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Community Q&A: Confronting a Gamer

To help more of our readers with their crucial conversations, confrontations, and behavior change challenges, we recently introduced the Community Q&A column! Please share your answers to this reader’s question in the comments below.

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

My husband spends an average of five hours a day playing video games and surfing the internet. I have attempted to confront him about the amount of time he spends on the internet and the effect it is having on our marriage, our children, and on himself. His response to my comments is, “I know I have a problem, but it’s a problem I’m not ready to deal with yet.”

How can I best address this issue without resorting to divorce or separation? I am tired of trying to “deal with it” until he is ready.

A Gamer’s Wife

18 thoughts on “Community Q&A: Confronting a Gamer”

  1. Realize that you can only control yourself. He has to want to change. By accepting his behavior, you are enabling it. Decide if it is harming you and the family. If so, leave. It will help him understand that there is a choice he has to make about what’s important to him.

  2. Is he willing to discuss what it would take to make him want to change the behavior? If he knows he has a problem, perhaps he has already decided just how bad things have to get before he will consider “dealing” with it. As a first step, perhaps he would consider making some environmental change – say, making the room less comfortable for gaming – to help him gradually learn to depend on the games less for gratification. Is there something else he would enjoy doing occasionally to replace some of the hours he spends gaming?

  3. If he is not willing to break the habit, I would suggest that you make a calendar with each day listing what you and your childrens activities are and continue to support your children. He will be responsible for making the choice to participate. It can be as simple as a family video night, going to the park, craft time, etc. Eventually, the children will realize dad is not participating and perhaps question him. If in the event he doesn’t find that it is important enough to stop using the computer and spend more quality time with his family, I would then make an appointment with a family counselor. If he refuses to attend the counseling sessions, I then would make an appointment with a divorce lawyer. I speak these things from experience, except that I failed to follow this advice and continued to live with someone who chose to spend his evenings in bed reading instead of interacting with the family in the evenings. My children have grown up now and they know who spent time with them and who didn’t. Does that make it right or okay? I know now that I would have done it differently, so maybe you can step up and show him that you are not going to accept his behavior and enable him the opportunity to continue.

  4. How does his gaming affect you and your family? Are you forced to forego things you want or need to do because you’re trying to fulfill obligations he should take part in also? It’s important that he understands how his choices affect those he cares about.

    The other side is understanding why he chooses to spend his time this way. Is it something he enjoys? Is it to escape from other problems? Try to understand his perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Since he’s already acknowledged that there is a problem, let him know that you’re willing to support him when he decides he’s ready to make a change.

    At the same time, be up front about what your limits are, and what consequenses will occur and when if he’s not willing to make a change. Also be specific about what you want him to be doing instead.

  5. Games, of any kind, give the person control, empower them, stimulate their imagination, and reward them. The man has an addiction, but he is also a man with energy and potential to pursue something and to, literally, to go to the next level. Constructive would be to show him his needs can be met away from from the game screens, with tangible rewards and excitement. To access his potential, he should see options he does not realize exist.

  6. Perhaps the reason he is spending all this time on gaming is because of a need that is not being met elsewhere. If the need is alone time then perhaps the two of you can make a schedule of when he can be assured alone time where family concerns can be completely forgotten for an hour. If he is looking for “recreation” maybe the family can schedule a more social recreation. He might be looking for acceptance or encouragement which could be provided by you giving him praise on what he is doing right rather than focusing on what he is doing wrong.

    Another idea might be to make a list of things as a couple that need to be done before his gaming time such as dinner with the family, helping kids with homework, chores, exercise and such. That way when he does go for his recreation he can do so with a clear conscience and know that his family obligations have been attended to first.

  7. First and foremost you must make this problem about you. Sure, your husband may have an issue with computer addiction, but it is relatively codependent to want to change him in order to make yourself happy. So, be specific about what those “effects on the marriage and children” are. Have a conversation in the right way by explaining how you feel instead of how he needs to change. For instance, “I feel like a single mom because you are not present when the kids are screaming and I’m trying to get dinner ready.” Or “I’m lonely at night when trying to fall asleep because you are in the office instead of cuddling with me.” Explain that you got married to have an active partner and teammate, not a ghost who makes an appearance when it is convenient. Let him know that you do not have the power to change him, admit your limits, but do require specific behaviors from him in terms of helping with the marriage and children. Let him find ways to surf the internet in his own down-time, not during times when you need him the most — if he can surf and be an active partner at the same time, then it is a win-win situation. And who knows, once he steps in and starts helping more the need for computer time might diminish on it’s own.

