If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, I feel for you. I had many alcoholic family members including my father. That baggage led me to marry an alcoholic the first time. Extricating or dealing with a relationship with an addict is a challenge. This article discusses some aspects of addiction.
The most commonly used substance in the United States is alcohol. While alcohol is a legal psychoactive substance, it can be addicting. Many people from every social spectrum consume alcohol in many settings and never have long term adverse effects.
In addition to alcohol, many mood altering substances are highly addictive and impair physical, social, and psychological functioning of persons who use them.
As of this date, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health report is from 2016 and was published in 2017. You can view a copy of this report at this web address: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf
The report provides the following facts:
While this report does reflect some positive trends, the problem of addiction takes a great toll on our culture. Especially disturbing is the growing evidence of the danger of opiods or herion.
Generally addiction progresses through a fairly predictable cycle: experimentation, social use, dependency, addiction and hopefully, recovery. I illustrate these stages with alcohol use below:
Experimentation: I have tasted alcohol and had some experience in drinking alcohol as a teenager and young adult. Alcohol has never really caused me too many problems. It has been limited due to availability and other barriers.
Social use: Now, as an adult, I go to a restaurant on Friday nights with my girlfriends and co-workers. Alcohol becomes part of a relaxation ritual for me. Still my once a week drink is not creating any problems for me.
Dependency: I start to view alcohol as an aid for relaxation. While going through a stressful time at work, I start to drink a glass of wine every night when I fix dinner for my family. My relaxation begins to become dependent on that glass of wine. Being a “drinker” starts to become integrated in my identity. I am a “drinker”.
Note: Dependency has both a psychological and a physical component. Both are problematic.
Addiction: I begin to develop a tolerance for alcohol, requiring me to use increasing amounts in order to feel the effects. Soon, I’m drinking a bottle of wine every night and it is causing great problems in my family, causing me to miss work, neglect my home, etc. I have crossed the line into addiction which will become a physical dependence if I continue.
Recovery: Something occurs that prompts me to seek treatment and I discontinue my alcohol use, engage with a support system and begin to re-establish my life without substance use.
Unfortunately, many times recovery is characterized by relapse. Hallmarks of successful recovery are sobriety, abstinence, social support, and active relapse prevention.
How can you tell if someone will become addicted? There is currently no way to know this. Some people may use substances many times without having a problem and then at another point in their life, use and become immediately addicted.
Infrequent use in small amounts generally will not require treatment. The person who uses in this manner will likely be able to stop use when they decide to. Often, legal, social, family or other types of sanctions will be enough of a threat to convince them to stop using substances.
Treatment may be required for people who cannot stop substance use on their own. Without outside intervention, it is rare for an addicted person to be able to discontinue use for an extended period of time. Despite consequences, often extreme consequences, the addiction overpowers their will. The desire for use outweighs any of the external results.
Treatment can decrease the economic and social costs of addiction. Additionally, there is much evidence that treatment is far less expensive than the real costs to our society. Multiple reports on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) support this. You can review these articles at their site: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications
More on this topic later. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, find help through local resources or SAMHSA's website. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment
In the meantime, stay lovely!
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Some qualities of relationships which often are present when affairs occur are high conflict, low emotional warmth, neglect of pleasure, and discomfort with emotional closeness by one partner.
How can you use this information to strengthen your relationship? Building and reinforcing the qualities indicated above can be a great starting point. Using the embedded worksheet, you can identify areas where attention is needed.
The lowest numbers indicated by either partner will direct your focus. For instance, if engagement is low for one partner, it may be helpful to learn some healthier means of addressing conflict. If excitement is low for the other spouse, perhaps they need to take some risks.
Next: How do you know what to do about it? Agree on some concrete actions to work on. In our above example of engagement, determine what each partner pictures as “engagement”. Maybe one sees that as taking long walks holding hands and discussing issues. Maybe the other partner sees that as giving each other a kiss good bye every time they part. Everyone gets to have their own definition which means they are all valid!!
Here’s the kicker……trade rating scales with each other. After all, the goal is each partner’s ratings will move higher and higher. What can each improve on that will lead to higher relationship satisfaction for their partner? Even small changes can lead to relationship improvements. (You do get credit for effort when you’re working on your relationship.)
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1. It’s ALL about you!
Relationships are our biggest teachers. Often they are our first voluntary “belonging” type relationships. This makes them unequaled in highlighting our weaknesses. When our belonging gets shaken, a primal evolutionary fear emerges. It pushes us to action which our history tells us will solve the problem, soothe the fear. Often, this action brings us exactly the opposite of what we want.
