Welcome To OLG-Anon.
If your spouse or significant other is addicted to video games, chances are you're feeling pretty miserable and alone. Many of us choose to suffer in silence for fear that no-one will understand.
"It's just harmless fun", "he/she needs their downtime" or "it could be worse, at least they aren't out in bars" are phrases you've probably heard from ill-informed friends or from your game-addicted partner themselves.
The truth is, living with a gaming addict can be devastating to the partners and children that live with them, and unlike many other addictions such as alcohol or drugs or gambling, there rarely seems to be a "hangover" or any accompanying remorse. The gamer seems to live "happily" in the game almost perpetually, oblivious to their responsibilities or the welfare of their families who are left to shoulder everything alone. You don't have to go through this by yourself. Help is available.
Is My Partner Really Addicted?
There is a self-evaluation checklist here.
You might identify many of these signs within your partner. You may choose to show them this checklist if they are receptive, however, often the denial associated with addiction will lead them to deny any or all of these signs, or to deflect blame back at you. (This may come as a shock). But after reading it, you should have a reasonable idea of whether or not your partner is addicted.
What You Can Do.
When most of us first come to OLG-Anon seeking help for our game-addicted partner, we are looking for a way to make them stop gaming and become the loving/ responsible person that we fell in love with. Sadly, this isn't something that YOU alone can achieve. Gaming addiction is a powerful addiction like any other and the fact is, the addict has to decide for themselves to quit if they are to have any hope of making a permanent recovery. Threats, arguments and ultimatums may, in some instances, result in a period of abstenance from the game, but most times the addict will eventually return to their previous habits and may resent and blame you for trying to "control" them.
The first thing to understand is what we call the "three c's".
1) You didn't cause it,
2) You can't control it, and
3) You can't cure it.
What you CAN do is stop enabling the gamer, both physically and emotionally. This means refraining from doing anything that makes their life comfortable while they game, such as bringing them meals at the computer, cleaning their mess, washing their clothes, lending them money, covering for them or reminding them of appointments. They need to experience the consequences of their actions.
You can also stop arguing, pleading, yelling, crying or trying to gain their attention, even though these are natural responses to the neglect and loneliness you are probably feeling. Unfortunately, if your partner is in the grip of addiction, their emotional responses are not functioning normally and you are likely to be met with anger, blame or plain indifference. This will only make you feel worse. Furthermore, trying to engage the gamer in these ways sends them the message that they are desperately loved and missed, and that may lead them to assume that their behaviour isn't so bad after all. It gives them a false sense of security. It also provides them with ammunition and an excuse to game more because they may blame you and claim that they "need to escape from your nagging" etc. It's hard to imagine, but "I'm gaming because I need to escape from my nagging husband/wife" is actually a pretty comfortable place to be for a gaming addict.
The best way that we have found to deal with this situation is to detatch as calmly as we can, and begin making attempts to enjoy life without them. I found it helpful to picture myself as a single parent and to imagine my partner as a "lodger" in my home. Plan outings for yourself (and children if you have them) without the gamer. Try to enjoy meals without worrying that their place at the table might be empty. Treat yourself a little, if finances permit. Focus on YOU. Try to pay yourself the attention and love that you are not recieving from your partner. If you have children, try to remember what they tell you on an aircraft. Affix your own oxygen mask first! Treat yourself with kindness and you will be in a much stronger position to care for those that depend on you.
These suggestions might make you feel angry. I know they did when I first came to OLG-Anon. How can it be helpful to just "let them get away with it"? How can I just "be happy alone?" Please understand, this isn't just "accepting" their behaviour. This is teaching yourself and showing the gaming addict that you can do just fine without them, and that their anti-social and neglectful behaviour could result in loneliness and the loss of their loved ones. It's going to be very hard on you.
In many cases, this is an effective way to help your gamer wake up- after a time, they may come to see that perhaps they aren't as indespensible as they thought they were, and that perhaps their irresponsibility and neglect may in fact cost them their relationships or families. These changes do not come about quickly, however, and it can be a long and lonely time for you. You will need support. Seek out friends, engage with family and post your story here on OLG-Anon if you like; there are many gaming widow/widowers here who understand just what you are going through and can support you during this lonely time. After a period of hardship, many of us find these changes liberating and we begin to feel happier whether the gamer continues to game or not. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
If you are finding these changes especially difficult to make, you might be what is known as codependant. Codependance can arise from childhood experiences of neglect or exposure to abuse or addiction, or it can develop after a long time of trying to live harmoniously with an addict. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us at OLG-Anon have identified signs of codependance in ourselves. The good news is, there is a lot of support available and it is possible to recover and become a confident and happy person once more.
Typically, if you are codependant, you focus on the needs of others, particularly the "addict" in the home at the expense of yourself. You might believe that once the addict is "cured", life will be wonderful and so you pour all of your time and energy into trying to "fix" them, whilst neglecting yourself, your friends or family. If you have children, you might find you are not enjoying your time with them because you are so preoccupied with the addict and their behaviour. This can deepen the guilt, self-blame and despair and make you feel much worse. Some of us become so despondant about our situation that we start having self-harming or suicidal thoughts, or turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. Again, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Seek help and consider contacting a suicide help-line in your area if things have become this bad.
If you feel you might be experiencing codependance, there is a lot of help available.
CODA (Codependants Anonymous) have both online and face to face meetings and can help you recover from codependance.
You can find a link to them here: http://www.coda.org/
Alternately, many of us have found help by attending alanon (for families of alcoholics) http://www.al-anon.org/ or nar-anon (for families and friends of substance abusers) http://www.nar-anon.org/naranon/. You do not have to disclose the nature of your partners addiction if you don't feel comfortable and you can just listen at these meetings and gain valuable insights and tools for managing your own recovery. No-one will pressure you. Remember, the fact that gaming addiction isn't known or understood by many people doesn't make it less real. What you are experiencing is VERY real and VERY painful. Society just hasn't caught up to technology yet. Alcoholism has existed for thousands of years. AA was founded in 1935, to give you some perspective.
What To Expect If Your Partner Quits.
If your partner decides to quit gaming, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as irrational anger, depression, anxiety and extreme fatigue or sleeplessness. It's not uncommon for a recovering gamer to spend a lot of time staring at the television. Don't pannick; it's part of recovery.
There is a list of possible withdrawal symptoms here.
During this time, it's important to support your partner and let them know that you are proud of their decision. However, it's also important to keep looking after you. The recovering addict may be feeling very anxious and uncomfortable, and they may try to make you responsible for their recovery. They are very vulnerable at this time and althought it might feel like the storm has passed, they can become more selfish, demanding and rude than ever before. It's just as important to practice loving detatchment during this time as before. Continue to care for yourself, keep going to coda/alanon/naranon meetings if you were previously, and do not allow their recovery to come before your own needs or those of any children you might have. Remember, recovering from gaming addiction is their journey and you cannot influence or control it. They may relapse and if this happens, don't pannick or feel responsible, even if they claim that it is your fault. This is normal. It may be a long time before your partner can relate to you in a normal and unselfish way. Life won't magically get better when they "quit". They have a saying- 12 miles into the forrest, 12 miles out" and that's the basis for recovery. It may take a very long time for the person you loved to appear again, and they may be different when they do.
No matter what happens, look after you. You are not the product of someone else's addiction. You are you, and you deserve to be safe, healthy and happy.
1/24/2015 Updated. Liz W.