What to do when your partner has a shopping addiction
Do you suspect that your partner has a shopping addiction? Worried you're seeing all the signs of a behaviour that's out of control?
If you're not sure, hop over to Part 1 of this series of articles on shopping addiction.
I'll be here when you come back, ready to help you out with practical guidance and advice.
But, I wouldn't be surprised if you've already tried talking to your partner about the problem. Perhaps you've shown them the bills, or explained your worries about the finances, their neglected responsibilities and the state of your relationship.
Or, maybe you've only just discovered the extent of your partner's shopping habits. He/she may have been hiding stuff from you and lying. So now you’re suddenly wondering if they're addicted to shopping.
Whatever your situation, this article is for you. I want you to read it in conjunction with Part 1 and Part 2 of my shopping addiction articles, though. Why? So you can get some good insight into how serious the problem really is. Then you’ll know whether or not you’re over-reacting.
After you’ve read those, pop back here. Together, we’ll deal with the subject of shopping addiction from your point of view.
What your partner may have been telling you
I'm assuming now that you've read the other shopping addiction articles.
And I'm also assuming that your worst fears have been confirmed. In which case, help is at hand :-)
When you first raised the matter with your partner, husband or wife, I expect they were very defensive. Maybe they said something like:
- "Are you accusing me?"
- "Don't be silly."
- "It's all in your mind."
- "You're mean with money."
- "You don't know what you're talking about."
- "Are you saying that I'm lying?"
In other words, they tried to make you feel like you're the one with the problem. Maybe you’ve even thought that yourself for a while. But now you know different.
On the other hand, perhaps your partner was relieved that you finally discovered their secret.
However the scene played out for you, let's see what you can do about it all.
What is the general state of your relationship?
This might sound harsh, but I suspect it's not in a good state. But because of your partner’s compulsive buying, it's probably difficult to work out why your relationship is struggling.
The problems may be general in nature, or may have been caused by your partner's shopping addiction.
However, I suspect that there are several issues at play, probably for both of you. I'll only be focusing on the shopping addiction here. But along the way, you’ll probably discover other elements of your relationship that are in need of some TLC. And if you need more help with your relationship problems in general, you’re on the right site!
Let’s get started by helping your partner to curb their spending habits as soon as possible.
We'll divide the actions you can take into four parts...
Helping your partner overcome their shopping addiction
Here's how I'll cover the steps you can take:
- Have a calm and honest conversation with your partner
- Secure your finances
- Help your partner control their cravings to shop
- Help your partner to re-engage with a life worth living
1. Have a calm and honest conversation with your partner
The two of you need to have a really truthful conversation. This is going to be a tough one, I suspect.
Maybe you've already had a go at making your partner stop shopping, without success. If you’ve shouted and been angry, your partner will have done nothing but defend themselves against the onslaught.
So, some repairs are needed.
Don't worry! I have plenty of resources right here to help you start again. Here are the articles I'd like you to read first of all:
- How to argue fairly
- Signs of emotional abuse (Yes… just in case. I don't know you and I need to include that just in case you're doing something that's counter productive.)
The most important thing to remember now is that your partner doesn't want to be suffering from this addiction either. He or she is really struggling with their own brain's tendency to always want more and better.
Remember, all of us are at risk of falling into an addiction trap. We always want more and better - it’s naturally human. The positive side of that is that the relentless desire for more helps us to advance and achieve. Think how far we’ve come since the days of stone implements, for example.
Right now, your partner need kindness and understanding.
But, they also need firm boundaries!
That is the only way you're going to help them beat their addiction to spending money way above their means.
Back to that conversation - here's what to do...
Show that you care and be reassuring
Say things like:
- "I've read up on this, and I have gained some insight into how much you must have been struggling."
- "Of course I feel angry/disappointed/hurt/betrayed" (they do need to know how you feel)
- "Know that I'm not judging you. Let's get to the truth now."
Get the full story
Listen, listen, listen. Repeat in your own words to make sure that you've understood as much as you can. This will help your partner understand themselves better too, and to feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve really heard them.
Say things like:
- "Can you help me understand better what's going on for you?"
- "I'm not sure I understand. Can you say a little more about that?"
- "Have I understood correctly? Do you mean…..?"
Challenge them if necessary
Calmly say things like:
- "That doesn't tally with what I see in the bank balance/bills/house, etc"
- "I need you to be honest because that's the only way I can really help you"
- "I can’t trust that that's going to work right now. Let's look at a different way to approach this."
Agree on the action steps
Here's how you can move the conversation on...
