Addiction in all its forms has powerfully impacted so many of our lives. In this episode, I interview Dr. Rob Weiss, the world-renowned expert on addiction and love. If you’ve ever struggled with issues of addiction in the lives of the people you love–or even in your own life–then I truly encourage you not to miss this episode.
Table of Contents
- Being In A Relationship With An Active Addict
- Sex Addiction: Do You Have One?
- Being In A Relationship With A Porn Addict
- Codependence Versus Prodependence
- The Next Steps
Addiction And Love: An Interview With Rob Weiss, Ph.D.
A Compassionate New Understanding
If you have questions or concerns about addiction of all sorts and its impact on you, your family, and your relationship, this is an interview you shouldn’t miss. Today, I talked to Dr. Rob Weiss, a world-renowned expert on addiction and relationships, and what he has to say simply should not be missed. Stay tuned to this episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page and I’m a psychotherapist. I’m the author of the book Deeper Dating and the Cofounder of DeeperDating.com, a new platform for people to meet in a way that is kind, respectful and based on the real principles of deeper intimacy that I speak about on this podcast. I’m so excited today because I’m going to be interviewing my good friend, Dr. Rob Weiss, who is a globally renowned expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions. We’re going to be speaking about addiction and how that impacts our relationship lives, our lives as a whole, and how we can address issues of addiction in our relationships. This week and every week, I’m going to share with you the greatest tools that I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing, and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of intimacy, which are the greatest skills of all for a happy, meaningful life.
If you want to learn more about the deeper dating path to real intimacy, just go to DeeperDatingPodcast.com. You can sign up for my mailing list and receive some free gifts and learn more about using these ideas to transform your own intimacy journey. I also want to say that everything I share and that Rob shares in this podcast is educational in nature. It’s not medical or psychiatric advice. Finally, if you like what you’re hearing and learning here, it would be wonderful if you could subscribe and leave me a review. Thank you so much for that and let’s dive in.
Let me tell you a little bit about Rob and the work that he does. Dr. Weiss is the Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity Treatment Centers, working with sex, porn, and drug-addicted men. He’s an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex, porn, and relationship addictions. He’s a 25-year addiction specialist and a clinical sexologist, and a practicing psychotherapist. He’s created intimacy-focused clinical treatment programs in the United States, around the world, and for the US military.
He’s also a subject matter expert for major media, including CNN, The New York Times, and Newsweek, among others. He is the author of ten books, among which are Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse and Cruise Control among others. He’s also a weekly writer for Psychology Today. His blog Love and Sex in the Digital Age has had over eighteen million readers to date. His wonderful podcast, which I’m excited that I’m going to be appearing on or maybe by this point, will have appeared on already, which is Sex, Love, & Addiction, was rated as a Top 10 US addiction podcast with over 550,000 downloads since 2019. It’s deeply impressive. When we speak, you will have a much richer understanding of why that is. Rob, I’m so glad to have you on the show.
Hey, Ken. I’m glad to be here.
Rob, I think that this is such an important subject, and it’s not one that we have covered much in detail in this podcast. Although I do speak about the issues that come up when we are in a relationship with someone who has an active addiction or if we do ourselves. I would love to just hear your general thoughts for this audience, for anybody who is struggling with being in a relationship where there is some form of addiction. Either their partner, they have a sense that their partner has some form of addiction or that they sensed that they do, and are troubled and trying to figure out what to do next. Very globally, if you could just share some thoughts to help us dive in.
I think you are starting with loved ones, partners, family members. When you have someone in your life who’s addicted, you understand that addicts are very clever, especially when it comes to doing everything they can to be secretive and hide their addiction. Ken, we were talking about this earlier, and I actually think that it is very hard for someone close to a loved one to know that there’s an addiction until they run straight into it. If you see the heroin, if you find the bottles hidden all over the house, if you see all the bills for the sex workers and the porn, then you’ve got some information that tells you, “Wow. There’s a lot more going on here than maybe I thought about, or maybe at least we need to talk about it.” Addicts tend to live in a very secret world that is separate from their day-to-day life.