  8. It sounds like there is more going on here than just a husband playing video games. He is using them as an escape from reality. What is the real underlying problem – job, mid life crisis, something else going on in the marriage? Playing video games is a symptom of a problem and not the actual problem.

  9. As stated in various ways already – you can’t change him, you can only change how you respond to him. However, in addition to Debi’s advice about living your life open to his participation but without relying on him, I would also seek out information from AlAnon for advice on how you can deal with someone else having an addiction problem. We think of drugs or booze as addictions, but often overlook behaviors as addictions. I think that moving forward with your own life is important for you and your children’s well being, but educating yourself about addiction and making that information available to him is the critical knowledge you will need for you to have any chance to recover your relationship.

  10. I agree completely with what David B said. You can only control your own behavior. No matter how much you want to help, guide, or influence someone else, you cannot control them or make them do what you want. What you can do it set healthy boundaries for yourself and your family. These are not ultimatums or manipulations. Boundaries are protections we put in place to protect ourselves and those we care about.

    Your husband has an addiction. That may sound harsh, but that is clearly what it is. That addiction is causing him to be blind to or (more likely in this case) causing him to ignore the negative consequences. By letting the behavior continue you are enabling it and you are letting him hurt you and your family. Often addictions can lead people to very dark places before they realize what is happening. By setting appropriate boundaries, you can help to make the consequences more clear and hopefully avoid letting the addiction get out of control.

    You have to decide for yourself what your boundaries are and what the consequences should be for him when he violates those boundaries. You have to be willing to hold fast to those boundaries and consequences. Make sure they are at a level that provides adequate protection, that will result in consequences that he will notice and that create enough discomfort that he cannot ignore. Also make sure they are still consequences you will be able to follow through on. Be careful that he does not try and make himself the victim in the scenario or try to manipulate you into feeling guilty about the boundaries and consequences you set.

    You can use your crucial conversations skills to have a conversation about how his behavior is impacting you and you and your family and explain to him the scenario. Have an open and honest conversation about how you want a good family life and how you feel you need to take action before things get any worse…

    There are so many other things I could say here. Try and learn about addictions and how they can control people’s lives. Try and learn about setting healthy boundaries. Refresh your crucial conversations skills and then when you have a good background of understanding these items, you would be ready to think through your plan on how to best approach the problem. It is important to approach the problem carefully and as calmly as possible. Rash decisions and actions often create more harm than good. On the other hand, this needs to be a priority because the longer you let it go on, the longer it is hurting you, your family and him. Good luck!

  11. This is definitely a place for a crucial conversation. I can speak from personal experience when I say that I struggle with spending too much time gaming and surfing the internet as well, so hopefully, I can share some helpful insights.

    It does sound like you may need to get a commitment from you husband on when he plans on dealing with the problem, and you may need to explain how it impacts the family.

    Before the conversation, I would also reccommend that you look at the influencer and change anything models. The reason that gaming is so additctive is because it satisfies one or more other needs. The problem is that gaming can be a proxy for satisfying those needs in reality. To really change, satisfaction of those underlying needs will definitely be a factor, and other sources of influence, support, and environment modification may also be neccessary.

    Also, from a gamer’s perspective, time passes very quickly. Something as simple as reaching the next achievement or getting to a good save point can sometimes take hours longer than we think, and we perceive that we are not spending nearly as much time as those around us who are not playing the game.

    When my wife and I discussed how much time I spent gaming, we agreed to put a kitchen timer in the gaming room. We agreed that I could play for an hour a day, so I initially set the timer for an hour. Eventually, I set the timer for 50 minutes, because I found that it took me a few minutes to get to a good point to save and exit the game.

    I also took up gardening, woodworking, and photography. Each of these hobbies requires planning and forethought, and each has its drawbacks. With the exception of woodworking, different members of the family enjoy and share the hobby, so I can spend quality time with a family member, focused on something that is much more real, and much less virtual.

    Finally, I would be dishonest if I did not add that there are still some times that I will spend four or five hours in one video game session, but such occurrances are exceptional, and if I think I may want to have a really long gaming session, I always have a conversation with my wife well in advance, and we both agree and schedule that time.

    I wish you the best of luck with this. Resolving this issue will not only improve your life, but it will improve your husbands life as well.

