The addicted spouse

Dear Toni-

This may seem like an overreaction on my part, but I think my spouse is addicted to technology. At first, it was a lot of checking emails throughout the weekend and playing online games every weeknight for an hour or so.

However, over time this has progressed to spending several hours an evening online and even more time on the weekends. Both our couple and family time have diminished and too often I feel like a single parent- handling all the children's homework, social activities and sports. It has even become difficult to get him to sit down with us for dinner as he always says he will come down soon and doesn't arrive at the table until our meal is almost over. I may be naive but I don't suspect an affair and see no evidence of online relationships with other women. I know he needs his down time like I do, but his online time is taking over our lives.

Can you help me figure out if I am overreacting and offer some advice on how I could begin to address this with him and get him to set appropriate limits on his technology use? --iPad Widow

Dear Dear iPad widow,

You are not overreacting. In fact, from what you have written it sounds as though your spouse suffers from an "internet addiction disorder." This term was first coined back in the mid 1990's when a growing trend towards uncontrolled internet use was first discussed. Since that time, this addiction trend has raised alarms in countries around the world, and there are now therapists and programs that deal specifically with this problem.

You should start by finding a time that you and your spouse can sit down together with no interruptions and have an honest talk. If you focus your concerns on how his time online leaves you feeling alone and lonely, he should be able to hear this better than if your focus is just on his addiction to the technology itself. The message will be about how you feel and what you and the children need from him as opposed to telling him he is wrong and therefore, needs fixing.

Offer your support. This could be in the form of more time and attention directed towards him, time for the two of you away from the kids and/or counseling sessions in which you can work together on strengthening your bond and being more available to one another for support and nurturing.

Internet abuse can stem from depression and the overuse of technology then becomes a way to self medicate and cope with negative feelings and thoughts. The internet can also be used as a way to deal with stress, much like sitting mindlessly in front of the TV and being transported anywhere other than one's present reality. If your husband's use of technology stems from one of these, he could benefit greatly from individual counseling. The right therapist could help him to manage his psychological issues by identifying the root causes and using more effective coping mechanisms, while also helping him to work on achieving a better balance between alone and family/couples time.

Don't wait, address this now as addictions only grow and strengthen over time if left unaddressed.

(from January 2014)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

This is the first "Confronting Unacceptable behavior" column.

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"Confronting Unacceptable behavior"

"My partner and I are great together except?"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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