We only have control over one person…..that’s ourselves. Focusing your energy and attention on what your partner needs to change is very inefficient. You’ve got to stay focused on the things you need to change. A relationship is a system and when you alter one part of a system, the whole thing changes. This is great news because that means you can create positive change in yourself and it will impact your relationship.
2. You will have to change.
That’s the sad truth. You can’t count on your partner changing. Nothing’s going to change unless you do. What do you want to change? Change behaviors that are not contributing to the health of your relationship. We all have them.
Changing means you’re going to have to behave in different ways than you currently do. Unfortunately, most of our behaviors are automatic. Just like changing any habit, you’ll have to put in effort to remember to change. The good news is, after you’ve established a new habit, it gets a lot easier.
3. You have to do it.
You’ll have to spend time learning and practicing new behaviors. That implies a time commitment as well as consistency and persistence. Penciling in some reading time on Tuesday afternoons won’t cut it. Daily practice, every day, even when you feel that it’s not working is the definition of consistency and persistence. Harsh reality is, change doesn’t happen without some effort. If you’re not willing to do that, you might not want to improve your relationship as much as you think you do.
Have you proclaimed, “I’m working so hard to make this work.” Or, “I’ll try anything to make this relationship better.” Then I don’t care if you think it’s silly or hard. You’ll do anything, right? If that’s true, then do it.
Practice Time: Are you willing to be the change agent in your relationship? Can you devote time and attention to identifying and changing your own behaviors? Are you willing to be consistent and persistent with that attention for at least 90 days before giving it up?
If so, you may well master your Relationship Game!
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A-You have to decide to.
In every situation there is something you appreciate or be grateful for. For instance, if it's raining, you can be mesmerized by the drops hitting the puddles or be grateful that the plants will have what they need to grow.
Stress hijacks our attention and focuses us on survival. But most situations really aren't that important and we have to recognize that we don't have to allow our thoughts to run away from us, we can control them with some practice.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tells us events and feelings are separate entities. Our thoughts about events are what lead to our feelings about it.
For example, it’s raining. I think, “This sucks! There go my plans for today!” Then I end up feeling disappointed and bad.
I can choose to think different thoughts that lead to different feelings. For example, I can think, “This sucks, and I’m disappointed, but maybe I can find something interesting to do inside today. Yeah, I got that new puzzle! I’m going to work on that today!” I’ve got a whole new feeling coming out of the same situation just by altering my thoughts.
This can take some practice, but I’ve written lots of other articles addressing how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors impact each other. If you feel that you’re just depressed and can’t succeed in changing your thoughts, find a therapist that practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Best of luck,
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If you’ve explored much of my stuff, you know, I’m always looking at nature for the lessons it can teach us.
Have you ever watched one of those time lapse videos of a flower growing and blooming? You see the flower begin growing and proceed through its life span. You see the flower burst forth in enthusiastic growth and then pause where it seems to rest. Then suddenly, another burst of growth occurs. It’s not a continuous steady growth. It bursts and rests and might even appear to retreat at times.
I think it’s so useful to think of our own growth like this. It happens in fits and spurts, in seemingly unrelated cycles. The truth is growth cannot sustain itself in a straight predictable trajectory. We have to allow it to run its own course. No matter how we struggle, we have to go through the transitions, the resting places, the retreats, the bursts of unbelievable growth.
And boy, some of this results in a lot of growing pains.
When we’re in those times of growth or “bursting forward”, it can be a bit scary. We don’t know where we’re going, but somehow, we can’t stop it. It can also be frustrating when we reach a place of rest. We may feel comfortable with that movement or lack of movement. Maybe we desire to keep it in motion. Sometimes, we look at motion as “good” and rest as “bad”. But know that nature always seeks balance and our effort has to be balanced by rest, or we become unhealthy.
It becomes important in our practice of self compassion to acknowledge and appreciate times of pause.
How does this relate to your relationship? How do you handle these natural cycles? Do you get frustrated with yourself when you feel stagnant? Do you get scared and want to stop change when it’s occurring so quickly? Doesn’t everything that affects you also affect your partner?
Something more to consider: Your partner is having the same sort of growth cycles. Do you get frustrated with your partner when they’re low energy? When they don’t move, grow or act as fast as you’d like them to? Or when they don’t set the same priorities as you?
In the compassion department, you have to respect your own cycles and understand that your partner is experiencing their own resistance, growth and rest cycles.
Practice time: Where have you not been honoring the growth cycle for yourself or for your partner? Can you recognize and summon patience for yourself and your partner? Can you become curious instead of judgmental about where you both are in growth cycles?
