Q: I think my partner is addicted to porn. What should I do?
A: Last week I saw "Avenue Q," the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that stars humans and puppets. The Trekkie Monster puppet gets repeated laughs when he sings about the purpose of the Internet: "Porn," he belts out. Even without the Internet, pornography is here to stay. In fact, it's probably always been a part of human life. Pornographic graffiti, for example, has graced the walls since ancient times.
So, what's the big deal, you wonder? Here's one way to understand the potential dangers of pornography--and all addictions, for that matter. Let's take out the sexual aspect and pretend, for the moment, that we are talking about your addictions to behavior such as shopping or gambling. Now let's look at the most common questions about pornography and apply them to shopping and gambling. Every time I use words about shopping, gambling or eating, you keep in mind pornography.
Q1: Is there anything wrong with liking to shop, gamble or eat?
A1: Of course not. The casinos in Las Vegas are not just for die-hard, addicted gamblers. Smart recreational gamblers set a limit as to how much money or time they will spend, and then they quit. Similarly, recreational shoppers who like to browse and see what's new and different also set limits of time and amount spent, and gourmands know the joy of tasting small amounts of delicious food without over-doing their consumption.
The three activities, much like any activity that arouses the brain's pleasure neurons, make you feel good. The high from these good feelings doesn't last, and you don't really expect or need them to stay at fever pitch because you aren't engaging in shopping, gambling or eating to mask your depression and unhappiness.
Q2: How do I know if I am addicted to these pleasurable activities?
A2: Obviously, if you overspend on shopping and gambling to the point that your finances are in danger or overeat and endanger your health, then you have an addiction problem. The cornerstones of any addictive behaviors are that you can't stop at will, you resume the behavior after brief successes of refraining, you increasingly need to eat more and spend more to reach those good feelings, and you need to engage in the addictive activity more often and for longer amounts of time.
You also tend to need to increase the stimulation, and you find yourself attracted to danger and risk. For example, shopping at the mall no longer seems exciting enough, so now you shop at exclusive boutiques where the prices are automatically higher. And if your addiction is gambling, those slot machines just don't satisfy you. Now you've stepped up to the higher stakes game of Black Jack where the odds are against you. And if food is your delight, you now start consuming many entire meals.
Q3: Can my shopping, spending, and eating harm my relationship?
A3: You know you are in trouble when the pleasure of doing normal and safe levels of these activities with your partner does not give you satisfaction. In fact, you prefer shopping, gambling, and eating alone. No matter how much you try, these activities seem to call to you even more strongly, and you now have to hide what you are doing. You lie, you spend increasing time away from your partner, and you are ashamed that you like doing these activities alone. You are also frightened and disappointed in yourself because you can't stop. You're worried that you need increasing amounts of time and risk. But you don't hold onto these feelings for long. It's easier to be angry at your partner for not understanding or for not willing to do the riskier version of these activities with you once in a while. You and your partner drift apart and argue, but you just can't help it.
Q4: Are there support groups to help me kick my addictions?
A4: There are probably support groups for just about all addictions. If you can't find the one for your particular problem, contact any of the other addiction support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous and ask for information about other groups. You can also call the Mental Health Department of your city and county or your local hospital. You can also Google the name of your support group with your location and see what comes up. If you don't have any luck, then contact the social service organizations such as Catholic Charities or Jewish Family Services.
Addictions are tough to break "cold turkey." I strongly recommend that you seek professional help. Many people do succeed in overcoming these problems. Get brave and give yourself a chance to be happy in ways that don't harm you or your relationship.
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Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.