I think the things you would most see are things like they lose time. They say they’re going somewhere and they’re not there. They tell you they’re going to be home at a certain time, then when they’re not, they say, “Well, I never said that time.” They lie. They manipulate the beliefs of those close to them to feel like they’re wrong. In other words, this is frog in the boiling water metaphor. I think that’s a lot of families and spouses of addicts where things start out not so great, and then they get worse and worse and worse, but the person becomes adapted to it. It’s almost easier for the neighbor to see that your husband is a drunk than it is for you sometimes.
You are articulating one particular quality here as well, which is dishonesty, a lack of integrity. Would you say that’s true?
This is why I named my treatment program, Seeking Integrity. Integrity comes from the word integration. Integration is to be one person without secrets, without surprises. To be an addict is to be disintegrated, that you have different parts of your life in different places and they never meet. I think the secret life of an addict is often well hidden. Sometimes it can be your next-door neighbor who sees that your husband is a drunk before you do, because partners are often in kind of a frog in the boiling water situation where things are getting worse and worse and worse, but they’re used to it, and they’re used to it, and they’re used to it, and sometimes they don’t see the problem in front of them.
It’s so easy to want to believe your partner. Just believe them even though something doesn’t feel right. It’s so easy to make that choice even though it may not be the wisest choice, and with addicts, that happens a lot.
To be an addict is to be disintegrated; you have different parts of your life in different places, and they never meet.CLICK TO TWEETKen, you have to think about the fact that we all want to believe that those closest to us have our back, that their primary thing in the world when they go out there is to do whatever they need to do, but to not do anything that will hurt us, that will let us down or that they know would cause harm to our families. That’s what addicts do routinely. They do things all the time that are going to hurt their families, hurt their loved ones, hurt themselves, and they don’t talk about it. It’s kept a secret. It really isn’t found out until the partner runs into some major issue.
Rob, what would you say about someone who’s in a relationship? They don’t necessarily know that there is an addiction issue. They don’t have kind of palpable proof of that, but they see a pattern of dishonesty, and that they know, that they recognize.
I think you trust your gut. Every partner I’ve ever worked with and family members said, “There’s something not right. They seem disconnected. They seem to be in places where they didn’t say they were going to be. I’m hearing hints that they left work earlier.” You just get bits and pieces. I think, for people close to the addict, they feel the sense that something is not right, and they feel little pieces of it in different areas, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.
One thing I wanted to say to you, Ken, is that when we love somebody, we don’t ever want to think badly of them. We will work hard to not think badly of the people we love because they’re the ones who are closest to us. I think of the mom who’s, God forbid, her kid killed five people. They say to the mom, “Hey mom, we’re really sorry to say but your kid did this.” The first thing mom says is, “Not my kid. There’s no way. He would never do anything like that. He’s a good kid.” That’s because when you’re close to someone, you don’t want to and can’t see some of what’s going on, but I’ll tell you what. Your next-door neighbor is going to see it when you can’t.
Rob, let’s talk about sex addiction some here. Let’s talk about people who are listening to the show, who are wondering, “Might I have some sex addiction or porn addiction? I do feel like I watch porn too much. I do feel like I lose time doing that, but it doesn’t really get in the way of my life in any really big ways. It concerns me. I don’t know how it’s going to affect my sex life with my partner or my dating life. I just don’t know. I feel a little funny about it, but I’m not sure how to evaluate it.” I would just love to hear any of your thoughts about how to evaluate when something is sex addiction or porn addiction. What are the different levels of harm? How should we evaluate that in our own lives for everyone who’s wondering?
I think in terms of addiction in general, what you said was really useful. You said, “I don’t know if I have a problem. I can’t see whether it’s really affecting my life or not.” The thing is, when you are an addict or you’re someone who is hiding things from others, you’re also hiding things from yourself. Work might diminish a little bit. Your relationship might diminish a little bit, your time with your kids, whatever it is. You may not see it as like you said, “I don’t know whether I’m an addict or not because my life hasn’t completely fallen apart.” Well, it may be falling apart in a whole bunch of ways that you don’t see or you don’t want to see, but someone else might step in and say, “You know what? I’m concerned about this.”