Keep on Growin’,
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I did a little camping last month and it gave me time to think about all kinds of things and observe nature up close and personal.
I love to take lessons from nature and so this post is going to be about one of the lessons that I took from my time in the woods.
Did you ever notice that nature produces nothing that’s perfect? Everything in nature has some sort of imperfection in its formation or it gets impacted and changed by something that’s in the environment around it. When you look at a forest landscape, it can look so perfect. The leaves are green; there are different textures. And, it looks perfect from a distance. But, when you get up close, you see there are millions of imperfections in the shape of the leaf or the colors of the leaves. They’re usually mottled or maybe even yellowed, and just imperfect in their own perfect way. So, the lesson I take from this is that we can’t expect perfection in anything or anyone for that matter.
We want our relationships to be a reflection of nature. Nature is fluid, changing, growing all the time. Translate this to relationships. We really can’t expect perfection from other people or from ourselves. But, do we really expect that? Don’t we get upset when our partner doesn’t meet our expectations? When we first start to get to know our partner, we notice the beautiful things in them. We notice the things we see as perfection. We notice the color or the motion, the essence of their being. Just like the forest’s perfection from a distance. But, once we get a little closer, we see things a little closer, get to know them a little better, we start to see the flaws. Those flaws inevitably draw our attention away from what we might see as perfect. We might feel like we’ve been betrayed or duped or that we’ve been sold a flawed product when we got together with this person.
There comes a time we just have to back up and pay attention to the imperfect perfection that is everyone and everything in nature. Your perspective really is important isn’t it? Do you think that you’re perfect? Of course you don’t, at least I hope you don’t. Do you think that your partner focuses on your flaws? Do they notice your perfections or imperfections more? If you’re lucky enough to have a partner that doesn’t pay much attention to your flaws, is it possible that somewhere along the line they made a decision about what to pay attention to? If I had a choice, I’d certainly want my partner to focus on my positive qualities vs. my imperfections.
Another element of this perfection versus imperfection dance is how we practice self-compassion. Do you let yourself notice the glorious perfection that you are or do you spend a lot of time focusing on what you see as your imperfections? So, this is a lesson we can take into our self-compassion as well as into our compassion for our partners. We have a choice about where we place our attention, and like all habits, it’s something that has to be developed. That takes motivation and intention to do that. I hope that your motivation is to win in your relationship!
If you remember back to that time when all you saw was the perfection, when you committed to your partner, wasn’t it your intention to honor them? Both their perfections and their imperfections, that is. And, shouldn’t we have the same commitment to ourselves? So, focusing on the areas of perfection versus the imperfection is one of those winning behaviors. And, it’s what you’d like from your partner, too.
So, have you been focusing on the imperfections in your partner? Or in yourself? If you need to do self-work then take this opportunity to look at that. How can you shift that perspective and take in the perfection that is all of us?
Practice Time: Spend just a few minutes jotting down the things that are perfect about your relationship, your partner, or yourself. Get a list of eight or ten things that you love about your relationship, partner or yourself. Now you’re going to leave those notes around somewhere where you’ll come across them several times a day. Maybe on the bathroom counter or in your purse would be a good place. When I want to look at something several times a day, I put it in my appointment book. A lot of people set up reminders on their phone, which is great if you’re into technology. Take a few seconds every time that comes into your awareness and just hold that thought of perfection. For a moment or two, really feel and appreciate that thought fully. A few moments and a few times a day can really help you in this journey you’re on. It can help shift your perspective back to the view that looks perfect rather than the close-up view that shows you all of the imperfections.
And remember, nobody is perfect; nothing in nature is perfect, relationships aren’t supposed to be perfect.
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Is it just me or is the whole world talking about porn these days? Everywhere I turn, someone is struggling with pornography in their lives or knows someone who has.
I like to remain neutral about topics that can get moralistic so I’m not trying to be judgey about this. I have seen the destructive nature of pornography in my practice though.
I’ve tried engaging with others about this topic and some folks are very dismissive. I hear things like “boys will be boys”. I attended a training a while back and the instructor stated when porn is a problem in a relationship, it’s the objecting partner’s problem. They suggested the remedy was relaxing and watching together. I was a little judgey in that moment, appalled actually. Working with couples, it’s very common that porn is a point of contention. Telling the objecting partner, “This is your insecurity problem” when that partner is not getting their sexual or connection needs met is terribly short sighted.
If a neighbor watches porn in front of your children, it’s considered abuse. Why does it suddenly become non-abuse when your child turns 18? There’s something inherent in porn that leaves some of us vulnerable.
