Anita can’t wait for game days. She and her family suit up in their team gear (even the baby… even the dog!), prep special snacks, and set everything else aside to ride the roller-coaster of the game, cheering their team through to the finish. Win or lose, it’s a shared passion, family ritual, and fun time spent together.
Donna, on the other hand, dreads game days. She doesn’t give a hoot about football (or any other sport for that matter) and knows nothing about the game. But she does know that her husband will “disappear” for hours, glued to the screen watching the big games (there couldn’t be just one?) while she feels ignored and abandoned, responsible for accomplishing the day’s chores all by herself.
Wives, who do you relate to more: Anita or Donna? While there are lots of Anitas out there who love football and share the life of an impassioned spectator with their mates, many other women totally feel Donna’s pain. They resent those three (or ten) hours every Saturday (and Sunday… and Monday…) when their husband parks himself in front of the TV and checks out, leaving her to deal with the parenting and household tasks.
If you feel like you lose your husband to sports this time of year, it might help to know that the game has some legitimate benefits for your husband (and your relationship!). And that knowledge holds the key to a new perspective, a new attitude, and a new way to approach the situation.
Here are four insights that can help you better understand your husband and his love of sports:
The Game Nurtures Your Husband’s Sense of Well-Being
I used to think that watching football (or basketball or baseball…) was a massive waste of time. But for him, it is not! Neuroscientists have found that watching a competitive activity that you are emotionally invested in stimulates the brain in almost the same way as actually playing it! Our husbands may be years beyond those high school linebacker days that they loved, but as they watch football, their brain quite literally goes right back to that same feeling that they loved back in the day!
In the male brain, there is also a stronger release of testosterone and adrenaline than in the brains of most women. Thus, getting into the game feels good in a way many of us as women just don’t understand.
Certainly, this sense of feeling good is no excuse for him making you feel bad because he has completely checked out of life! There is a balance. Just as he wouldn’t have been able to play football 24/7 without causing himself serious consequences (like flunking high school), he can’t invest in football now 24/7 without serious consequences. Most men of goodwill understand this. (More on what to do about it, at the very end of this article.) But it also makes a huge difference when we understand the important emotional nature of this season.
The Game Gives Him A Key Moment Away
As a working mom who does a lot of traveling for speaking engagements, I have learned that in the middle of keeping 14 plates spinning, I need to find a way to carve out time for self-care. I schedule a breakfast with a friend or “check out” and open a beach-read novel. Or I give myself permission to sit at Chick-fil-A while I’m waiting for my son to finish track practice and read the news and not work for a few minutes.
Your man’s time shouting at his football team may look like the farthest thing from “checking out,” but that is probably what it is. It sets aside the demands of work and home life in order to re-group and gather energy to tackle his responsibilities. As I shared in my book For Women Only, men need time and space before they’re ready to talk about issues and take action. While your husband’s mind is engaged in the game, he’s actually re-charging and gaining strength for his life outside of football.
Now, to be clear: it is unhealthy for a husband and father to check out of family life for the entire weekend, every weekend. That is a whole other issue, and it could mean that you need to enlist help in addressing this with your husband (such as via a trusted male friend or counselor) in a way that he understands that his absence is actually quite serious for you. But otherwise, think about it: just as we women need time to connect with our friends over coffee or on the phone or to read a novel in the bath, men also need time. For them, taking some time to decompress gives him this much-needed space.
Further, just as you wouldn’t want him constantly knocking on the bathroom door when you were in the bubble bath, asking what your work schedule was, or what to do about this or that thing with the kids, it can be frustrating for him if you regularly interrupt the game to try to have a conversation or remind him about tasks that need to be done. As one man told me, “I’m completely up for those things, but not when it’s 3rd and long. Because that puts me in a position where I either have to risk hurting my wife—which I never want to do—or risk missing the big moments that I’m most watching the game for.”
The Game Feels Like A Microcosm Of Life
If you aren’t a football fan, the game might not feel that easy to follow. Football involves lots of stops and starts, breaks between plays, and incredibly small steps of progress. But the powerful metaphor of a battle applies to football—and transfers to everyday life. The offense has to take chances, watch for opportunities, and inch forward or make the dramatic play that results in massive forward motion. The defense has to hang tough, protecting their men and preventing the opposing side from making headway. And while the whole team is working together to follow a strategic plan, each player has a role to perform and must do it with excellence and tenacity.
While football fans seem to be living and dying over a “silly” game, they’re responding to the battle call of life’s challenges. It’s why films like Rudy and Remember the Titans and Friday Night Lights all make the list of favorite football movies of all time—the efforts exhibited in the game resonate in all of us. But they particularly pull on the hearts of men; calling them to the strength and fortitude God designed them to carry.
Football Creates An Opportunity To Connect
I know what it feels like to be hurt that your husband seems to have no time or attention for you when the game is on. And again, it is not healthy for men to emotionally disappear for entire weekends, the whole season! But please know this: statistically, your man almost certainly cares about you deeply. That means this is simply a matter of being out of balance—and turns the situation into an opportunity to connect.
Take a moment and write down those things you think your husband is probably getting from his engagement in the games. Excitement? Feeling alive? Connectedness with something beyond himself? Then find a time—on a non-football day!—to ask, “I want to understand your heart; is this how you feel?” Then tell him you want him to experience those things—you don’t want him to lack this special time of enjoyment! But then tell him that you know that he loves you and therefore you know that he wouldn’t want you to feel bad so he can feel good. Ask if you can discuss the expectations and hopes that both of you have, so you can come to a plan that works for both of you.
Also, consider whether game time could be an opportunity to spend time with him. That’s what happened with me. I had never been into college football, but Jeff was so into it, I realized it would be far better to sit with him, ask questions, learn the rules, and enjoy his enjoyment, than to get huffy every Saturday for the rest of our lives! And to my surprise: I began to actually enjoy it for myself! Which Jeff absolutely loves. To this day, he still mentions the night I stayed up very late watching ESPN to see the highlights of a few games we missed, even after he was in bed.
Our research shows that one of the top habits of happily married couples is spending time together. In The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages we share that 83% of couples who rate their marriage as “very happy” hang out with their spouse at least weekly. So by just sitting with your man and hanging out—even if you’re reading a book instead of watching the game!—you’re doing something to strengthen your relationship. If you’re a game-day dreader like Donna, use these insights to better understand why football (or some other spectator sport) is so important to your man. And then give it a try—hang out with him during the game. Enter into the experience. Over time, you may find yourself becoming more and more like Anita—enjoying the game and bonding with your husband over a shared interest. The time you spend as a couple (or family) rooting for your team can draw you together in an experience of shared enthusiasm and fun that will score major points for your relationship
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out our online resource for Shaunti’s research and teachings: SurprisingHope.com.
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