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Bad Habits, Good Advice

Jun 18, 2009 07:11AM ● By Super Admin

He Said:

Q: “My wife has started accusing me of being addicted to video games, and I think that’s ridiculous! I go to work every day and I’m home for dinner with the family. I don’t drink too much or do drugs. I’ll admit that I love all things online, games included, and I can play them endlessly. But what’s the harm?

Dr. Deb says: An addiction is an ongoing compulsive pattern of behavior that a person continues to engage in despite destructive consequences. People can’t “take or leave” addictive behaviors. They become agitated or upset if someone else or circumstances prevent them from engaging in the usual behavior. Does that description fit your computer activity?

Q: “I don’t see any destructive consequences other than her complaining! She has her hobbies, and this is just one of mine. She likes to watch TV in bed at night and I like to get on the computer. Half the time she falls asleep early, so I just keep playing until I get tired. Why should it bother her if she’s asleep?”

Dr. Deb says: Yikes! You’re both engaged in passive, isolated, separate activities most evenings? That’s likely to be destructive to your relationship. This is how couples end up feeling like roommates. I’m glad to hear that at least one of you is dissatisfied.

She Said:

Q: “I’ve been saying that I want more time together, but I guess after a while I just gave up. I figure that if he’s playing video games, I need to occupy myself somehow and now I’m addicted to all of those mindless shows. Whoops – did I actually say addicted?!”

Dr. Deb says: Well, the term has become part of our popular lingo, so I’m not surprised. But do you think you’re compelled to watch those shows? Would you give them up if you had the option of doing something together instead?

“Absolutely. But how do I get him to leave the computer? I’m tired of going in and hearing ‘just a few more minutes,’ and then he never stops.”

Dr. Deb says: The fact is, you can’t get him (or anybody) to do anything. Don’t get into the badgering habit.  Request a talk on a weekend morning. Emphasize what you want, not what you don’t want. Focus on your positive feelings for him and what kind of energy you’d like to restore to your relationship. Remind him of your past times of shared fun. Brainstorm some evening activities that you’d both enjoy doing and commit to specific dates within the very next week to do them. If either of you fail to follow through, it’s time to get outside help.

Dr. Deb’s Closing Thoughts:

A bad habit becomes an addiction when it causes destruction and continues despite the desire to end it. It remains to be seen whether either party in this couple has an “addiction.” But to clarify – addictions aren’t all substance-abuse defined, and they aren’t just physiological. Addictions can be psychological and just about any behavior can evolve into an addiction. So it’s not unrealistic for her to wonder.

What’s obvious, though, is that both parties are stuck in behavior ruts. As often happens in couples, when one person develops a bad habit, the other responds by either becoming preoccupied with trying to change the habit or he/she gets depressed. It sounds like both things are happening on her part.

I’d help her work to discover ways to communicate her wishes in an assertive, positive way. No matter what he does, she needs to develop healthier evening activities. Some TV is fine, but mindless hours of any passive activity will deplete a person over time.

I’d work with him to see if he actually can limit his computer time and find other stress relievers. Fans of video games think of them as “relaxing,” but research has found that they cause spikes in levels of stress chemicals in our bodies. And for some people, the dopamine/reward rush of video games is frighteningly powerful and truly addictive. No one is exempt, and he needs to find out if this applies to him.

Dr. Debra Moore is a psychologist and director of Fall Creek Counseling Associates, with offices in Roseville and Carmichael. You can reach her at 916-344-0900 or find more information at