After a busy day at work, getting stressful news or slogging through the monotony of a list of errands, sometimes all we want to do with what remains of our free time is sit on the couch and zone out with television.
In fact, we collectively rely on this time so much that the average 18- to 34-year-old in the U.S. consumes four hours and eight minutes of television per day, The Washington Post reported. (Do you fall above or below that average?)
While binge watching TV has become a national past time, it’s not always a solitary act. Often, you’re watching the shows you love with people you love. But do those “Netflix and chill” dates really count as quality time?
“Once upon a time, bonding used to mean spending time together, looking into each other’s eyes and discovering more about one another,” said Janil Jean, founder of inspiration website Motivation Matter. “Admittedly, the concept is still the same but the medium has changed.”
While lots of people feel time spent watching TV is time wasted, binging a series under the right circumstances can be a great way to bring relationships closer.
“Watching television with others provides a place of common experience: shared ‘show lingo,’ inside jokes, and an easy way to be together without the demand to create your own entertainment or conversation,” said social confidence coach Jenna Purcell.
Of course, conversation is important, but the simple act of sharing an experience is underrated: it creates a feeling of belonging and connection.
“There are different levels of quality time, so watching television might not be on the same level as going out for dinner or having deep conversations,” said Texas-based women’s counselor Heidi McBain. “But if both people are partaking without distractions, laughing together, holding hands… quality time is being fostered.”
Trying out a TV show your partner loves can also be a simple way to show you care. It can even be a sign of a good relationship—in healthy, balanced relationships, partners mutually influence each other.
“People grow through relationships by introducing each other to new interests,” said Alice Boyes, author of “The Healthy Mind Toolkit.” “Introducing your partner to a TV show that you can then love together is a perfect example of this.”
TV shows can provide a starting point to discuss ideas beyond the boundaries of what’s being watched, such as cultural moments and your own personal values.
Also, as many older shows continue to come back as reboots, these series present fun and interesting opportunities to talk about what it was like watching the the originals (whether it predates your relationship or not). What better way to get to know someone’s story than to hear them talk about their favorite TV shows growing up?
“Watching TV as a means of bonding only becomes a problem if one party starts feeling bored, unimportant, like all the other person wants to do is watch TV, or worse, like the other person’s using TV to avoid talking or connecting on a deeper level,” said North Carolina-based therapist Kayce Hodos.
If all this binge watching isn’t adding up to the bonding time you’re seeking, ask yourself these questions: Are you looking into your partner’s eyes and discussing what you like about the TV show? Are you discovering anything new about your partner in the process?
If the answers are no, perhaps watching TV together won’t aid in the strengthening of your relationship. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Television can act as a buffer between you and meaningful conversation if that’s what you’re truly in need of.
There’s no denying the theme of a show can foster bonding for a couple if they’ve been through experiences similar to what’s being portrayed. On the other hand, if a couple has experienced something traumatic (such as infidelity, an illness, the death of a child or difficult family relationships), those topics playing out on their screen might hit a little too close to home.
Even in that situation, though, there is potential for partners to draw closer together by sensitively talking about their shared and unique points of view.
“There is so much good TV right now with so many available options to watch,” said Vanessa Sigman, community manager at CableTV.com. “This level of writing has never been seen before.
“Even though it isn’t real life, there is an honesty and a depth in many programs that can act as a therapeutic outlet because it validates complicated emotions that we all feel as we experience the highs of life and the lows of heartbreak, loss and disappointment.”
Kylie is an East Coast gal who currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, for work and play. She’s traveled to 24 countries and spent time living and teaching in Thailand and Bali before settling into her career. Kylie deeply enjoys food, music and the outdoors in the presence of good company.