Artwork by Matt Herriman
Is gaming ruining your relationship with your romantic partner?
Gaming can be healthy or unhealthy for a relationship. When it’s healthy, a couple likely doesn’t treat gaming seriously, as they have fun whether they win or lose, and they’ve got a good handle on how to deal with disagreements when they come up. In that case, gaming together can be a wonderful bonding experience that adds a lot of fun to a relationship and can even strengthen it.
But when a couple doesn’t have that same approach or the same tools when they start gaming, things can go very wrong, and it can do serious damage to their relationship.
The “Must Win” Philosophy
If one or both partners in the couple decides that they must win the game they are playing (whether it is a partner vs. partner game, or a couple vs. others game) in order to have fun, then this is setting the stage for disaster. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the game—at some point, you are going to make a mistake, and that might cause you to lose. If you cannot handle losing, then making this an activity you play as a couple is a poor idea, as it will likely wind up with both of you in an argument.
In order to avoid this, only play games with each other that you can both handle losing. If that’s only tic-tac-toe, then so be it. If you can’t even play that one without getting angry when you lose, then you simply should not play games together at all, at least until you fix your gaming philosophy to a more zen-like one of “win or lose, it’s all fun”.
The Unwanted Critique
Sometimes people don’t want critique, or they don’t accept certain aspects of a critique. In gaming, one person in the couple might be a more advanced player than the other, and thus it can make sense that they try to help out their partner by offering advice, tips, and tricks. They may even be able to beneficially offer a critique of their partner’s gameplay. But—and this is very important—if someone doesn’t want or accept that critique, the other person has to be okay with that and just let their partner play how they are going to play.
Otherwise, you could end up in an ugly argument where the more advanced player tries to badger their partner into playing the way they themselves play, even though that doesn’t make sense to their partner. This approach is never going to work, because being a more advanced player (by whatever metric you want to use) does not thereby mean that you have the authority to command how your partner should play. Even if they lose over and over, due to what seems like an obvious and simple mistake, you have to let them keep making that mistake if they want to.
While it can be frustrating to an advanced player to see simple mistakes, you cannot let your frustration get the better of you. You should only give constructive criticism when your partner asks for it, and be able to move on if they reject the critique you offer.
The Snowballing Disagreement
In gaming, very small things can get very large in a short amount of time. While you’re playing a game, emotions can run high, making it more likely that you or your partner will say something that isn’t entirely fair, rational, or nice. What happens after that is critical.
Either it can be dealt with quickly and in a civil manner, or it can spiral out of control, like a snowball rolling down a mountain until it becomes an avalanche. Brushing away a snowflake is the healthier option for your relationship, as opposed to icily storming back at the other person, escalating the exchange.
There will be things that both of you can do to stop an argument from arising or growing. You need to stay calm, recognize when someone is creating an argument, and do not take the bait by launching your own arguments back at the other person in a negative tone.
There will be buttons that you’ll both know how to push if you know each other well. You will know certain words, lines of argument, or tactics that infuriate the other person or clouds the pathway to real communication. You must avoid going down that low road, by reminding your partner you don’t want to argue, that you’d like to have a nice discussion about whatever the problem is or not talk about it at all, and not bringing up new things until it is a reasonable environment in which to do so.
De-escalating should be your shared goal, so that you can have a productive conversation with your partner, instead of a fight.
Put Your Relationship First
In conclusion, if you find tensions are running high and you’re not actually enjoying each other’s company while gaming, because it usually ends in a fight, then you should take a close look at where things go wrong and why. It is possible that you can identify and change the problems so that gaming can be a healthy, enjoyable part of your life with your partner. But if you just can’t seem to stop fighting over games, you need to learn to unplug the game, turn to each other, and realize that it’s not worth ruining your relationship for.