Addiction is running rampant in our modern age. Of course, you understand and can appreciate the typical culprits like drugs and alcohol, but do you realize that technology and food also fall into the category of addictions? Maybe it would help to understand, at least partially, how addictions begin.

Our bodies naturally seek out what makes it feel good, rather it is mental or physical pleasure, often those two things go hand in hand. When alcohol is ingested in the body the mind is released and worries seem farther away for some folks, which is a highly addictive feeling. This scenario turns into a maladaptive coping skill that gets repeated over and over; I want to feel better, so I drink. If alcohol is introduced at a young enough age it interferes with learning how to cope with life in healthy ways. Think about all the things you have been through in life. The hard times have taught you a lot about yourself, how to cope best and move on. Now think if you put an obstacle in place that thwarted that process; you would have a lot of catching up to do in order to make up for lost time, wouldn’t you? Thank goodness you were able to learn those lessons.

Learning addictive behaviors or coping strategies start from day one when mom and dad leave the baby in the crib to, “cry it out.” In modern life, we are bombarded with ways to escape, some of these tools include tablets, computers, video games or phones. Adults today have a frame of reference as far as what life was like without these tools, but our kids do not. How will they learn how to form relationships, navigate boredom or face conflict head on? We know that these things have a negative effect on development, but what about adults that are totally plugged in? What is the impact there?

First, let’s talk about relationships and what they mean. We grow up with our parents and feel an attachment to them, then we go off and create an intimate, adult relationship which contains reflections of our childhood attachments including how to get what we need from those relationships. I think I have talked about this in previous blogs. What do we get out of a healthy relationship though? Well, what people should be getting out of a healthy relationship is some form of comfort, safety, acceptance, sexual fulfillment, connection and partnership. Those things are very subjective, aren’t they? My idea of comfort is very different than even some of my sibling’s and we come from the same family. With that said, what happens when someone is not being fulfilled in their relationship in the most basic ways and how does this connect to all of this addiction talk?

A couple paragraphs up we defined addiction as the body naturally wanting something to make it feel good, mental or physical. When it finds that something it will drive a person to do that very behavior over and over; this can be healthy or unhealthy. So, when a person is not getting what they need to be fulfilled in their relationship it is the natural tendency to seek whatever they need elsewhere. For those of you who have kids and busy lives, what is the quickest, easiest way to get in contact with something that will give you the feeling of acceptance or belonging, which is most often what is missing? You guessed it! The internet.
It is very common and totally normal for someone in the emotional red to step out of the marriage and go with what works. Couples have ups and downs all the time, not every person is going to head straight to the internet if the marriage has derailed momentarily, but keep in mind, these couples have practiced communication and recovery. Those people who turn away often have not developed skills to cope and work with their partner to find comfort or whatever is missing. Upbringing, work environment, past relationships, a slew of other things have an impact on a person’s skill set.

Social acceptance and everything that goes along with it are just as necessary as food and water. We are programmed to live in herds, so you can imagine how hard it can be for a person to put down the cell phone, turn to their spouse and plug in to the relationship. It being hard and uncomfortable is an understatement. This turning into a partner takes intentionality and reflection. No wonder this very scenario walks into my office over and over.
If you are living in a situation where you feel like your spouse would much rather post pics or “work” on their phone, re-frame the situation. Ask yourself, what are they getting out of this? What are they missing? How can I start a conversation that will lead me to some of these answers? Most people are not used to this style of thought and communication, so counseling is often the best place to turn for at least the time being, so you both can learn the skills needed and then put them in practice.

Best of luck, and remember, what you get from your phone is not real but your kids or spouse is… turn in to them.