aspects, we become critical. We worry that we’ve made a mistake, that we didn’t really know the person we are now involved with. In most cases, that’s not the reality. We just didn’t know everything about them. When we remind ourselves of the good things, the things we love, the things we simply like, about our partner, it makes it easier to integrate them into a whole picture of a real person. So, put the some of the positive things into words – say them out loud to the other person! You might even be pleasantly surprised to find that they’ll return the favor and tell you some of the things they love about you!
And you might even develop some new interests in the process.
2. Know that you are not alone. Not that that knowledge by itself will make things better, but it is important to know that conflicts over sports do not by themselves mean that a relationship is untenable or unworkable. According to ESPN, in 2011 more than 200 million viewers watched the regular college football season, and a Harris Poll last year showed that 59% of Americans watch professional football. Add in basketball (pro and college), baseball, golf, wrestling…you get the picture. And certainly some portion of these watchers have family conflicts about how much they watch.
3. Recognize that conflicts are part of a relationship. They can even be good for it (see my post Why a little conflict can improve a relationship ). It’s not the fact of being in conflict, but how you and your partner manage your differences that can determine whether or not a relationship will survive.
4. Respect your partner’s interests, but respectfully request that they do the same for you. My husband and I figured out that although I do not enjoy sports, I do like being in the same room with him while he watches them – sometimes. As I said before, it brings back memories of warm and cozy family Sundays when I did homework and my Dad and brothers watched the Green Bay Packers playing in the snow (growing up in the South, I was fascinated by the snow storm!). My mom, like me, wasn’t much interested in the game, but sat with us and read a mystery. So I sit at my computer and work, or I read, while my husband watches. And although he used to wish that I would be as interested in the games as he is, he has come to accept that it’s just nice for us to be in the room together.
By the same token, sometimes he sits with me while I watch something that does not interest him in the slightest. And although he might like to make nasty comments about some chick-flick that I’m laughing or crying over, he refrains – because he knows that if he does, it means I can talk about all of the violence in the football game he’s going to watch later that day.
5. Be sure to find things that you can also do together. Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet and author of the book The Prophet, which I quote in the post on conflict, emphasizes the importance of finding spaces in your togetherness. But to keep things in balance, it’s important to find times for being and doing things together. In our family, that means that sometimes I do go to football and basketball games, or sit with my husband while he’s watching games on television; and in return he joins me at a ballet, and has even recorded – and watched with me – television performances of some of my favorite companies. There is still negotiating -- he tries to makes sure the game will be interesting to me, if only because it will be a beautiful fall day or we will join friends before, during and/or after, and I try to find performances that I think he might actually even enjoy.
But over the years we have also worked at finding joint interests. For example, we have both always liked music, but from different eras (he liked crooners, I liked folk-rock). Some years ago we started going to jazz and classical concerts, and now our mutual appreciation of both means that we often listen to music together, attend concerts, and search out our favorite musicians. Similarly, although we have different reading tastes, we work hard to find authors we both can enjoy so that we can talk about what we are reading. But we also try to make time to share something about the books we read that the other will never look at. And we make sure to be respectful about the differences in our tastes.
6. And finally, remember that a partnership is a developing process. Like many sports fans, my husband is deeply disturbed by recent revelations about the longterm physical damage to football players, and the failure of the NFL and NCAA to take steps to help players manage future disabilities resulting from the damage (see below for some references). I of course can’t solve the problem for him, but because he knows that I understand how much he loves these sports, he has been comfortable talking to me about his dilemma – on the one hand, he does not want to blindly continue to support the sport as it is, in the face of this knowledge, but on the other, he does not want to simply stop watching, which will do nothing for anyone. As we talk about these questions together, our relationship continues to deepen. Which is the most important reason that I can think of for hanging in there with a partner who has different interests than you do.
A partial list of books on the damage done to players by football:
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
Throwaway Players: Concussion Crisis From Pee Wee Football to the NFL by Gay Culverhouse
NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football by Anthony Gargano
Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics by Mark Yost
Book on relationships:
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix Ph.D.
Teaser Image source: http://pushingthequill.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/i-dont-like-footb...