Understanding and Dealing with Gaming Problems: A Q&A with a Therapist
You mentioned elsewhere that you've been seeing more and more people who come in because their partner has a gaming problem. Tell me what those scenarios usually look like.
There's not much that's more complicated than making a loving relationship work over the long haul. People enter into relationships for intimacy, closeness, and with the expectations of meeting one another's needs. Any behavior that shuts one partner out and disrupts the primary bond is a problem. If computer gaming becomes habitual and uncontrollable it is apt to cause severe impairment in primary relationships.
Now I have seen relationships break up over compulsive surfing (the kind in the ocean – not just the internet), compulsive spending, and certainly compulsive gambling. Computer gaming can be especially problematic because the virtual world is accessible 24/7; game play can continue endlessly, day or night, and because there are so many reinforcers structured into many games there's tremendous incentive to keep playing. You can't put the game on "pause" to go share dinner with the family, or to put the kids to bed.
I hear a lot of common complaints. "She plays the game every night after work; we don't have dinner together anymore and her game friends mean more to her than I do." "He stays up all night and plays all weekend long; we don't talk, have sex, and he ignores the kids." It's not uncommon to hear of people who stop bathing on a daily basis.
Of course a partner is going to become upset. Initially there's a feeling of loss which quickly moves to frustration, then anger. Positive communication ceases and the overall tone of the relationship becomes negative. The partner who is gaming compulsively tends to become defensive and angry, in fact identifying the negativity in the relationship as just another reason to escape into the fantasy realm of the game where she/he can experience the sense of respect, control, and the associated dopamine rush of satisfaction that takes place in the game. Denial becomes entrenched. "Problem? I don't have a problem …"
The partner becomes increasingly isolated, hurt, and angry thus establishing the proverbial vicious circle.
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