Most of us know that it’s important to spend quality time reconnecting with our partners and enjoying each other’s company. But let’s face it: Our lives are incredibly busy. Dinners out and babysitters are expensive. And sometimes, we just don’t even feel like getting out of our pajamas!
So, what’s a stressed out, tired couple to do? If your answer is “Well, maybe we could hang out and watch TV together…,” we have some good news for you.
How so? Well, as people in relationships, it’s important that we develop a “shared social identity” with our partner. What this means is that, hopefully, we know and care for many of the same people, and have many of the same daily experiences. Sharing things in common like this helps ground us in our relationships and makes us feel dependent on each other. It contributes to a couple’s sense that “you and me” are an “us.”
Of course, sometimes we aren’t able to or don’t share friends, experiences, or much of our daily lives with our partners. Maybe the relationship is long-distance, or our interests or social circles don’t match up. But is it possible that we could get some of the same benefits by being part of an imaginary “social world”…on the screen? You might be skeptical, but the answer could just be yes.
In a recent paper, researchers conducted two surveys of undergraduate students in relationships. In the first, students were asked how many friends they shared with their partners and how much they watched and shared media (like TV and movies) together. As you might predict, couples who shared more friends reported better relationship quality. But sharing TV, movies, and media was linked to better relationships, too! In fact, when couples didn’t share many of the same friends, media sharing seemed to help them to bridge the gap. Those who did this were closer, more interdependent, and felt more confident about the relationship.
In the second study, students in relationships were asked to think about their friends and their partner. Some were asked to think about friends they did have in common, while others were asked to think about those friends they did not share. Then they were asked how much they wanted to share media (like TV shows or books) with their partner.
When people were reminded of the friends they did not have in common, the desire to share media together went up! In other words, thinking about all those friends of your partner you don’t know might make you want to sit down and watch something together. What’s more, thinking about hanging out and watching TV or movies together also made some people feel more positive about their partners. (This was more true for people with a stronger interest in media.)
For some of us, a “date” where you sit in front of the TV or watch a movie together might not feel totally satisfying. But at a time when people are often staring at screens, but involved in totally different things, sharing the same entertainment experience may be more significant than we think. Though these fictional characters aren’t real, they may face challenges or feel emotions similar to those we feel or experience in our life with our partner. And watching together may open up opportunities for conversation, whether serious or light-hearted. It could even allow us to connect with a partner who is far away (for instance, in the military). Sometimes, building relationships is just about having an excuse to be in the same place at the same time to let relationships unfold naturally, and media can provide this excuse.
So, the next time you find your spouse or partner sacked out on the couch glued to Game of Thrones (or whatever), you might want to grab the popcorn and afghan and join him or her. Not only is it a cheap date—it could also be a meaningful one.
Looking for ways to connect and get closer with your partner? Heading towards marriage? The SMART Couples project is offering ELEVATE, a free, research-backed relationship enhancement class for couples, and Before You Tie the Knot, a free marriage preparation course, in Florida counties across the state. All our programs are taught by trained professionals and are welcoming to all. Sign up today!
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Gomillion, S., Gabriel, S., Kawakami, K., & Young, A. F. (2016). Let’s stay home and watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 1-20. DOI: 10.1177/0265407516660388
Return to Topic: Having Fun and Staying Close