Last Friday night, I asked my roommate if she wanted to go out for drinks. She and her boyfriend were on the couch watching TV on her laptop. She paused the screen, looked up at me apologetically and said, “No, we still have four more episodes left in this ‘Breaking Bad’ season.”
Binge-watching television (also known as marathon viewing) is this generation’s guilty pleasure. We all do it, and we all feel bad about it, yet somehow we don’t feel bad enough to stop.
It’s not all our fault. Channels like Hulu, Netflix and HBO Go have made it their business to enable obsessive, marathon style behavior. They present us with new episodes and entire new shows all at once, they have perfected the cliffhanger, and they offer a mere 15 seconds to decide between tuning out and rejoining the outside world or qualifying our misjudgment with a lame “Just one more. Just…one…more.”
What qualifies as binge-watching exactly? In a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix, 1,500 TV streamers, specifically adults in the U.S. who stream a TV show at least once a week, defined binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.” Sixty-one percent said they binge-watch regularly.
When Netflix took their study one step further and sent cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken into the homes of TV viewers, he found 73% of subjects actually had “positive feelings” toward their marathon-viewing behavior. Seventy-six percent of TV streamers said binge-watching television is a “welcome refuge from their busy lives”.
On the surface, the facts are against us. Watching television is sedentary behavior, and physical inactivity is often linked to feelings of loneliness and depression. But if we flip back to the Harris Interactive study, we learn binge watchers generally don’t associate their streaming behavior with negative feelings. Although we all know incessant TV viewing probably isn’t the best use of our time, there must be some positive spin on it, right?
When you add in the element of a partner, the conversation shifts. Binge-watching turns into an opportunity for binge-bonding. And if approached mindfully, binge-watching with a partner might actually make you feel closer to them and lead to a happier partnership.
If comedy is your binge genre of choice, the simple act of experiencing happiness and laughter with your partner while watching can be positive; humans sharing endorphin-inducing experiences creates a bond. Plot driven dramas, on the other hand, inspire conversation, which again can solidify the bond between you and your partner.
It’s all about how you approach your binge time. In a study on applied interpersonal communication, Michael T. Motley explains one way to make television viewing with a partner more positive for your relationship. “People naturally compare their own relationship and their relationship partners against others in their social landscape. That we do this on some level while we watch characters and relationships on television is not unusual, yet the comments we choose to make articulating these comparisons may be useful as relational maintenance. For instance, noting ‘That person on TV has beautiful hair, just like you do’…can be a way to insert positivity into everyday television watching.” It’s natural to want to compare your experiences with those of the characters you watch on TV, and choosing to be aware and mindful when making those comparisons can help you to have a more positive perspective on your partner and relationship.
Accepting your affinity for binge-watching is good, but thinking about how to actively make that time positive for your relationship is even better. Conscious binging becomes key here. Motley continues: “We suggest that partners simply become more mindful of the relationship-enhancing activities that occur as they watch television with one another. Reframing television watching as a chance to explore new stimuli together rather than as time wasted may more positively shape couples’ view of their relationship.” Thinking about the time you spend watching your favorite show with your partner as valuable bonding time can bring positivity to your relationship. Similarly, thinking about TV as a new topic of conversation, or a way to escape everyday life with your partner at your side, can also be positive.
Eight in ten people surveyed for Netflix agreed binge-watching a TV show was more enjoyable than watching a single episode. The sentiment is not a new one. Binge-watching has become so popular and normalized that entire shows are being rated by how “bingeable” they are. When Season 2 of House of Cards hit Netflix, a reported 668,000 U.S. Netflix subscribers watched the entire 11 hours in just one weekend. Binge-watching guides and spoilers hit the Internet in a day. As Netflix continues to solidify binge-watching culture as an unavoidable trend, we’re better off embracing it, and for those of us with partners, being mindful about how the time we spend in front of a screen can actually have a positive effect on our relationships.