09/05/2012 04:34 EDT

Spending Addiction: Could This Problem Be Ruining Your Relationship?


By Laura Berman, PhD

When most people think of addiction, they tend to think of drugs or alcohol. However, many people suffer from an addiction to shopping, and although it might sound like a harmless habit, it can do more than just damage your credit score: It can also drive a wedge between you and your partner and forever shatter your trust.

Such is the case for Bridget and Chris. Bridget and Chris are happily married and have a blended family with many children. Due to their big family, things can sometimes get stressful and out of control; and when they do, Bridget turns to online shopping. She feels guilty about her purchases, so she often hides them from Chris. In the past, it got so bad that they almost lost their house when she didn't pay their mortgage for over a year.

To make matters worse, Chris and Bridget have also been feuding over how to raise their children. Chris is easygoing and hates to be hard on his children, while Bridget wants to be stricter with her own kids. Hence, half the kids in the house have a strict upbringing, while the others enjoy a more permissive home life. It all adds up to more stress and arguments, and no one in the family is getting what they want or need.

If this sounds familiar, consider the following tips:

How To Deal With Spending Addiction

Recognize The Problem

Shopping can be an addiction like any other. However, whereas an alcoholic can avoid a bar or a drug addict can avoid fellow users, it's hard for people to avoid shopping, especially online shopping. The computer is sitting there all day and night, ready to be used whenever you desire. It's as if a recovering alcoholic is trying to stay sober while having a stocked bar in the middle of the living room.

Examine Your Behaviour

Many people like to shop, but if you use shopping to help cope with stress, anxiety, or sadness, it could become an unhealthy crutch. If shopping gives you a "high" followed by lows or you feel guilty or ashamed of your purchases, then you need to consider that you have a shopping addiction. Notice what causes you to shop (a bad day at work, a fight with your partner, etc.) and your emotions before and after. Try to avoid triggers that lead you to shop and find healthier ways to cope with your anxiety or stress, such as exercise, yoga, massage, or even just calling a friend.

Seek Out Help

The good news is that there is help available. There are 12-step programs for shopping addicts that can help you gain control over your life and finally let go of the pain of your addiction. You could also consider therapy to help you as you begin this difficult but rewarding chapter in your life.

Communication Is Key

Spending money behind your partner's back does more than just damage your finances, it also damages your trust. Like other types of addiction, shopping addiction leads people to lie to their loved ones and hide their actions, all of which can damage your bond and ruin your trust. Coming clean about your spending won't be easy, but it is the first step on the road to recovery.

Pledge Allegiance To Each Other

Family life isn't always 100 per cent peaceful, and when you are trying to raise a blended family, problems can compound exponentially. This is especially true if Mom and Dad don't see eye-to-eye on how to raise the kids. This can lead to turning to activities you think will make you feel better, such as shopping sprees. To get things under control, it's important to pledge allegiance to your partner and agree to present a united front to your family. It's okay to leave the room and discuss issues with your partner before coming to a decision, but if you are constantly letting the kids play you against each other, you will all lose. They won't have clear boundaries, and you won't have a secure, dependable partnership that you can turn to when times get rough.

Make A List Of Rules That You Can All Agree On As A Family

It can be hard to raise children in the same household if each of the kids has a different set of rules. It's okay if they have different bedtimes, curfews, or other privileges based on their ages and maturity levels, but there should be a set list of rules that the whole family can adhere to: rules about respect, kindness, and consideration that can help everyone feel more loved and secure. Although it might be difficult at first, the reality is that kids need boundaries and consequences, and when they don't have them, they only act out even more.

Remember, at the end of the day, you and your partner have to present a united front and commit to making your relationship a priority. Good luck!

Laura Berman, PhD is a leading sex and relationship educator and therapist, popular TV and radio host, New York Times best-selling author, and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. She is the star of Couples in Crisis, on the Everyday Health Channel, every Thursday at 1 p.m. EST.