Addictions and Their Substitutes for Love

Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

One of the best books I ever read wasn’t actually a novel. It was a book about drug addicts. It is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate. Well, I learned from this book that most of the things that a drug addict struggles with and the reasons for their addiction plague most relationships. Addictions are actually much more common than you might think. There are many forms of addiction that plague relationships: such as TV, Internet browsing, pornography, social media websites (i.e. Facebook), computer games, video games, cleaning, shopping, music, eating disorders, and electronic gadgets. The problem behind the addiction isn’t the addiction itself but the addiction cycle and the needs our bodies are trying to get met. Even if you take the steps necessary to stop one addiction (e.g. pornography), another one pops up in its place (e.g. TV). This is because you are not actually solving the problem underneath the addiction, which is: using poor substitutes for love. People who struggle with addiction do not necessarily have problems with being loved or feeling loved, but the problem lies in “accepting love vulnerably and openly on a visceral, emotional level” (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). People who cannot find or receive love need to find external influences or substitutes to get their needs met (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). One of the biggest differences between people who struggle with addiction and people who are less influenced by them is their ability to handle and deal with emotions. Children who have parents who are always attentive to their needs, who have the ability to regulate their own emotions, and can properly soothe their children, learn to manage their emotions effectively because they were taught by their parents. However, those who have poor attachments with their parents and were left to themselves to soothe their emotional distress relied on external sources to comfort themselves. It is unfortunate that we are entering into a society where there is more and more emotional deprivation and reliance on electronic technology to find comfort rather than having quality contact at home with our loved ones.

What do I do then?

If you are struggling in a relationship where addiction has taken its toll on the relationship distress, I encourage you to see a therapist. Addictions can be difficult to overcome and unless you can deal with the underlying problems associated with the addiction, you are most likely to develop other forms of addicted behaviors. However, knowing what is at the root of addiction can help the addict and the partner of the addict in knowing what needs to be done.

If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.

The Lost Art of Listening

Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is the inability that they have to communicate effectively with each other. By the time they come into therapy, they are both exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally in the relationship and are at a loss of how to get the other partner to understand them. When partners stop listening to each other, the relationship slowly starts to diminish. However, before we go further, lets talk about the differences between hearing someone and listening to someone. Listening is more than just hearing what people say. I can hear my wife talk to me about her day and get every word she is saying but if I am playing on my phone while she is doing this she will most likely reply, “Are you listening to me!” Of course my natural reply would be, “I heard everything you said!” However, what did she really want from me?……… She wanted more than just hearing her words, she needed me to help her to feel I cared about her day and what she was going through. ¬†Listening to our partners is not about agreeing with them! It is about trying to show empathy towards their situations and what they are going through. It is about trying to put ourselves in their shoes and walk in them a bit.

By the time couples get to therapy, the listening stops and the defensiveness starts. They had stopped listening to each other long ago in their relationship and have come to a point where they just want to be heard by their partner. So you can imagine what this looks like. The most common example of this to me in therapy happens while one partner is talking to other. A lot of the time, the latter is trying to think about the next thing to say to him or her trying to win the war of words.

At this point (the point where most conversations end up in an argument), many couples contemplate divorce believing that they will find somebody better who will understand and listen to their needs. While this usually happens initially at the beginning of relationships, most patterns get repeated in the long-term no matter how many relationship changes there are.

One of my favorite authors, Michael P. Nichols, PhD, wrote a book called,¬†The Lost Art of Listening. In here he stated, “A relationship is not a thing, not a static state; it is a process of mutual influence. A relationship isn’t something you have; it’s something you do. Couples who learn to listen to each other–with understanding and tolerance–often find that they don’t need to change each other. The impulse to change things, to make them better, is a natural and largely constructive one. But anyone who thinks of marriage as an infinitely improvable arrangement is making a mistake. The ideal of perfectibility breeds frustration. Many problems can be solved, but the problem of living with another person who doesn’t always see things the way you do isn’t one of them. Sometimes marriage isn’t about resolving differences but learning to live together with them” (p. 207).

What do I do then?

If you feel you are in a relationship where you are not being understood, ask yourself, “Does my partner feel understood by me? Does her or she feel I care about their opinions?” When my wife and I are talking about something together, I often don’t agree with how she sees things. However, I recognize that her feelings and opinions are just as important as mine and who am I to say that I am the all-knowing authority on the subject! I have learned in my relationship and with my therapeutic experience that expecting your partner to align with your way of viewing the world will mostly likely leave you alone in that world. My advice is to resist the urge to try and change your partner and focus your efforts on listening to them. Doing this will likely lead to a better and healthier relationship. I have often found that by doing this and helping your partner feel cared about by you, he or she will most likely be in a place to listen and understand you.

If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, The Lost Art of Listening, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.