4 Ways the Media Can Infect Your Marriage… and What You Can Do to Stop It
By Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
Biscuits with butter and honey are delicious. That probably wasn’t how you were expecting this article to start, but bear with me. If you’re anything like me, anytime I have a warm biscuit, or even pancakes, I like to drizzle a fair amount of honey on it. It’s sweet, and it’s not as unhealthy as a lot of syrups are. My main complaint with honey though, and with any sticky condiment for that matter, is that once I’ve used it, it somehow gets all over the place. My fork is sticky with honey, and then my hands, the table and, even after cleaning up, I still find that honey in places it doesn’t belong. Now, I might just be a sloppy eater, but I don’t think I’m too alone in this experience, and I believe it’s quite similar to our media consumption. Like my honey on a biscuit, media has its time and place in our life, and often it’s enjoyable to consume, but without us even trying, the media we consume often starts attaching itself to places it shouldn’t be. It sticks to us, and can cause problems that are uncomfortable, and maybe even damaging. Since couples often consume media together, the following areas present possible problems that can arise from media in marriages, as well as practical solutions for avoiding them.
Media can ruin communication. This is kind of ironic especially given the fact that the whole premise of social media is to connect people together. Technology has radically changed how people engage with each other. Ask someone under the age of 25 if they’d rather text someone versus call them, and many will respond with horror at the thought of actually calling someone on the phone. You don’t even have to call the pizza shop to order a pizza anymore, you can simply text the order. This simplicity, while nice in some contexts can hinder relationships in others. While the old saying “communication is key” is true, not all forms of communication are equal. For many individuals, it’s easier to express feelings, whether positive or negative, over a text message instead of in person. Some couples may find that they’d rather argue over text-message, and then give the silent treatment when together, instead of just communicating to each other face-to-face in the first place. Social media and technology has instilled an immediacy in our communication patterns, and it’s killed patience, which in turn can destroy healthy dialogue.
On the entertainment side, many movies certainly don’t emulate what healthy disagreements should look like since the dialogue in movies are supposed to be filled with drama and tension. “Passionate” relationship are often portrayed in movies with angry fights, maybe with some broken dishes, that don’t ever get resolved with the couple quietly listening to one another.
Solution: Resist the urge to have important conversations or arguments over text message and save them for when you can have them in person.
We all know that over the decades, media consumption has risen drastically. A 2017 study found that the average US adult spends 721 minutes per day with media, which is roughly about 12 hours. That’s a lot of time! A study by researchers at Lancaster University in the UK suggests that increased viewing of television is actually causing a decrease of sexual intimacy between couples. Now on one hand, if addiction to Netflix is keeping young people from one-night stands, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. However, for married people, the allure to binge watch a new show rather than give their full attention to their spouse is actually a common one. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with enjoying a show with your spouse, but it can quickly become a problem when entertainment replaces fundamental relational moments in your marriage, whether it be emotional or sexual.
Solution: Just as you may tell a child that there’s no TV after 9 PM, discuss entertainment cut off times with your spouse that leave room for important relational moments throughout the day.
Entertainment can affect our belief system. This can be good or bad depending on what you watch, but for the sake of this article, we’ll address the entertainment that doesn’t align with a biblical worldveiw. What we watch can often shape how we see the world. Even if we consciously know that what we’re seeing isn’t the truth, or 100% fact, the images still remain and can’t be expunged. Though it’s not the best example, in my brain, every time I hear the name William Wallace, the face of Mel Gibson from the movie BRAVEHEART appears in my mind. I know that’s not what William Wallace really looked like, and I know many of the events depicted were complete fabrications, but the images are still there, and they’re still associated with the historical figure. For many young people (including Christians), sex is heavily portrayed in movies, TV and music as a consequence-free experience that should be enjoyed as early and as frequent as possible, before becoming a boring, monogamous married person. When this is the message young people see so frequently around them, it’s no wonder so many teenagers are becoming sexually promiscuous at a younger and younger age. The same danger can happen ideologically if one consumes a steady stream of content that questions God’s existence, Jesus’s divinity, the importance of the Bible, and our call to live morally upright lives.
Recently I watched a documentary series that was popular on Netflix called WILD WILD COUNTRY about the Indian cult-leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who brought thousands of his followers to a compound in Oregon in the 1980’s. The series was fascinating and deeply disturbing, revealing how easily people, intelligent people at that, can get sucked into a cult. Every episode revealed something new about the twisted cult and its manipulating leaders. However, in the final episode, to my shock, the documentary filmmakers give the final word to some of the cults strongest advocates and current followers. One could describe the last episode as actually being a promotion for the cult, which apparently is still alive and well internationally today. Only a few days after I had finished watching this, a famous Hollywood celebrity who had also watched the series and became obsessed with it decided to have a Rajneesh themed birthday weekend celebration with her other Hollywood friends. It seems as if some people had bought into the final episode, hook, line and sinker.
Stories have immense power to manipulate both emotion and fact, and this can eat away at a marriage if we consume everything that’s put in front of us. Entertainment, like food, needs to be balanced and filled with substance that’s good for us.
Solution: Be mindful of your media choices. Don’t be afraid to quit a show or turn off a movie that starts crossing moral lines. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your spouse or church community about any questions, doubts or fears that may arise from watching a challenging show or movie.
4. Our Spiritual Walk
The worst thing you can do for your marriage is to not put Jesus at the center of it, and often the first thing that technology, social media, news and entertainment replaces is our time with the Lord. Recently, I heard a pastor discussing the problem of priority in America. He would ask people why they had such difficulty spending time reading the word of God or spending time in prayer, and the number one response was “it’s hard to find time.” The pastor continued and minutes later asked the same people if they watched the TV series THE CROWN. The response was, “oh, I love the THE CROWN! I binged the whole season over 2 days.” Lack of time isn’t a problem for most of us, it’s a lack of priority. Too often, deepening our relationship with God isn’t number one on our list, and when we miss out on communing with God on a daily basis, it affects everything around us, including our work, our family relationships and our marriage. God graciously reminds me that I too am guilty of this more than I’m happy to admit, and often, my wife can also tell when my priorities are not in the correct order.
Solution: Instill a personal rule that no media is allowed until you’ve spent time in prayer or in the Bible.
Media isn’t all bad. I mean, this article is a form of media, and if it has encouraged you even a little bit, then that’s good. Even so, just as I don’t want that honey I mentioned earlier affecting everything I touch, let’s utilize media in the right places and at the right time, not at all places all times. The stickiness just isn’t worth it, and our marriages are too important to let the rapidly spreading honey make a mess of things. 721 minutes of media a day is just way too much media, and that’s something about which most of us agree. With a little discipline and intentionality, we can make sure the media is a tool that’s assisting our daily life and not eroding everything we hold dear.
Leave a comment below with your own experiences, or solutions.