I guess that might be the first thing is have people show concern about your sexual behavior, your romantic behavior, you’re drinking, you’re using. Have other people said, “Gee, I’m a little worried about this and you don’t pay any attention?” Have you found yourself saying, “I’m going to stop looking at this porn. It’s in the way,” or “I’m going to stop drinking,” or whatever it is and then found that, “Gosh, darn it,” a week later, you were back at it again? Even though you make promises to yourself and you made them to other people, you couldn’t keep them. That’s a really big sign of addiction.
Another one is consequences. “I’m going to have somebody at work find out. I’m going to have an arrest. I’m going to have a DUI. I’m going to get a disease.” Despite that, “I’m just going to fix the little problem that that caused and go back to the behavior.” I mean healthy people say, “Wow. Look what that behavior caused. I’m not going to do that again.” Addicts say, “How can I keep doing that thing without it becoming more of a problem?”
That’s beautiful and a really important point. Specifically, now let’s just talk about porn addiction. What are the markers that you have crossed over? In addition to the one that you just said that you’ve crossed over to a place where harm is happening, and what is the harm that happens in a relationship where one of the partners has a porn addiction?
Let me say a couple of things. Before you get to partners, let’s talk about how it affects the individual. A couple of things, there are different kinds of people who have porn problems. To be really honest, I don’t use the word porn addict because we don’t really have a diagnosis called that. We don’t really have research that speaks to who is a porn addict and who isn’t. This is part of the problem, Ken, is that people can have all kinds of problems related to porn. For example, they can become isolated and not go out in the world and not be socializing and not be dating. For some men, they can lose their ability to have erections. They can lose their ability and interest in being sexual with other adult human beings.
You are as strong today as your connections and relationships, not just your ability to succeed.CLICK TO TWEETPorn abuse, if you will, can affect your life in a whole variety of ways, but they basically have to do with you don’t show up for your life because you’re too busy spending hours and hours at home with your porn or wherever you are. I think there’s something else too. That problems with porn, a couple of things, it’s easier to use that word, they can come from various things. Someone might have a mental health disorder and they’re manic. They’re going to be crazy around porn. Someone might have ADD or OCD, other mental health issues that involve the same part of the brain as compulsivity and impulsivity. They may think they have an addiction, but it might more be a mental health problem.
There are many places that this problem we call porn addiction can come from, but people need different kinds of help.
For example, there’s a young person who started looking porn when they were 9 or 11. They looked at it all the way through high school. Now they’ve gotten through it and they haven’t built social relationships. They’re not dating, and they’ve gotten further and further away from having a life because of the porn, but maybe when they were younger, when they were 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, they had a life. Their life is diminished because of the porn. There are others who really have an addiction problem related to sex and it isn’t just porn. They’re also engaged in sex workers and cam people online, and they’re going on apps. They have more broad problems with porn. There are even folks who, let’s say, have strong moral or religious objections to porn, but they can’t help but look at it.
They hate themselves even if they look a few times because they feel it’s so against their values and beliefs. Some of those people call themselves addicts simply because their sexual behavior goes against their values and beliefs. There is no one thing I would call a porn addict, but it certainly comes down to the time you spend, the reduction of your intimacy in your relationships, the isolation. I’ve got to say that of all the people I work with sexual problems, porn addicts are the most ashamed. They are the most embarrassed, the men in particular, because who wants to be that guy who’s sitting around by yourself masturbating to porn and not having relationships, not being sexual with people, being isolated with the porn? Nobody wants to be that guy or gal.
Or being in a relationship and knowing it’s creating a wall between you and your partner.It’s interesting, Ken. I’ve worked with recently a whole bunch of people who have had porn problems often into their relationships. They come to treatment at Seeking Integrity and they are 45, and they have been lying about their porn use to their spouses for twenty years. Their spouse may have caught a little. They saw it. The person promised, “I won’t look at it as much,” or “It’s no big deal,” or whatever they said, but slowly, the intimacy went out of the relationship. Slowly, they became less and less sexual. Slowly, he or she couldn’t figure out where their partner is disappearing to. When in fact, they’re losing them to porn use or any addiction that happens to be going on.
Now let’s talk about people who are aware that their partner has a porn addiction, a little guidance about what to do, how to handle that, how to address it.