- "What do you suggest would be the best way forward from your point of view?"
- "How can I best help you?"
- "I'd like us to agree on how we're going to deal with the finances/chores/etc."
- "Here's what I'd like to see happening."
- "Here's what I need you to be doing so that I feel more secure."
Of course, one of the first things you’ll need to do together is look at the finances...
2. Secure your finances
You'll need to consider what you can do to ensure that your partner can only purchase essentials. It would be easy for this to cause a major row.
Be sure, therefore, to first ask your partner how they'd like to tackle this. That's how you'll give them at least some control over the situation. It will avoid triggering their defences to such an extent that they're going to dig in their heels. A sense of control is a very basic but essential human need (more on that later).
Here are some action steps to consider:
- Make limited funds available, ideally in cash
- Contact the credit card companies and the bank to explain the difficulties
- Cut up unnecessary cards
- Contact a debt agency if necessary
- Consider having one bank account for all the regular bills and have them paid by direct debit
3. Help your partner to control their cravings
If you've read Part 2: The best shopping addiction treatments, you already know a little about what he or she can do to deal with the craving to buy.
Know that it is a very powerful drive that must be overcome. Be very careful not to add to the burden of guilt and shame your partner is likely to already feel. That would undermine their trust in you and derail their recovery.
Make it possible for your partner to come to you and confess (if they need to), so that you can work together on the problem. That way, you can help him/her find strategies that will work for them. And you'll have a better chance of keeping the channels open for honest communication.
How do you do that?
Be sure to remain calm and understanding, remembering that they didn’t ask to be in this situation either. However, you do need to say how you feel about it and what the consequences are. Not only for your sake, but also for theirs. They need to be confronted with the hard reality of their shopping addiction’s impact. They need to stop the white lies they tell themselves in order to justify their next purchase.
4. Help your partner re-engage with a life worth living
That means helping your partner to heal.
This is also how you're going to be healed as well. I doubt that your needs have been fully met for a long time.
Restoring the balance
As I mentioned earlier, having a sense of control is an essential human need. You're both feeling pretty much out of control now - for different reasons. So, creating some order in your finances, home and social life will help you both to feel a little calmer and in control.
The balance of power in your relationship is awry right now, for good reasons. Therefore, I'd like you to make a particular effort to recognise the healthy aspects of your partner. Think about the things you used to like about them. What were they good at? What did you value about them? Consider if the two of you can undertake something enjoyable together that will help those talents shine.
I know that’s making it all about them again, isn’t it? However, restoring a sense of balance in your relationship will help it heal which in turn will help both you and your partner.
Fun, friendship and laughter
I suspect these things have completely disappeared from your relationship. Money's likely to be a problem, so going out may not be on the cards for you for some time. You can, however, have a midnight picnic in the park or make breakfast stark-naked. I know, that might not be for you. All I’m trying to do is show that you can be creative together when you’re coming up with things to do that you’ll both enjoy and benefit from.
Giving and receiving attention
This is a hugely important essential emotional need! Just like the other human givens, you were born with that need. To neglect it means you’re neglecting your overall well-being.
Consider now how much attention you give your mobile and compare it with how much your partner is getting, and vice versa.
I'd like you both to talk about this subject and together come up with ways to reverse the trend. You are each far more important and have a much greater impact on your lives than your mobile phones do!
Getting professional help
Your partner may need professional help. You can really support them by encouraging them to go for it. You could start by sharing the link to Part 1 of this article, for example. Later, you can help them find appropriate services (see Part 2).
Ultimately, seeking help will have to be their own autonomous decision. As a professional therapist, I’ve generally found that people won’t be motivated enough to really engage with therapy if they’re only there because they’ve been told to go.
However, one option is to suggest that you'd like to talk about going for couple counselling. That way, your partner doesn’t have to feel like they’re in it alone. By going with them, you’ll have made a mutual decision to get some professional help. You can connect with a couples therapist online or you can enquire locally. Face-to-face therapy can be very expensive, though, to some extent depending on where you live. Online therapy is a much more affordable and accessible option. For further information, see my article on getting online professional counselling.
Being in a relationship with an addict of any kind can feel very lonely. So be sure to take your own needs into consideration too. Unless you’re healthy and strong, you won’t be able to offer your partner the support they need to get through this. When you can, invest your energy in the things that bring you happiness or that feel restorative to you.
There is much you can do to help and support your partner. But remember that you can’t cure them of their shopping addiction, as much as you might wish to.
Instead, walk beside them as they travel the road to recovery. Be patient, and together work towards the brighter future you both deserve :-)
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