Couple Dynamics: Dealing with The Coach Potato


By Matt W. Sandford

First off, based on the media, especially shows like The Simpsons, as soon as you saw couch potato you probably thought that I would be addressing a male issue of laziness. And although, if we were able to take a general survey we may find this trait showing up more predominantly among men, that does not mean that women never struggle with laziness, or that there are husband’s who are married to women couch potatoes.

Generally speaking, we are defining coach potato as a person who lays on the coach when there are duties to be done in the home environment. The spouse of this person has likely approached the couch potato before and requested that they help out in some way. They have likely experienced a number of responses that have turned out to be well, dodges. They have heard explanations ranging from a hurt back, to being tired from working so hard all day. They have received defensive accusations, such as, “well, what about the things you haven’t done”, or “well, the last time I did such and such you just complained that I didn’t do it right, so now you can do it yourself”. And if they did not go away and take care of things themselves, as the couch potato was hoping, but instead became a ‘nag’, then the coach potato likely felt justified in getting more nasty, resorting to insults or sulking. If – and this is a big if – if the spouse was able to get the couch potato up and helping, what may have happened is the couch potato whined through the whole job or did such a poor and slovenly job with the hope that they would never be asked again.

The spouse of the coach potato is likely fed up. They have either filled themselves with resentment and are pulling away emotionally, as they are feeling mistreated and taken advantage of, or they have wilted under the coach potatoes manipulations and have concluded that it is their job to do all the house work and not gripe about it. Although, they would still be feeling hurt and used and invalidated and disconnected from their spouse.

So, what are the options for the spouse of a coach potato as he/she has been represented?

  1. Begin by taking an emotional inventory. This is important. It is more than just racketing up your anger and hurt. The point is to process your feelings, putting descriptive words to what it feels like to live with this person. What does it feel like when they respond in the ways they do? How do you interpret the meaning of their behaviors in terms of your relationship and in terms of you beliefs about yourself? I would recommend journaling your thoughts or sharing them with a safe friend. This step prepares to go into step 2 with clarity.
  2. Plan to approach your couch potato spouse to bring to them how you have been experiencing them. I understand that you may feel that you have tried this already and have not felt recognized or respected. You may have actually done step two before, but even if you have I would encourage following the steps and doing so one more time.

Here’s how I would suggest you frame this conversation.

Spouse: “Honey, can I ask you to turn off the TV so that we can talk about something important?”

Couch Potato: “Aw, come on, now that the show is over, I need to get up early tomorrow. Can it wait until tomorrow?”

Spouse: “I’d rather not put it off.”

Couch Potato: “Okay.”

Spouse: “I feel that we need to address a problem in the division of labor at home.”

Couch Potato: “Not this again. Look, I’ve already explained…”

Spouse: “Yes, I have heard your explanations for why you cannot be more involved at home. However, I would like to tell you how I am experiencing you when you respond to my request for help. When I ask you, I feel that you often respond in a way that is dismissive of my feelings and concerns. For example, yesterday when I said ____, you said in reply ____. When that happened I felt ______.”

Couch Potato: “Yeah well, what about the time you did ______ to me.” Goes on about their feelings…

Spouse: “I would like to bring you back to what I offered. Does it make sense to you why I might have felt the way I did?”

Couch Potato: “Well, I guess so, but…”

Spouse: “And if you can appreciate that that is how I sometimes feel, I am wondering if you are okay with that result from our interactions?”

Couch Potato: “Uh, no. I am not trying to hurt you.”

Spouse: “I don’t believe you are intending hurt toward me. But that is what is happening. How can we do this differently, so that we end up not disrespecting one another? Any ideas?”

I realize of course that there are a multitude of directions a conversation like this could go, certainly in some ugly directions if the couch potato is prone to protecting him or herself with anger. If that is the case and they power up and get nasty or attacking, you could try to hang in there and make their current nastiness the new topic to address – meaning you attempt to bring to them how you are experiencing them right then – that is, if you are able to hold on to a semblance of calm and not attack back or get defensive. If you are shutting down or feeling overwhelmed, then it’s okay to remove yourself and seek a later time to address the belligerence. This is where you would circle around back to step one. However, if your spouse is demonstrating or has demonstrated before a lack of response to grasping their hurtfulness or does not seem to care, and you feel you have made a sincere effort, I would recommend seeking marriage counseling for help in addressing this issue.

3.  If the conversation in step two had some positive movement to it, you continue using the first two steps to be able to express yourself to your spouse while moving on to step three. Step three involves affirming your spouse for listening to you. This means more than saying thanks. It again involves offering more of your heart, in which you explain how your spouse responding to you in this new way feels and how you are experiencing them in that moment. This step is just as critical as the others. I understand that you may want to withhold affirming your couch potato spouse at this time. You may have built up resentment and you don’t trust that your spouse will change. So, you want to reserve affirmation until they prove themselves in some way. I get it. But, if you felt more heard and validated by them, you will want to affirm that. Because what you affirm is more likely to be repeated. It also fits with establishing this new way of relating to each other. You are demonstrating to your spouse that interacting in a more honest, respectful and considerate manner is in both of your best interests.

I encourage you to practice the steps often, and in that way they will evolve into your normal dynamic that goes on between you.

If you are interested in scheduling a couples counseling appointment with Matt, call 407-647-7005.

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