By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator
Watch Clay discuss this on WTNZ’s morning show here.
It’s almost football time in Tennessee.
Nothing brings people together quite like a football Saturday in Knoxville. Perfect strangers can become best friends for a few precious hours. But if you and your partner have significantly different levels of interest in football, the season can instead lead to feelings of distance and tension.
Is your relationship ready for football season? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Pay attention: Attention really is one of the most basic forms of love. When partners find their attention drifting away from each other, the relationship may be in trouble. It makes sense then, that partners often feel neglected when their significant other shifts a significant portion of their attention to football. It can go beyond annoying to actually being hurtful. Remember not to let your love of the game get in the way of the love for your partner.
Watch out for spillover: A football game may only last a few hours, but it’s impact can go far beyond that. Emotional spillover can be a major problem, especially after a loss. If football is taking up a lot of your time, the importance of protecting your other time becomes even more important. This means finding ways to calm yourself down and hit the reset button so you can be present with your partner. Remember, over-doing it with tailgating and alcohol will only make this harder. Add excess alcohol to the emotions of a football game, and you can quickly have a relationship disaster on your hands. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, making hurtful statements and even physical violence more likely. Make it your responsibility not to let your negative emotions contaminate otherwise quality time.
Accept your partner: The struggle to change someone is often even more exhausting than the issue itself. Trying to convince your partner that football doesn’t or shouldn’t matter will not work. The end result of your efforts will likely be increased anger and resentment. Instead, try accepting their fandom as one of many things that make your partner who they are, not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Communicate the real issue: Your partner’s focus on football could be upsetting for a variety of reasons, like lack of quality time or even increased spending. Regardless, the key is communicating in a direct and constructive manner. Rather than attack football itself or your partner, explain specifically how you are feeling and being affected. One way to do that is to remember to complain rather than criticize. There is a huge difference between saying “Will you quit staring at the TV? All you care about is football!” (criticism) and “I’m disappointed you’ve spent most of the day watching football. I was really looking forward to catching up with you today” (complaint). Both approaches are bids for attention, but the former is likely to be seen as an attack, cause defensiveness, and drive your partner away. The latter shows a more vulnerable side which is more likely to bring your partner nearer.
Watch out for patterns: All relationships have patterns — predictable negative interactions based on natural differences in personality, style, and preferences. Usually manageable, major changes have a way of making patterns worse. Although we might not often think about football in this way, the amount of time, emotion, and energy involved can make it a major trigger for patterns. For example:
Spender/saver: A “saver” might have a very hard time wrapping their mind around spending hundreds of dollars on tickets to a game. It’s nerve-wracking to think about what might happen if that money is needed for something more important later. On the other hand, a “spender” might not think twice about using the money for a special experience they’ll remember for a long time. For the spender, not being allowed to do so after working hard to earn that feels like a wasted opportunity to live life to the fullest.
Introvert/extrovert: Go to the game with 100,000 of your closest friends or stay in the air-conditioned, high-def equipped comfort of your your own home? Introverts and extroverts may have two very different responses to this question based on their preferences.
If you and your partner are on different ends of patterns like this, remember your partner is not trying to make you miserable. They’re just built differently.
Celebrate your differences: Your difference around this issue can be an exciting opportunity to get to know each other better. Discover what excites the other and makes them tick. If you don’t like football that much, be curious and try to learn what your partner likes about it so much. If your partner doesn’t like football, find out what they do like and do it with them. This can also be a time to comfortably explore individual hobbies and interests apart from one another.