Information Overload

My wife can’t tear herself away from the news and it’s creating some real conflict in our marriage. Fortunately, we’re both on the same side of the political divide but my wife seems obsessed with hearing and reading every news report and every journalist’s take on the most recent tweets and executive orders. All this information is causing her to be stressed out, irritable, really negative and pessimistic. Every time I suggest that she turn off the news and instead, listen to music or watch a movie, she gets defensive about her need to be informed.

She’s also constantly reading the news on her phone news apps. She keeps the phone on her bedside table and checks it before falling asleep and again first thing in the morning when she wakes up. She’s in complete denial about how much of a problem this has become. I’d like some advice about how I can convince her that she’s behaving like a news addict.

Michael – West Loop

Dear Michael,

This is certainly a complaint I’ve heard a lot in the last 12 months. I can admit I’ve never felt more committed to staying informed about world politics since the 2016 US presidential election. I’ve even had a few nightmares starring political figures. There seems to be a constant stream of frightening and unbelievable government activity with endless places to be bombarded with the latest breaking news, multiple TV channels, news feeds on our phones, even catching breaking news alerts while waiting for an elevator. As a result of this relentless availability of information from so many sources, over-consumption of news has become the new normal.

The truth is that this over-consumption of news about current events doesn’t really change anything and it doesn’t do any good for our emotional and relational well-being. If your wife is taking her phone to bed, it’s likely that what she reads on her news feeds won’t be putting her in the mood for sleep or anything else.

So, you asked for advice about how to talk to your wife in a way that will enable her to listen to your observations that her behavior isn’t good for her or your relationship. Start with empathy and your desire for connection. You said you’re on the same side so that does make things easier. Express empathy and stay away from pathologizing her behavior and avoid words like “addiction.” Suggest ways you could both put news consumption back to a more moderate level. I’m old enough to remember when there was one hour of nightly news with a choice of three or four television channels. Maybe you and your wife could agree to a daily limit on news programs. Another suggestion might be finding shared political actions that would enable you to use your concerns to make positive change. Try to get agreement to shut off screens at least 30 minutes before bed. One couple I had been seeing to address a similar problem instituted a nightly ritual of 30 minutes of reading to each other. They took turns with each partner choosing and reading aloud a short story or a poem. The only rule being no politics and reading from an old-fashioned book, the kind with paper pages. They found that this activity re-awakened interest they had been ignoring during their preoccupation with the news and they were able to connect around positive and interesting thoughts and ideas that helped them feel less fearful and more hopeful.

If it seems like talking about this problem might go better with professional help, a few sessions with a couples therapist could help you negotiate some limits and make agreements to downsize the space distressing current events are occupying in your relationship. It is possible to put more balance in your life even in these interesting political times.

Be well,

Roseann Adams, LCSW

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