Game Night: The Not-So-Fun Games We Play in Marriage and How to Win Them- Part 1

Family Game Night. If you’ve ever participated in one, you know that they can be a blast and have everyone rolling on the floor in stitches from laughter. The silly circumstances we find ourselves in on these nights make them unforgettable. On the other hand though, game night can erupt into major family conflict and nearly end relationships. In my family we played Uno, Taboo, and Scattergories. I have more fond memories than not of those nights, but arguing over which words were acceptable in Scattergories was an inevitable showdown and no one was giving in easily. Faces got red. Words were exchanged. You get the idea. You could say we were a competitive bunch. But in the end, we still loved each other to the extent we knew how and all was well in the morning. Unfortunately though, there are a different kind of game we play in marriage and these often don’t end on Friday night. They creep into our relationships where we vie for affection, attention, and acceptance but attempt to gain them through manipulation, power, and control. In this and subsequent articles I will cast light on the games we play, our manipulative moves, the good intentions behind them, and how to win (spoiler alert: nobody wins these games). 

In This Article

  1. Who’s Fault Is It Anyway?
  2. Let’s Make A Deal
  3. Jeopardy
marriage counseling

Who’s Fault Is It Anyway?

Also known as The Blame Game, this is the game most often played in marriage. This is the one most couples get stuck in trying to find who started the fight, who is most at fault for the current state of the relationship, and trying to defend our innocence in a given matter., i.e. why I didn’t unload the dishwasher when I said I would (among other more serious grievances).

This game is a trap because we can always find a reason to justify our actions based on other’s behaviors and because this game is habit forming. Once we have made a habit of blaming others for our actions, this freedom from rightful guilt entices us and creates a victim mentality in which we see ourselves as always wronged and never wrong. But this is not the truth. The Truth is that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

We all rely on the grace and mercy of our Lord daily. We are all made in his image and being made into his likeness day by day, chief of all through the friction that is iron sharpening iron in our marriages. We are responsible to own our choices, actions, words, and intentions as well as the impact they make on our spouse.

The only way to stop this endless cycle of fault-finding is to stop pointing fingers and casting blame, and take responsibility for the part we are playing to contribute to perpetuating it. We must practice self-control in our responses to our spouse, own the responsibility for our mental and emotional health, and take the necessary actions to show up fully for our spouse, present and ready to do the hard work of working through difficult conversations to better the relationship.

We must be humble enough to both acknowledge our need of our spouse and be willing to ask, gently, kindly, vulnerably for that need to be met. Only then will the fault-finding end and the game be won. If anger is a struggle in your marriage and you would like more information on how to manage this in your relationship, see my last article, Seeing Red: When All You Feel Toward Your Spouse Is Anger

Let’s Make A Deal

On the classic game show, contestants are given an item of value and then they choice of whether or not to keep it in exchange for another item. When we play this game in marriage, we make compromises and ask our partner to do the same. It might sound something like, “Ok Honey, we can make love tonight, but tomorrow you have to clean up after dinner” or “Sure dear, we can watch This Is Us, I didn’t want to watch this game anyway.”

You may be thinking, “Compromise is part of life. What’s the harm in that?” And you would be right…in part. Compromise is part of life, but the danger in compromise is the possibility of what happens in the relationship as a result of the concession.

Sometimes compromises are only made by one party to the benefit of the other rather than be reciprocal and shared. Even more often, the person who has compromised, especially if they do so often, become embittered, resentful, and possibly even contemptuous toward their partner. They are seemingly stuck between having to choose their partner’s happiness and their own and find themselves fighting a losing battle.

Once again, there is a better way- a way to win. If you are a husband or wife who finds yourself often compromising for the sake of your spouse, start with a conversation. Let your beloved know what this has been like for you and the toll it has taken on you. Let them know about your needs and desires, thoughts and feelings, and need for them.

For many people, this will be enough to change the dynamic and the two of you can instead begin collaborating instead. Use your voice, assert your wants and needs, and get creative in finding solutions in which everyone can win.

For some people, however, a conversation will not be enough to shift the imbalance in the relationship. If your partner is unwilling to consider your needs, thoughts, and feelings, it may be time to get some professional help for your relationship and begin setting boundaries to regain your sense of self. I highly recommend reading Boundaries by Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud if this is an area you struggle. 

Jeopardy

Can you hear it? That classic Jeopardy tune that plays as the contestants ponder and quickly scribble their final answer during the Final Jeopardy round on the famed game show. This and Wheel of Fortune were on every night that my dad was home. I always sat in awe of the contestants and wondered how in the world they came to accumulate such a vast knowledge of random things.

Secretly, I aspired to be one of them. But there was never a more tense moment than that climactic Final Jeopardy round when every player would pray they got the answer right and try to wage the exact right amount that would allow them to win the game. The disappointment when they got it wrong! The elation when they got it right! The shock of despair when the contestant to their right waged just $1 more than they did to win the game by the smallest of margins! Oh the drama!

Does any of this feel familiar in your marriage? The deafening silence. The hard questions. The feeling of being trapped. The calculating of what the answer will cost you. The struggle to word it just the right way so that perhaps it can cost you less. Or perhaps you are the one with the hard question to ask, timing it just right. The readiness to pounce on any wrong answer or misstep in wording, with nausea in your stomach as you brace for the answer. For either party, the tension in the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Again, a game that no one wins. We must find another way.

If you find yourself in moments so tense you can nearly hear the famed tune playing in the background and notice you’re perspiring like a contestant on a game show I suggest find a new way to talk to your partner.

First, let’s normalize hard conversations. These are a natural aspect of growing, thriving relationships. They are an inevitable part of two becoming one. This is a process that happens over time and is only done with the courage and hard work of moving through hard conversations to get to the other side. Next, honesty is the best policy. I know these moments make you want to cling to self-preservation and will lead you to say anything to alleviate the fear of upsetting or even losing your spouse, but you will only be fully loved when you are fully known, and you will only be fully known if you allow yourself to be fully truthful.

So speak the truth and allow yourself the opportunity to experience love in your most vulnerable places. Finally, allow grace to replace pressure. None of us is righteous, not one. We will all blow it in some form or another, so let’s make a lot of space of our and our partner’s failings and shortcomings and know that we are and will always be on the receiving end of Amazing Grace, both within our marriage and in God’s economy. Of course we must be honest about the impact and hurt of these flaws and faults, but allowing ourselves to be healed by the one who caused the hurt repairs the damage and strengthens the relationship. 

Game nights and game shows are a wonderful way to bring your favorite people together for a great time and even some comical conflict that will live on to be told time and time again. But playing games in our most important relationships results in everyone losing as power and control are disproportionately held in a protected effort to gain what we all so vulnerable need: love, acceptance, affection, and attention. Instead, let your yes be yes and your no be no: Own your part. Ask for what you need. Use your voice. Be honest. Give grace. 

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