Relationship Advice for Couples Who Fall Asleep Watching TV

Like most people in long-term relationships, there are very small, very specific things that my fiancé does that make me feel irrationally angry. Do I know that it’s not really that big of a deal if he scrapes his plate clean with his fork after every single meal? Yes. Does it make me irrationally angry anyway? Also yes. We’ve been together for more than six years and though we’re used to most of each other’s idiosyncrasies, there are still some that grind my gears, like one other thing that most couples can probably relate to: Falling asleep while watching movies or TV together.

We could be watching the most suspenseful show on the planet as our nighttime wind-down and still, my fiancé, Jake, will eventually drift off. It always results in the same conversation: Me asking, “Are you really asleep?” and Jake, whose eyes are literally closed, responding groggily with, “What? No. I’m watching.” (He is never not half-asleep at this point, despite his response.) The point of watching a show together is to watch the show together. So usually, I’ll turn the show off and watch something else. But sometimes I wonder if I should just watch anyway. Is it bad to watch ahead when your binge-watching partner falls asleep in the middle of your cozy night in?

The answer, like many things these days, is “it depends”. In many ways, how you watch Netflix together as a couple is reflective of how you operate together as a couple as a whole. Did you set boundaries? Did you make rules? Did you explain that watching every episode of “Queer Eye” together is a non-negotiable and that, yes, crying through each episode is encouraged?

Bonnie Winston is a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert and tells me over email that when it comes to whether to keep watching when your partner falls asleep, the key is to first go over any prior rules that were set when agreeing to watch the show. If you committed to watching it together and then the other person goes forward anyway? Well… yeah, they might be a little annoyed. And rightfully so.

Here are some guidelines for maintaining your binge watching fidelity with your partner:

Winston’s go-to move is to establish a plan in advance for watching a certain series with your partner at specific times—which also helps you make the joy of your nights in linger for longer.

“For example, my husband and I, when we binge, we spread out the series like we did with ‘Ozark’,” Winston says. “We are not going to do what we did with ‘Hunters’, which was binge the whole thing in one weekend and then we had nothing to look forward to.” (As someone who has watched every available season of ‘Ozark’ twice, I also recommend that you spread that one out for as long as possible.)

“We’ve agreed that the next series we are going to watch will honor the pact of spreading it out over time. We look forward to watching it together, and one person will not go back on that deal,” Winston says. “If you watch ahead and tell your partner, you must deal with the consequences.”

Decide Who “Owns” the Show

Life coach Kim Woods says she and her husband have a very specific set of rules that they adhere to (almost) all of the time. 

“Yes, [we have] Netflix watching rules,” Woods explains over email. “As we introduce a new show into our lives, we decide beforehand who owns the show. There’s criteria to determine show ownership. Ownership is evident in some cases as it aligns with one of our likes/must-haves/must-dos. If it’s not evident, ownership may be based on who discovers it first either on their own or through a friend.”

So if you’re like me and force your significant other to watch every true crime documentary available even though they don’t really like them, it’s probably fine to watch ahead, since these are “your” shows. (In fact, your partner might be relieved that you watched ahead without them.)

Give Each Other One “Hall Pass”

If you do go against your agreements though and watch ahead without them, Winston says she thinks it’s pretty acceptable—especially these days. “If you do it once, I feel you can get a ‘hall pass’ because of the pandemic,” Winston says, noting that a repeat offender is a bigger deal for the future of your relationship.

So what happens if you’ve decided that you “own” the show, as Woods explains, and you watch ahead anyway? Or you’ve run out of “hall passes,” as Winston says? Well, it’s simply the first crack in the foundation of an otherwise healthy relationship. It starts with watching the entirety of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ alone during the wee hours of the morning, and then the next thing you know, your relationship is in complete chaos. 

Just kidding.

Likely, watching ahead during a Netflix binge will change pretty much nothing about your relationship other than your partner being a little bit annoyed with you, and you having to watch an episode or two again. But, hey, in a world where everything feels unsure, it couldn’t hurt to sit down and make some Netflix binge-watching guidelines. Because if nothing else, one thing is for sure in this world: No one should watch “Tiger King” by themselves.

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