Focus on the Family

Q&A: Abuse and Addiction

by Focus on the Family

What should you do if you're in an abusive relationship? Is an addiction causing chaos in your family? Dr. Bill answers questions about dealing with abuse and/or addiction in family relationships.

Dr. Bill Maier is an author, speaker, vice president and Psychologist in Residence at Focus on the Family. He hosts the national "Weekend Magazine" radio program and the "Family Minute with Dr. Bill Maier." He is a frequent guest host for the daily "Focus on the Family" radio program and "Focus on the Family Commentary." He also acts as a media spokesperson for Focus on a variety of family-related issues.


My Spouse Has An Addiction

Help! My husband is addicted to video games, playing for hours on end while neglecting our family.

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

Dear Dr. Bill: My husband and I are Christians and we've been married for a year and half. We're expecting our first child in a few months. I am concerned about his fascination with computer games — especially the ones that involve a lot of battles and war.

Every night when he comes home from work, he goes straight to the computer and will play these games until 1 or 2 a.m. — with a short break for supper. I know men like games like these and that he needs to "unwind" from his workday — but instead of relaxing, he often ends up in a bad mood.

I've tried talking to him about the amount of time he spends gaming but he doesn't seem to care. And I'll admit that I feel cheated since I don't get to spend much time with him during the day. But now that the birth of our child is approaching, I'm getting worried that I and our child will end up being 2nd place to a computer game. I've also prayed about this — but I'm discouraged because his behavior hasn't changed one bit. What do you suggest I do?

Here at Focus on the Family we've begun to receive more and more calls about video game addiction in recent years. It's become a real problem in many families, and obviously it's impacting yours.

Most people consider addiction to be related to substances like drugs or alcohol. But in reality, addiction can consist of anything that becomes such a priority to a person that he or she is willing to neglect friends, family, faith, responsibilities and even their physical health in order to pursue that priority. Electronic games have the potential for this sort of behavioral addiction.

It may sound extreme, but given your description, your husband may require a formal intervention, such as the type used in dealing with an alcoholic. I'd suggest you consult with a licensed Christian counselor in your area, one who has experience in dealing with addictive behavior.

It's likely that the counselor will enlist the help of your pastor or some of your husband's friends or family members. The counselor will coordinate a time when a group of you will sit down with your husband and lovingly confront him about his behavior.

In a best case scenario, your husband will admit he has a problem and be willing to get help for his addiction. But there is also the possibility that he will react defensively and deny that there's anything wrong with his behavior. In that case you'll need to make some tough choices about what to do next. Regardless of what course of action you decide to follow, you'll need the support of friends, family, and your pastor or a caring therapist.

I'd encourage you to contact our counseling department for a referral to a Christian therapist in your area. You can reach them by calling 1-800-A-FAMILY during regular business hours.You also might want to order Dr. Dobson's book Love Must Be Tough, which will provide you with some practical guidance as you deal with your husband's addiction.


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My Spouse Is Abusive

My husband is verbally and physically abusive. What do I do?

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

Dear Dr. Bill: I'm in a torn situation with no idea where to go from here. I am 25 years old and have been married for 5 years to a man who is, overall, great. He's a wonderful provider, buys me anything I want and always wants to see me happy. But I have suffered repeatedly from his verbal and physical abuse. He has an anger problem that he obviously picked up from his father, but he makes excuses and tries to sweep it under the rug. And no matter how nicely I try to talk about it with him, he always becomes very defensive.

My husband has hurt me physically four times. After the third time, I threatened to leave him if he hurt me again. The other day we had a bad argument, and he pushed down on something that bruised my back from the impact. At the time, I truly believed and trusted that he would stop this destructive behavior. And now I don't know what to do. My husband makes excuses and blames me for his problem. I feel hopeless, and I know that I cannot keep living like this. What do you suggest I do?

I'm so sorry to hear about what you've been going through. My advice would be to seek professional help immediately. As difficult as it may be to admit, you are a victim of domestic abuse, and your husband is a chronic abuser.

Without professional intervention, there is a good chance that things will only go downhill from here. Men who have abused their wives in the past are likely to abuse again, and next time you may suffer more serious injuries.

The first thing you need to do is break the silence on this issue. You need to let others know about the abuse. Talk to a female friend whom you trust and let her know what's been going on. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents, I believe it would also be wise to tell them about your husband's abusive behavior.

You also need to have a safety plan in place in the event that your husband threatens to harm you again. At the first sign of anger, leave the house and go a prearranged place where you will be safe. That could be a friend's home or a local women's shelter. It's also a good idea to have some extra clothing and toiletries in the trunk of your car. If your husband threatens you as you leave, call 9-1-1 when you get to the safe place and file a police report.

Find a supportive counselor who can help you develop a plan to confront the abuse and protect yourself. Our counseling department at Focus on the Family can refer you to a licensed Christian therapist in your community who has experience in dealing with domestic abuse.

Depending on your situation, the therapist may recommend a formal "intervention" involving friends, family members and perhaps even your pastor. During this meeting, this group of individuals will back you up you as you confront your husband about his abusive behavior. Tell him that you are not going to allow him to abuse you any more, and insist that he get counseling for his anger problem immediately.

Given his past behavior, it's likely that he will beg for your forgiveness and promise that he will never harm you again. As much as you may be tempted to believe him, don't. Set a deadline for him to start counseling and stick to your guns. Your therapist may even recommend that you separate from him for a while and file a restraining order with your local police department.

Clarissa, it will take a great deal of personal courage to do these things, but they are essential. The most loving thing you can do for your husband is to take action to find help, both for yourself and for him.

To reach the Focus on the Family counseling department, call 1-800-A-FAMILY between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). In addition, I'd recommend you order the book Love Must Be Tough by my colleague, Dr. James Dobson. You can learn more about the book by visiting our online Resource Center.