I think with every addict, you have to be direct and talk about what’s true for you. One of the things that I think partners and family members are often fearful of is, “Oh my goodness. If I confront this person, if I challenge this person, if I really get upset about this, maybe they’ll use more. Maybe they’ll look at more porn.” In other words, “Maybe I will be the cause of the problem by challenging them.” The truth is and it’s something that I want everyone out there to hear is that no partner, no family member, no friend can ever be responsible for someone else’s using or sexual acting out or gambling or whatever the problem is. “You can make me miserable. You can hate me. You can make my life a living hell, and I can go play cards. I can divorce you. I can go get therapy. My choice to drink or use or sex or gamble or whatever it is when I am upset, that’s my choice.”
What partners often run into is they are doubting themselves. They’re wondering what they’re doing wrong. Partners often turn on themselves, families too. They say, “What’s wrong with me that this person is doing this? Is there something I can do to make it different?” When, in fact, it really is the person with a problem who is the only person who can come up with the motivation to make it different. Partners and family members can confront. They can tell their truth. They can express their concerns. They can show their concerns but ultimately, it’s up to that family member to decide, “What do I do with this addict in my life, and how do I want to live my life with this person in it?”
There’s so much in what you said just now. I think one piece of it is that terrible kind of tyranny that emotional blackmail of, “If I change, this person will be better. If I don’t get angry, if I do this or don’t do that, this person will behave differently.” Addicts absolutely love to put those exact forms of blame on their partners, which makes it really hard. That brings us to the area of codependency. There’s so much talk about codependency, so much speaking about codependency. In your book about prodependency, you’ve developed a whole different set of theories. I’d love to hear about those theories and how they relate to anybody who’s in a relationship with someone who might have an addiction.
The problem with an addict is that you’re giving and loving into an empty well.CLICK TO TWEETAs you know and as you mentioned, Ken, I’ve worked in addictions and been licensed for over 25 years. I’ve worked in so many treatment centers and so many environments and set them up and created them. One of the constant concerns that I hear from family members is, “I don’t feel like I fit this model. I don’t think I did anything wrong that caused this person to have their addiction. I don’t think there’s anything I could do to make them.” In other words, they’re getting a sense I think in relations to shifts in our culture that the person with the problem is the person who is responsible, and the people around them are reacting to the problem. Codependency says, “What’s wrong with me for getting involved with this person? Am I just playing out all my own trauma and staying with them my past issues? Am I enabling this person in whatever they’re doing because I’m not doing whatever I should be doing? Could I cause it?”
Codependency asks us to look at our history, our family experiences and say, “What’s wrong with me that I ended up with this person who’s an addict, that I stayed with this person who’s an addict? If I were to make that choice again after lots of therapy and trauma work, would I choose this person?” I just think why in the world would you want to make somebody in a relationship who’s tried so hard to maybe get this person sober or to stop their behavior or to live with it? All of a sudden, you’re going to turn around to this person when they’ve done everything they can to make it better. Instead of saying to them, “Good for you for hanging in there. Wow. I’m really impressed.” Anyone who’s willing to love such a troubled person is my hero.
Ken, if someone had cancer, my partner had cancer, and I was dealing with that and working three jobs and giving up my life, you would bring me casseroles, but if for some reason my partner is an addict, and I’m giving up my jobs and not recreating, doing everything I can to save my family, you have nasty names for me like codependent. I just think that is number one, it doesn’t mirror where we are in the therapy world today, which is much more about attachment and connections. I am as strong today as my connections and my relationships, not just my ability to succeed. Partnerships and healthy partnership, as you know, as you talk about in Deeper Dating, is what it’s all about. Why would we tell people there’s something wrong with partnering with this person? There’s something wrong with staying with this person, and that if you don’t fix yourself, you’re going to end up with another person like that.
None of that seems productive to me to helping a family heal because what it does to people who have done nothing in my belief, but try to love the person who is troubled and ill in their family, who’s tried to do their absolute best to heal them. By the way, most people don’t go to school to learn how to work with addictions. If they marry an addict, they don’t know how to help. They might bring the battles home. They don’t know how. They’re just doing the best they can. For us to turn to them and say, “Gee, I understand you didn’t want to lose your loved one. You did everything you can, but it’s really about what’s wrong with you,” to me, it is counterintuitive. By the way, family members don’t like it.
