My husband and I have lately acquired a very bad habit, which had started out fairly innocuous, as bad habits are wont to do. He would come along shortly before dinner was ready and persuade me to watch this episode of whatever television show during dinner, and I would easily acquiesce. It didn’t take much finessing on his part; I wanted to watch tv just as much as he did. I figured we’re both eating and can’t really talk anyways – might as well watch something brainless. It started out happening once or twice a week. Then it ratcheted up to 4 or 5 times a week, and as we progressively got used to it, it turned into every day. I would prepare dinner, we’d serve up our plates at the stove, settle into our respective couches and spend at least an hour sucked into the screen while we ate. Three things happened because of this habit:
1. I found that we continually forgot to tell each other important things like ‘the cable guy’s coming at 3’ or ‘don’t touch the cake in the fridge, it’s for Mary’s birthday’, which oftentimes lead to silly misunderstandings at best and fights at worst. The absolutely hilarious thing is that my husband and I work together – at the same place, all day, and in the same office for half days – and it just seemed like we were constantly saying “didn’t I tell you…” to each other with blank looks on our faces.
2. I found that even though we do work together half days, we still need to ‘debrief’ our days, and tuning into the boob-tube after work pushed those heart-to-heart moments all the way back to midnight - when we were going to bed. This made for weary, half-asleep talks about important marriage matters, increased the forgetfulness and caused anger and resentment because…”You’re not listening to me!!!!!”
3. I found that time was being sucked away. At first it was just one, one-hour show, but that morphed into two, or three shows and before we knew it, 2 to 3 hours were gone. Inevitably the dishes wouldn’t be done so we’d wake up to a stuck-on mess, I was slacking in many of my other duties like cleaning, reading and writing and my hubby was falling behind on his studies. In short, watching tv for several hours every night created a stupid mess for the both of us.
There was no ah-ha moment for me: no lightening bolt or awakening where I can say “it’s the tv!”. I just missed talking to my husband at such a convenient time as when we’re stuffing our faces. So tv-watching during dinner, we’ve since decided, will be the exception (like on pizza, beer and movie night) instead of the rule; something that we’d both recognize as a ‘treat’, instead of the everyday fare of plugging ourselves in and tuning each other out. At first, though, we didn' t talk about it and I was met with a tad bit of hostility when last Monday I simply went and brought everything to the kitchen table: forks, glasses, juice and I even lit a candle. There was no mistaking we were going to be eating at the table. This is how it went:
Him: “No Masterchef?” Me: “No Masterchef.”
So we sat. And ate. And I looked at him and thought, what do we talk about?
Finally, my brain figured out that this was debrief time and we began in on our days and the conversation flowed. The day after that, I didn’t light the candle, but I did set everything out on the table once again…I’m not such a subtle gal…and I got a bit of a pointed “SIGH”, but we sat and ate together again.
By the third night, total win for me. “So I guess this means we’re eating at the table from now on”, he says. Total bummer for him. He has a wife who actually wants to talk to him every day, and not just a hurried conversation at midnight, but a face-to-face, meaningful interaction.
We’ve since discussed how nice it is, you know, talking. He’s even commented on how much happens at work when I’m not there and it’s great to have a time to sit and think and speak about it. There is so much that we were not telling each other that I find it very easy to understand how marriages fall apart when one or both parties stop talking to the other. Not only is the cable guy not met and the birthday cake eaten prematurely, but hearts don’t communicate as they’re meant to and it doesn’t take long before one doesn’t feel seen, understood or loved. Just reminds me that marriage is definitely work – fun work most of the time – but work nonetheless.
And honestly, there’s no way that on your deathbed you’ll be thankful to God that you watched every episode of every season of American Idol. But I guarantee you - you will be thankful that your spouse is with you by your side, holding your hand.