It’s almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday as you pour a glass of wine and settle into the couch to watch “The Good Wife.” It’s your weekly ritual.
Your significant other, meanwhile, is in the basement watching “Homeland,” which airs at the same time.
Couples are bound to have varied tastes in television, but what if it starts to pull the two of you apart? One of you keeps binge-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” in the living room while the other lies in bed watching “Sons of Anarchy.”
“When couples spend what little time they have to hang out together in separate rooms watching their own programs, they often lose their sense of intimacy and connection,” says John Sovec, a psychotherapist in Pasadena, Calif.
When we find shows that we just can’t get enough of — the ones whose characters and storylines transcend the screen and invade our idle thoughts — we want to discuss them with the people close to us. TV can be a social tool in a relationship, but not if you’re always watching different shows.
Danielle Faust, 34, of West Palm Beach, Fla., says she and her husband can rarely find shows they both enjoy.
“He is very science show-newsy stuff, while I’m very reality-show or scandal,” Faust says. Having only one TV equipped with cable in their home, the couple compromise based on who cares more at any given time. There is a short list of TV programs they will watch together, including “Survivor” and football.
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, the odds of finding a show that interests both partners have never been higher.
“Trying to find something to watch together can … provide a healthy outlet of communication between you as you determine your likes and dislikes as individuals and as a couple,” says Barbie Adler, of matchmaking service Selective Search. Deciding which shows to watch may seem like a trivial task, but “it can be indicative of you and your partner’s general negotiating skills and a reflection of how you handle bigger issues,” Adler says.
Rosina Motta and her husband, Edgar, have been married for 15 years, but disagreements over which shows to watch still pop up.
“I avoid his shows by doing chores, and he avoids mine by doing yardwork or being on the computer or phone,” Rosina says. But recently the couple have been hooked on Netflix, finding new shows they can binge-watch together, including “Orange Is the New Black” and “Mad Men.”
“It’s brought us together,” she says. “Our tastes have evolved to where we actually have some common interests that I wouldn’t have guessed before.”
Is having two TVs the answer?
Melania Trump, wife of the real estate mogul and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, said in an interview with People magazine in September that her philosophy for TV in her marriage is, “you watch your own stuff and I watch mine.” She added, “We have TiVo! It’s a great relationship.”
Two TVs might prevent fights over the remote from flaring up, but it can also lead to isolation. Couples may find themselves watching TV for hours a night in separate rooms. Solo TV time may seem satisfying at first, but it can quickly create a feeling of separation.
“One TV is enough,” Sovec says, recommending that couples who can’t agree on what to watch should consider using a DVR. Decide which shows you must watch in real time, plan accordingly and record the rest. Watch “Scandal” one week and “Thursday Night Football” the next. (Although, admittedly, recording sporting events to watch later might be a tough sell.)
“Try to watch the shows the other person doesn’t like when [he or she is] not around,” Adler advises. Or, when your significant other watches his or her programs, “use that time to do something else in another room if you can’t stand to sit through an episode.” Do laundry, browse the Internet on your laptop or exercise. But try to stay nearby.
In a perfect world, quality time spent together as a couple would mean face-to-face conversations uninterrupted by phones, television or computers, but sometimes you just want to relax.
Watching TV together not only allows couples to bounce theories off each other, collaboratively psychoanalyze characters or root for a common team, but it could also be a catalyst for intimacy.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some cuddle time with your partner and get into that feel-good mood that comes with physical closeness,” Adler says.
Streaming services even make it possible to technically be together while still watching different shows.
There is something very modern about lying in bed together [with] two laptops and two sets of earbuds,” says April Masini, who writes about relationships at AskApril.com. “These are not your parents’ TV watching habits!”
Avoiding TV conflicts
Don’t let your obsession with “Empire” get the best of you. Before you go to battle for control over the TV, consider this advice from our experts:
Is TV the problem? If you find yourselves frequently fighting over television control, making ad hominem attacks about the other person’s interests, it could be emblematic of a much larger problem, Sovec says. “Perhaps there are other things that you need to address in your relationship surrounding intimacy and support.”
Don’t talk during their shows. “Never try to chat through a show that your partner loves,” Adler advises. You may be bored to tears and want your partner’s attention, but allow him or her to get lost in a favorite show. Wait until a commercial or the credits start rolling to interrupt.
Use it as background noise. Watching TV with your significant other doesn’t mean you have to devote your full attention to his or her show. Do a crossword puzzle, or flip through a magazine. Even just being together in front of the TV is better than being apart, Masini says.
Turn the TV off. Give the TV a rest at least one night a week, and spend that time either out of the house or doing a different activity together at home, Sovec says.