  12. How long has this been going on? How’s he treating you and family when not in front of the PC? Is he employed? What do you think is behind this behavior? So video games the only thing he’s using the PC for? How could one stay interested 5 hours/day in that? There is more going on here. Make an appointment with a counselor. Go by yourself if necessary, but together is better so your husband doesn’t feel ganged up on. You don’t want to control your husband by setting up rules and consequences because that creates anger/resentment. Both of you must be on the same side of the problem and solve it together. A counselor can provide guidance here.

  13. I don’t suppose that this is in total agreement with how “Crucial Conversations” works, but I would reframe the question entirely. I would box up the gaming equipment and the computer and either hide it or donate it to a charity. The resulting conversation would be about how to get along without gaming at all, and when (or if) to reintroduce the miracle of the internet to the home. Your position could be “I’m not ready to bring it back” just as his position is that he’s not ready to give it up. Its a drastic measure, but this is a dramatic threat to the family. Having an absentee husband/father is a real problem. In a way, you are already separated.

    1. Laura, I think this type of advice isn’t really helpful with making the situation better. Doing what you have suggested would only cause more conflict in the marriage. It is important that she have a conversation with her husband to fix the issue together for the situation to truly be resolved. Just taking away the computer and gaming equipment won’t fix the underlying issues. He is likely to be extremely resentful of her trying to control him and could very well go find other things to occupy his time outside the home or just buy more equipment. It certainly isn’t going to fix the absentee husband/father problem. This really sounds like it is a much deeper issue then just him wanting to be on the computer.

      I definitely agree with David’s take on the situation. My husband started gaming and playing World of Warcraft (the game that actually has organizations for wives whose husbands are addicted to the game). He could play for hours and hours. Instead of making a big issue about how he was spending time away from me I sat down one day next to him to see what all the excitement was that could keep him playing so long. Honestly, I fell in love with the game myself and ended up starting to play it too. So I started to understand why he was doing what he was doing. We did have to set some boundaries, and setting a timer is definitely a great idea. It is true that while you are playing you totally lose track of how much time is passing. Some times there were days we would both play for 5-6 hours. (Thankfully we didn’t have any kids to leave parentless.) It took some time but we did manage to get together and make other priorites and spend less time playing.

  14. Brain science shows that chronic gamers’ brain functioning is not unlike that of alcoholics and other addicts, and their judgement is impacted in the same way which is why an otherwise bright and caring person might not see the effects on his family. Google “WOW Widow” and you’ll find out how common this problem is. Ask: how would you react if he spent 5 hours/day too stoned to interact with his family? And what kind of lessons are the kids learning about acceptable interactions between family members? Consult a counselor skilled in working with couples in which one has an addiction. If your husband’s employer or yours has an employee assistance program you may be able to find counseling that’s affordable and easy to access.
    You can try a practical tip from a website that coaches gamers on how to get their “game widow” to stop complaining; however if this is an addiction these limits will likely fall apart pretty soon: Work with him to set a regular gaming schedule in advance (like bowling night) so everyone knows that, for example, Dad won’t be available on Tuesday and Thursday nights. For general surfing you could schedule a certain amount of time each day but gamers, like drinkers, generally want to have marathon sessions, not short, frequent ones. Agree on a time limit, and set a timer to go off 10 minutes in advance so there’s time to finish the current level or article.

  15. I wanted to address Laura’s comments briefly. My husband and I have many issues in our relationship related to his unwillingness to engage in productive problem solving behaviors. Instead, when he gets angry, which is frequent, he becomes hostile, controlling and frequently verbally abusive. It is not unusual for him to do things like taking the thermostat off the wall and hiding it if the setting is not comfortable to him, or throwing something away that belongs to one of the kids if he is angry with them. Once he decided everyone was watching too much TV so he padlocked the plugs so the TV’s couldn’t be plugged in. He will tell me to “just shut up about it, I’m done with it,” when I try to bring up issues. He often speaks to me as though I am a child and not a partner. When I read your post, I immediately thought of his behavior. I am marking time until I can get my finances in order to get out of this horrible relationship. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership, not one spouse controlling the behavior of the other. If one partner begins to make arbitrary decisions and take control away from the other, the situation will quickly deteriorate. If reasonable discussions and limit-setting can’t resolve the issue, then each person has to decide what they are willing to live with and take steps to make that happen.

  16. He’s addicted and he needs help. Also, recent research shows that gaming hits the same areas as drug addiction. There is probably a problem he is NOT confronting and the gaming is an escape.

    David had some good points. Set a timer out of his immediate reach and agree upon a time he can play. You can loose track of time quite easily.

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