My husband and I have struggled against the awkward presence of a third party in our marriage. It’s not the conventional last-standing single friend, out-of-town cousin, or even naggy in-law. For us, it’s our television set.
As an engaged couple, we were eyes-wide-open to our differences. United by our values and visions, we worked hard to find common ground on the rest. Television was one of the few areas of enjoyment in which we overlapped.
We made the decision to keep our bedroom a TV-free zone in order to protect the sanctity of our romance and rest. That didn’t stop us, however, from watching more than our fair share of television in our living room. When my husband and I were tired, we’d collapse on the couch and look for something – even if it wasn’t great – to watch. Even on a beautiful day outside, we’d flip on the tube. While we enjoyed watching TV at the time, at the end of the day, we felt gross about our habit and took it out on each other. But as much as we fought over it, we loved our TV.
Our relationship with our television (yes, we spent enough time watching it to call it a relationship) seemed as fickle as a middle-school crush. Some days we hated ourselves for letting the set intrude into our marriage; other days we craved it as a way to spend time together.
As we daily defaulted to TV, we noticed our sex life had become sluggish and we didn’t feel the desire to do anything about that. Our relationships with others stagnated because the spontaneity needed for organic hang-outs seemed too daunting; our friendship with each other flattened into a conversationless, adventureless dynamic; our spiritual life seemed like work because it required a discipline that felt counter to the lounging to which we’d become accustomed. All our conversations seemed to center around the shows we watched.
As with any relationship, ours with television had developed over time. Through the years, we caught glimpses of how our minds had become tainted by subtle (and not so subtle) sexual, violent, and occult content. Scenes we’d never want to witness in real life became second nature to us on TV. I even dreamed about the shows I watched and would awake tense and sweaty, guilty and afraid. Eventually, TV started to drown out my waking thoughts as character names, catch phrases, and even whole plot lines ran through my mind.
We finally had to consider the question, “Are we pleasing God when we watch TV too often or too indiscriminately?”
It was one of those questions you just hope God never asks — because the obvious answer is “no.” But my husband and I were too passionate about our marriage not to answer the question. We started examining our TV culture: how we spent our time, how we handled stress, how we fed our fantasies, how we binged on food and drink, how we avoided conflict, how we relaxed. We wanted our adventurous, romantic, spontaneous, humorous, ministering marriage back. We were ready to break it off with TV.
Don’t get me wrong, the issue wasn’t with our television set. The issue was with us – how we watched it. Our desensitized filters for quality and quantity, as well as our use of TV as a default choice of activity, were counter to God’s desire for our lives and to our wedding vows.
We wrestled through our TV habits and made some tough calls. Some rave-reviewed shows such as Game of Thrones didn’t make it past my quality filter, so my husband had to figure out if it was important enough for him to watch it without me. Since my quality filter is more conservative than his, he and I decide individually whether to watch certain shows that potentially are too gratuitous in sex or violence, and any show whose content is too dark or graphic. I’m all for the thriller crime show, but I can’t sleep at night if images of dismembered corpses are branded into my mind.
Another problem for us was being dragged into fatigue by watching “just one more show” even when we were exhausted. So we’ve given ourselves bedtimes (mine earlier than his) and each other permission to stand firm when one of us whines in an effort to stay up later. Since we were feeling generally lethargic and uncreative (for which TV became both the chicken and the egg), we brainstormed some great destinations we can walk to that gets us out of the house and away from the losing conversation that always starts from an already defeated posture on the couch: “What should we do?” Mostly, these destinations end up being fun dinner places that breathe freshness into our date life. Once every couple of weeks on our date walks, we ask each other, “How are you doing physically, spiritually, and emotionally?” We have deepened our level of conversation from “How awesome was that episode!” to “How are you, and how can I love you better?” Exercise, dates, good food, conversations, and connection – all in one small change!
We also realized TV stamped out our energy for productivity. We finally admitted to ourselves that once we were on the couch in front of a show, we would be there until we went to bed. So now we finish those things that need to be done – whether reviewing the upcoming calendar, paying bills, making phone calls, or even fun productive options like having sex or planning a vacation – before the television gets turned on. We put first things first and let television only occupy time we actually have.
We still trip over the TV hurdle occasionally, but in general, our TV culture is redefined and good. This will no doubt be a continual journey for us because we love TV so much. But our marriage is no longer limited by its presence in our lives.
What about you? Does television-watching keep you living in default mode, reluctant to exit your comfort zone for the potential of a more compelling life? Has it become an idol that sets standards for you, or an addiction that promises this next show will make you feel better? Has it become a doorway for subtle sins such as greed, sloth, gluttony, and lust? If you aren’t sure, fast from TV for a given time period. Make it short enough that you don’t go crazy, but long enough that you will have a need to seek fulfillment elsewhere.
During your fast, read a thrilling book next to each other, hang out with friends, soak in Scripture, hike, work towards that goal you’ve been meaning to achieve, try a new restaurant, surprise each other with new haircuts. Do something that’s out of your routine, something that’s good. Avoid filling your newfound time with TV’s cousins — video games or Facebook. You will see attitudes, dreams, and desires come alive that were muted by the default. Sure, life might feel harder too because you have to think about things and deal with conflict, but those challenges are all invitations to lean on God even more.
With TV totally out of your marriage for a time, you’ll see the place it holds in your relationship and you can reclaim that ground for your marriage. We all get just one life, and it’s all the richer for living it out in reality rather than in front of a virtual one.
Not everyone sets their TV standards to the same compass, and the Holy Spirit will guide, convict, and encourage each when needed. But we are all vulnerable to TV’s gradual pull away from what God intends, both for marriage and for life. For something that sparks so much imagination, delivers so much information, and facilitates so much camaraderie and connection, I would tend to think God actually likes TV when it’s used well. He can help you redefine your TV culture to be one that pleases him.