Now I’m not saying watching porn is wrong. Lots of couples enjoy it together as part of a healthy, happy sex life. When it leads to unrealistic expectations about sexual behavior, it’s a problem. When it is interfering with a happy, healthy sex life, that can be a problem.
When engagement with porn overshadows the actual relationship, problems abound. So, do problems in the relationship drive someone to porn or does porn cause problems in the relationship?
Just as an observation, pornography allows the viewer to be totally self-centered without the burden of engaging with another human. That’s something we can probably all relate to wanting at times. There is no performance pressure when you’re engaged with porn. No one is judging whether you’re satisfying another person or not.
While scientific studies are contradictory about whether porn addiction is “a thing”, biologically, porn impacts us physically. Consider the opinion of Kevin Majeures, a psychiatrist, specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and staff of Harvard Medical School. According to his research, the brain is impacted by pornography as follows.
In studies of rats, a male rat contained with a receptive female will mate, but once done, the rat is content. However, if a second receptive female is introduced, the male will again mate. This pattern is repeated every time a new female is introduced until the male rat is exhausted. This pattern has been repeated in every animal studied. This is called the Coolidge Effect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coolidge_effect
Pornography impacts a human male’s brain in much the same way. Pornography offers the watcher a seemingly unlimited number of willing females. The lower brain is unable to discern a difference between a real female and a virtual female. Each new female that appears bumps up his sex drive again.
Dopamine is the hormone of desire. When you see something desirable, your brain pours out dopamine. This helps you focus on the object of your desire. When someone clicks and sees a new object of desire, an enormous flood of dopamine occurs and it’s on.
In our evolutionary history, humans have never been exposed to so many potential mating opportunities. With each new female introduced, a new rush of dopamine occurs. This creates a dopamine binge.
This hormonal cascade creates a vicious circle. Use of pornography overstimulates dopamine production. When the brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the brain destroys dopamine receptors to control the flood. This creates a lowered ability to utilize the dopamine. Thus, it takes even more dopamine to achieve the same thrill. It takes more time using porn, or more site visits, to get to the same stimulated state. Eventually this will not produce the desired effect and the dopamine must be boosted with shock, disgust or surprise. This means moving to kinkier and more perverse pornography, things that induce fear or disgust.
This leads Dr. Majeres to 2 conclusions. 1. Pornography is highly addictive and 2. Pornography is harmful to relationships. If you are interested in reading Dr. Majeres’ article, this is the link: http://purityispossible.com/the-science-behind-pornography/
Having sex with the same person repeatedly offers no sustained, similar rush in dopamine. This often causes the person watching pornography to prefer that activity to real life engagement. Their partner feels rejected, inferior and unimportant. Their partner gets their attachment bond rattled.
Whether you see it as an “addiction” or not is irrelevant because it CAN be a problem. Even if it’s just that your partner finds it disturbing. Part of our job in a relationship is to do what we can to make our partner feel secure.
Some signs that pornography might be a problem in your relationship are:
So, to those who see porn as no big deal, consider your partner’s feelings and preferences. Consider your own well mindedness. Porn has the potential to destroy relationships and families. I’ve seen it happen.
If you or a loved one is struggling with porn obsession, find some help here:
What have been your experiences with pornography? Has it been healthy or destructive in your life/relationship?
I stub my toe I give a little yelp, or a big yelp depending on the stub. It’s my natural reaction and there’s not much space to reasoning about that. Or is there? In a lecture hall where a hundred attendees are listening to a speaker and I stub my toe, I’m probably not going to yelp! Somehow, the situation interrupts my natural reaction and I can choose a more appropriate response.
Many relationship interactions are the same. We react to discomfort and fail to censor our reactions. My husband tells me he doesn’t like my haircut and I snap at him followed up by the cold shoulder all because I can’t handle the discomfort his “criticism” caused me.
The problem with reactions is they rarely make a situation better and in most cases, really mess it up. It represents the paradox of emotions in that what we want, we make less likely because of how our emotions drive our behavior. It can be really worthwhile to spend some time in discomfort learning about yourself and responding in more effective ways.
Take my example: my husband says he doesn’t like my haircut. I feel upset, uncomfortable, but I catch myself and rather than reacting, I explore why I’m having such a strong feeling.
