Autumn is here, and although most people enjoy the changing of the seasons, many marriages experience a different kind of seasonal change. Their fall is filled with fantasy drafts, team jerseys, ESPN as the background noise of life, weekends spent in front of the TV and occasionally — the resulting marital conflict.
That’s right. Football season is back!
As exciting as the season may be for some, for non-sports lovers it can be a difficult time of year. There’s even a name for these frustrated spouses: “football widows.” It means these individuals are attempting to cope with a relationship put on hold while a spouse is engrossed in football. A football widow can feel overlooked from September until February as his or her spouse is enthralled in college, professional and/or fantasy football.
Why is there a problem?
Football fans can sense when their spouse doesn’t appreciate their interests. If a husband or wife says, “It’s just a stupid game,” or tries to manipulate the spouse into doing other things instead of watching football, the fan may feel invalidated, disrespected or controlled.
The “widows,” meanwhile, often feel neglected, rejected or even abandoned. From their perspective, the football fan makes football a higher priority than the marriage relationship. This can lead to resentment, and the couple can experience conflict as they start arguing about the amount of time devoted to football.
Regardless of whether you’re the fan or the widow, you can do a few things to help your spouse feel loved, respected and appreciated during football season.
For the football widow
Do self-care. It’s OK to have different interests — couples don’t have to always like the same things. Take advantage of the free time by working out, catching up on your favorite TV show, going out with friends, taking a class or finding a hobby of your own.
Be respectful. Don’t marginalize or ridicule something that your spouse is passionate about. Watch your words and be careful about how you express any frustration you may be feeling.
Don’t manipulate. You don’t want your spouse to turn off the TV out of guilt, which is what you might be doing if you ask your spouse to choose between you or football. Ultimatums can cause your spouse to feel frustrated and resentful.
Take an interest in football. When you ask your spouse why he or she likes a particular team, you’re expressing an interest in what is important to your husband or wife. Watching dramatic movies about football (e.g., Remember the Titans or The Blind Side) can pique your interest and you may even want to learn to understand the game.
Turn the game into a social event. Initiate routines that the entire family can enjoy—fans and non-fans, alike. Plan pregame meals to connect with family members and friends. While one group is glued to the TV, you can catch up with friends as you spend time talking together.
For the football fan
Practice moderation. Excess and extreme behaviors, in any form, are not good for your marriage. Your relationship needs balance, and all adults need to practice self-control. Limit your football viewing to a certain number of hours each week, and consider using a DVR to record your favorite games so you can get through them in less time.
Give as you take. Be willing to watch your spouse’s favorite television shows at times when football isn’t on TV. Show an interest in your spouse’s hobbies and encourage his or her non-football friendships.
Serve your spouse. Make sure to regularly take your spouse out on a date or share a favorite activity together. The more your spouse feels served, cherished and connected throughout the week, the more likely he or she will be to be accepting of your football interests on the weekend.
Express gratitude. Don’t overlook your spouse on game days. Be sure to appreciate the effort he or she puts into supporting you and your football habit. Be intentional about affirming your spouse and expressing your love, even if only during the commercial breaks.
Communication is key to a healthy marriage relationship during football season. If you feel neglected or that things are out-of-balance in your home, talk to your spouse. If you feel disrespected or manipulated, talk to your spouse. Keep in mind that neither of these conversations should take place in front of the TV — especially when a game is on.
Commit to finding a win-win solution, one in which the football widow feels like a priority and the football fan doesn’t have to give up the game he or she loves. Marital conflict doesn’t need to define the football season this year if you each make a point of staying connected on a daily basis.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.