A lot of people have a very difficult time expressing and bringing up the impacts of another person’s behaviors. It’s hard to know what’s a fair thing to ask for from your partner. Therefore, I want to provide you with a bit of a road map for how to deal with compulsive behaviors that are having a negative effect on the relationship.
This is some difficult terrain; addictive and compulsive behaviors can affect our relationships and are difficult to handle. However, I hope that, after reading this blog, you have some clarity around how to have conversations with your partner about their compulsive behaviors which are negatively impacting your relationship.
Addictive tendencies stem from childhood
The term “addictive” has such a profoundly negative connotation. However, all of these traits we describe as addictive or compulsive are ultimately just different coping behaviors, none of which are inherently wrong. These are behaviors that people have developed over time in order to deal with their pain and suffering.
Addictive behaviors often develop as early as eight or nine years old, as a means of feeling good about oneself. For example, for many, smoking starts early on in life as a means of self-soothing. These types of compulsions come through as a result of unresolved traumas, childhood difficulties, or unmet needs of some kind. Becoming sucked into an addictive activity is not a function of a person’s lack of willpower, or lack of character; it’s much more complex than that. Still, at the end of the day, these behaviors are something that needs to be dealt with when they affect our relationships.
Our culture, or human culture in general, can end up fostering addiction in different ways. As I see it, Western culture is very well-evolved in its ability to provide short-term addictive-compulsive behaviors to people to provide momentary relief of their anxieties, their pain, and their sufferings. When you think about the entertainment industry, the porn industry, the alcohol industry, there’s so many options to relieve oneself of confronting and dealing with the underlying challenges of being human. You’re in good company; it’s an internalized cultural dynamic to be turning to external sources for dopamine. This is just my humble effort to destigmatize, normalize, and de-personalize these behaviors.
Addiction looks differently for everyone
There are many different definitions of addiction. One person may smoke a bowl every evening but doesn’t see it as an addiction; it doesn’t have a negative effect on their functioning throughout the day. It relieves stress and improves their experiences going through life. Yet, their partner looks at it differently. They may feel that every time their partner gets high, they can no longer connect with them, and they’re experiencing a negative impact of the behavior that their partner can’t see. People experience themselves differently than they may be perceived from the outside, and in some cases, this becomes a a battle of our perceptions.
I invite you to do your best to absolve yourselves of having to come to a mutual agreement or conclusion around whether or not a certain behavior counts as an addiction. That won’t get you anywhere, and it will only serve to hinder the conversation you need to be having, which is healthily expressing the impacts that each other’s behaviors have on us. That’s the underlying conversation; if we get into accusations, our partner is only going to become defensive. That person has found something that’s helped them navigate the difficulties of life, and it’s a habit that is probably far more rooted in their inner self than you can see. You don’t want to take it away from them, but you are tasked with expressing the impact of their behavior on you.
So how do you go about doing that?
Approaching addictive tendencies in a relationship
The first step is to set the conversation up so that you have enough time to dedicate to this conversation, and ensure you each have a turn to express your thoughts or the impact you feel about a specific behavior. Then, you need to each listen openly to what your partner has to say, either about their reasons for indulging in the addictive behavior, or the impact that it has on them.
Let’s look at an example. Say we have a couple, one of whom is a heavy weed smoker, while the other is a committed employee who works 60 hour weeks. While it may be easy for the second partner to say that they feel the first is wasting their time, or not engaging in meaningful conversations, or just being a bit “spacey” all the time, the first partner could be feeling an underlying abandonment, or loneliness due to their partner being at work all the time, that makes them feel as though they need to turn to weed to cope with those feelings.
This conversation certainly has the potential to go sideways, so it’s important to approach with careful regard for your partner’s feelings and current emotional state. Remember that someone may easily feel threatened by the idea of having a conversation around their addictive or compulsive behavior, because it is a coping mechanism or a comfort blanket of some kind for them, and the idea of potentially having to give it up can be frightening. However, with a gentle and open approach, you may find space for natural compromises to arise.
To return to my earlier example, the conversation may end with the first partner agreeing to try smoking less on weekdays, and the second partner agreeing to dedicate at least two weeknights to leaving work earlier and spending quality time with their partner. These compromises are a way of being generous, and indicate a healthy perspective of putting the relationship first, rather than prioritizing one’s individual desires or coping mechanisms. Although it’s hard, it’s worth addressing these things so that they don’t corrode the relationship over time.
If you need help approaching your partner about their addictive tendencies, please feel free to reach out and book a call: https://ryanginn.com/#schedule