I first came across the concept of a ‘Netflix divorce’ in a piece in The Telegraph. It’s the idea that couples that force themselves to watch shows together, well, have a harder time staying together.
Here’s why: At the end of a long day full of negotiations and compromises at work, at home—everywhere, really, and especially in a pandemic—the last thing you want to do is spend your relaxation time debating whose taste in television wins out. In other words, if TV is our main source of self-care, especially right now, is it worth sacrificing Bridgerton for, well, anything?
If it’s detrimental to your relationship, maybe not.
Halfway through my discovery of this concept, I realized something: Last summer, I’d accidentally kicked off my own Netflix divorce, so to speak.
My husband and I had been juggling full-time jobs, no childcare and evenings spent catching up on all the workday emails we’d missed…for months. When we finally got a reprieve (via a babysitting assist from my mom), we were eager to at last join the masses who were blowing off steam by binging all the shows. The problem? Our viewing habits just didn’t align.
For instance, my husband was desperate to start making his way through episodes of Cobra Kai while I had just discovered that Suits, a show I’d neglected when it was first on air, had all nine seasons available to watch for free on Amazon Prime. In the beginning, we made an effort to watch together (one night, we’d watch Cobra Kai; the next Suits) but that quickly fizzled out. (And perhaps he grew tired of my interminable questions about Karate Kid lore.)
So, we split. We made the very adult decision to—gasp—spend the wind-down part of our evening apart, me on my laptop and he in full command of the living room TV. The first night, I binged three episodes in a row of Suits with no side commentary from my spouse. It felt amazing.
We continued like this for weeks, me making my way efficiently through four seasons of the show and my husband bouncing between Cobra Kai and a variety of other horror/dystopian type things, a world I want no part of.
But our Netflix divorce taught me something. With both of us crammed into the same house with a toddler, work/life stress and more, we were missing out on something that had forever been intensely valuable to our marriage: the time we spend as individuals and how we relayed that to each other. Because, yes, it’s just a TV show, but splitting our viewing habits gave us something non-logistical to share with each other the next day. Additionally, it left us making a concerted effort to find content we anticipated enjoying together, and getting back together when it made sense—say, for The Queen’s Gambit or The Flight Attendant.
“For couples—pandemic or not—we tend to show up better for each other when we put our own oxygen mask on first,” says Barbara Tatum, a counselor who specializes in relationships. “It’s about meeting your own needs as part of a relationship and if that means indulging in separate viewing habits as a way to reset, it’s worth it.”