So, my thoughts might run like this: Who does he think he is? I like this haircut! His haircut really sucks. (You might agree, this isn’t helpful) You might employ the Five Whys here. Why am I feeling so upset? Because his comment feels like criticism. Why do I have a problem with his criticism? Because I want him to think I look nice. Why do I want him to think I look nice? Because I want him to love and accept me. Why do I want him to love and accept me? Because if he doesn’t, he might not want to stay together. That’s only four whys, but I’m starting to get a much clearer idea of why his comment bothers me. My insecurity is triggered a bit and that fear fuels my anger. Of course the rational part of my brain understands this is ridiculous. Armed with that understanding I can now respond very differently. This process requires spending a time in discomfort (that’s how growth occurs). How much discomfort is there when you snap and withdraw? I’m betting MORE than my way!
So Practice Time! Think about the last time you had a strong reaction to something. Can you allow yourself to sit with that memory and analyze where it came from? Spend some time with the Five Whys to lead you to a deeper sense of where your fear or pain lies. This is excellent material to share with your partner if you can.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you. Comment or email me privately at Allison@allisonvelez.com
Q-I think of myself as an optimist, but my wife seems to be a pessimist. I love my wife, but it feels like she is always complaining about something, and it’s starting to bother me. In a way, I think she is trying to express her feelings. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
A-You’re right, she’s trying to express herself. John Gottman says a complaint is an unmet desire expressed.
That being said, complaining is a habitual behavior most of the time. Try having a compassionate, supportive conversation with her about how it bothers you. It probably bothers you because you want to help correct whatever’s going on. Don’t start off telling her how wrong she is to communicate in that way. Try to make her feel understood and she won’t be defensive.
She may also have realized this is a problem and be open to changing this about herself. If she isn’t, don’t waste your time coercing her. Don’t respond to the complaining behavior, but fully engage when she’s being positive.
I, too, sometimes complain, and my husband just abruptly changes the subject! I’ll be going on about something and he’ll say, “Man, look how pretty the sky is today!” It’s kind of a joke between us now and we’ll just both laugh.
I assume from your question that she is not complaining about YOU specifically. If she is, there’s an opportunity for you to decide if there’s something you need to work on. If not, approach this as a team in trying to reduce a bad habit.
f she is depressed, seek professional help.
Best of luck, hope this helps!
As a 20+ year veteran of marriage and family counseling, I have often been dumbfounded at how a previously loving couple will be cruel to each other. Often they will intentionally insult, disrespect, and otherwise belittle each other. Although we can assume that most relationships begin with a level of love, hope and commitment that convinces the couple that they want to be together for the forseeable
future, several years later they cannot carry on a civil conversation.
Often by the time a couple seeks counseling the relationship is doomed to fail. For this reason counseling couples is often frustrating and tedious work. I have often said I wish I could be with my patients all day to coach them through their interactions. Many of the things I coach people on are repetitive and need to be applied on a daily basis rather than one hour a week in my office.
Winning Your Relationship Game means you reach a level of happiness they’ve only dreamed of or haven’t felt in a long time. Let me begin by telling you what no one can help you do. No one can tell you how to convince your partner that they are wrong and you are right. No one will excuse your behavior because of what your partner is or isn’t doing. If you’re looking for a way to change others, good luck! Chances are very good that there are some things that you can change that will make a positive difference in your relationship anyway.
Relationships rest on 3 foundational pillars of Compassion, Communication and Commitment. You must have all 3 for your relationship to remain stable. A shaky relationship will have weaknesses in one or more areas. Development in all 3 areas will grow the closeness and happiness of the relationship. Your relationship will be a winning one.
My philosophy is also one of acknowledging the role of attachment. Insecure attachment fears seem to be at the bottom of every conflict within a relationship. If we can own that our responsibility is to make our partners feel securely attached, our relationships will be amazing!
Things that impact relationships are issues of addictions, mental illness, domestic violence, or infidelity. These introduce irrationality into any situation. It’s difficult to work with someone who does not think in a rational manner. Please get professional help if you need intervention which focuses specifically on those areas. If you’re in an unsafe situation, I urge you to get outside help immediately.
There are 3 areas of our reality that has to be examined. Those are areas of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. While thoughts and feelings are important, behaviors are what wins or loses in relationships. Sometimes, changing behaviors is dependent on addressing the thoughts and feelings behind them. Don’t be afraid, I think you’ll find this simple, but maybe not easy.
All things in life occur in cycles. Relationships are no different. Closeness occurs and distance occurs. There’s the falling in love part and then there’s the settling in part. Each change in stage represents a new set of rules for your relationship. Our actions during and reactions to these times create a stronger or weaker relationship. Sometimes we read difficult times as the end of a relationship, but it may just be a natural stage of moving closer.
I also see a relationship as a system. This system cannot change in one area and be unchanged in another. Therefore any change you make will impact the relationship. So, CAN you change your relationship? Yes. And you should if you’re not happy with it now.
Love and Be Lovely!