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“My boyfriend can’t seem to turn off the Xbox! We have been living together for almost two years. Before we moved in, we both expressed our biggest concerns so we could address them before deciding to move in. My biggest concern was his gaming, which seemed to happen daily. He promised me he would limit it to once a week. That lasted for…one week. It’s not that he games that bothers me. It’s that while he is gaming, I now acknowledge I can’t change him, so how can I create happy feelings for myself, even if he isn’t engaged?”

I can offer advice based on my own experience with my husband and gaming—except for the fact that the console in our home is a Playstation 4. Oh, and also, Im the one who can’t seem to turn it off. 

I’m a gamer, and I’m not ashamed to admit that gaming is a part of my daily routine. The stresses of COVID, combined with a need for a social outlet and a bit of a competitive streak, led me to start playing wayyyy more in 2021. This question of balance has tugged on my mind, too. How can I support and nurture my relationship with my partner while also enjoying the things that feel fulfilling and relaxing for me? 

This is something that your boyfriend enjoys. Yay! He found a hobby he likes. Not everyone finds that for themselves. For me, gaming is the time I take for myself, and to socialize with gaming friends. A promise to only play once a week would be disruptive and unsustainable for me. But a hobby like gaming can easily become the default if there’s not a reasonable structure.

Plan date nights together with complete understanding and communication that those times are a no-gaming space.

Instead, my husband and I dedicate time to where I’m not gaming. We have a standing date at our local brewery once a week, and time during the weekends for cleaning, scheduling, and catching up. Now that we’re vaccinated, we’re also gathering with our friends. I’d encourage you and your boyfriend to proactively set up activities each week, including a date night—even if it’s just making dinner together at home. Plan these together with complete understanding and communication that those times are a no-gaming space. Without a structure, the Xbox may inevitably boot up!

You can also set boundaries and expectations. Maybe it’s important to you that you both go to bed at the same time—just know that means he’ll be playing more often while you’re awake. If you’re okay going to bed earlier, he can use those hours for immersive play. (Pro tip: Get a nice pair of gaming headphones! It’ll disrupt your space much less.)

Now for the feeling ignored part: First, I’m sorry you’ve been feeling that way. Gaming does take a lot of attention, and feeling ignored is valid. I’ve had these conversations from both sides of the controller, and they’re never very fun. What’s most important here, even more than hobbies and high scores, is that you deserve to be listened to when expressing these feelings in your relationship.

Start by setting the expectation for yourself that when he’s gaming, it’s game time!

Start by setting the expectation for yourself that when he’s gaming, it’s game time! (How many times have my husband and I tried to get each other’s attention during a tense in-game moment? Too many to count.) We’ve both learned the hard way that there are no snuggles and sweet-talk during game time. Conversely, I’ve come to respect the fact that there are no video games on date night. I have three words for your partner (and for myself): Boun. Da. Ries.

That said—we all mess up, and you and your boyfriend likely will too! He’ll play games on date night, or just when you find an immersive hobby of your own, he’ll want to chat. Plans change, conversations don’t happen. Headphones go back on, and everyone feels hurt. But that doesn’t mean it’s game over. It means you can respawn, and try again tomorrow.

Finally, I encourage you to find something you can feel equally lost in to do while he’s gaming. If he’s taking personal time to enjoy this hobby, you should, too. You don’t have to be “getting stuff done” while he’s gaming, because you deserve to enjoy yourself! If the game allows, consider gaming with him (no pressure). Or explore painting, fiber arts, building model planes, or do celebrity impressions on Tik Tok. It’s up to you—have fun!

You and your joy deserve to take up space in your schedule, in your home, and in your relationship.

It all boils down to putting the console in rest mode and having a face-to-face conversation—maybe some feelings aren’t being expressed. Check-in on each other. While I game mostly because I love it, there are days I throw myself into gaming as a way to escape from responsibilities, anxieties, or other triggers that I’d rather avoid. I’m finding the personal balance for myself, but keeping open communication between you two about his reasons for gaming could help you feel connected and in the loop. Is he gaming because he’s feeling stuck in life? Or is he gaming because he actively loves it?

You and your joy deserve to take up space in your schedule, in your home, and in your relationship. And when you find it, you’ll only level up from here. 

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Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming. Read more of her creative writing over on Notes To Self!