Counselling organisation Relate thinks we need help coping with football-obsessed hubbies
"THE WORLD CUP could cause extra tension in relationships. Don't wait until you have reached crisis point because of sport on TV this summer." That, at any rate, is the advice from the relationship counselling organisation Relate, which kicks off its guidelines on the subject with the following pearls. "Conflicted" over visits to the in-laws or whose turn it is to do the washing up? "Don't try to discuss the issue in the middle of the big match. Standing in front of the TV will only cause you to row. Rather, make constructive plans to cope with the problem. Choose a time when you are relaxed and able to talk without interruption." Picture the scene: England are about to play Tunisia and the family's footballphobe decides it's the ideal time to bring up that unfinished DIY job. Grounds for divorce, or what? One can't help feeling that if things have really come to such a pass, you may as well forget Relate and get straight on to your solicitors.

Other possible footie pitfalls that may cause relationship angst include occasions when, "One partner hogs the TV, insisting on watching the channel they want." Mildly irritating, yes, but it's pretty hard to see how this could constitute a relationship "crisis point". And if it did, it's just as likely to happen over an episode of EastEnders as World Cup coverage. In fairness, Relate do point out that, "although unlikely to be the sole cause of relationship breakdown, arguments over time spent watching sport could contribute to difficulties in an already conflicted relationship." Aside from stating the obvious, the advice also sounds distinctly kill- joyish: "Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum," they say. "Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks."

It's hard to imagine any other country actually lecturing couples on how to cope with the trauma of too much coverage. And one wonders just what sort of couples would benefit from this sort of advice. Yet Relate spokeswoman Julia Cole says, "We noticed during Euro '96 that it was an issue clients were talking about during counselling. When hobbies come up it's a hot issue; what seems OK to one person can seem like an unwarranted amount of time to spend on one thing for another." (We know there arewoman football fans/men who hate the game, so no letters about sexist assumptions, please). It seems to depend how you handle it. Most women with only a modicum of interest in the sport themselves seem pretty sanguine about the whole event. "It's a case of business as usual. He couldn't watch more football than he already does," says Rosie, 34, who is understanding about her boyfriend's passion for Man City. "I'm not bothered. I say if it gets on your nerves that much then just do something else." Her friend Michelle, 33, married to a United fan, agrees. "I think it probably causes problems if both partners do nothing else except watch TV. If it's only a temporary thing anyway, what's the big deal? It's good to have interests outside - it would be a pretty sad relationship if you were jealous about that."

Every time Sara gets upset that her husband is watching too much football at home, he threatens to go and watch it in the pub. So now and then, she stops moaning and watches alongside him, desperately trying to discuss the merits of penalty shoot-outs and how efficient Germany's offside trap is. Perhaps she's benefited from another piece of Relate's advice. "Try watching the sport with your partner occasionally. You might find yourself entering into the spirit of the match, and at least be able to share some of the excitement." Who'd have thought?