There is a new way of looking at this, and it has to do with taking a step back and saying, “What if there’s nothing wrong with the people who love an addict? What if there’s nothing wrong with people who love someone who’s mentally ill? What if they simply got involved with someone they loved and adored and appreciated, then that person got sicker and sicker, and they didn’t know how to help, they did everything they could to make the situation better, but addicts are only ready when they’re ready?”
When the person finally goes to get help, what I believe under Prodependence is that people need validation and support for everything they’ve given and everything they’ve done. I would never pick apart someone who’s in a crisis. I would never diagnose someone who’s in a crisis, not as codependent or as anything. By the way, let me just say this before I stop my rant, codependency despite the 370 pop culture books that have been written about, it has never been validated in our research. Codependency does not exist in any of our diagnoses. I can’t bill insurance for it.
It’s been 35 years, and we don’t have the research. We don’t have a diagnosis. There are 370 books written about it. Which is the right one? Because we have no diagnosis. We have no criteria for codependency. As far as I’m concerned, it is a pop-culture notion that arose in the 1980s and became hugely encouraging to women to become more independent of men because that’s what the whole thing was about in the 1980s is women becoming more independent. The reality is that that is not interdependence. It’s anti-dependence. We want to encourage people to be dependent on each other, to be intimate with each other, to know that that person’s got my back. I think, Ken, we also need to know that we need other people to survive, especially that one person who we lean into, and don’t tell me there’s ever anything wrong with me loving the people that I love.
That was amazing and powerful. I got a bunch of thoughts and questions about that. First of all, I just want to acknowledge your compassion, and this very key point, which is something that I also talk about a lot in relation to codependency, is that there is a Core Gift there, which is a gift of generosity and loyalty. The people who are called codependent are the most generous and loyal people that you could find, often, yes, to their detriment, but to miss that gift at the center of all of this is to miss the most important part of all. That love and generosity of spirit and loyalty, which probably needs help to mature and get legs and stand up and honor itself, but the first step wouldn’t be beating someone down and pathologizing them. It would be acknowledging this primal gift of generosity and loyalty. I love what you’re saying.
You said, Ken, that sometimes partners, family members love and are generous to their own detriment. What I would say about that is they don’t know. They’re just doing the best they can, and they’re giving and giving and giving and loving and loving. The problem is that with an addict, you’re giving and loving into an empty well. There’s nothing there for it. There’s no resonance. People start to blame themselves because their love, their attention, and their affection isn’t healing the person they love, when all along, their love and affection could have never healed that person. They have an emotional problem called addiction.
I love what you’re saying. I love the compassion inherent in what you’re saying. What it makes me want to ask next is, so people who identify with these concepts that have been called codependency, where you give up yourself for another person, where you throw yourself in front of the tracks to save another person, but they still do the same thing again and again, the dishonoring of self that can go with it, all of the pieces that go with a situation where you don’t honor the other person’s adult right of choice. There are so many pieces. I don’t even know how to begin to articulate it, but whatever it is, all of those different parts of the constellation. What would you say to someone who recognizes some of those things in themselves after they’ve acknowledged how hard they’re trying, how much they care? Once they acknowledge that, what are the next steps to be able to continue growing?
Relationships fail, even bad ones.CLICK TO TWEETI think they need to get help. If I have a problem and I can’t solve it, if I can’t fix the leak under my sink, I’m not going to say, “Well, maybe if I try tomorrow, I’m going to get somebody to help me.” If you can’t solve the problem of addiction or mental health in someone you love, and you’ve done your very best, I guess you need help. I never say to somebody, “You shouldn’t have done this. You shouldn’t have done that,” in the process of helping someone who’s an addict. I will say, “You did your very best. Unfortunately, you didn’t study addiction healing in high school, and you don’t know how to heal your partner, despite all the energy, but if we do it together, I bet I’ll have a lot of solutions and ideas that will be able to help both of us get where you want that person to go.”
Rather than asking the partner to examine themselves and look at themselves, what if they just get help? By the way, the issue for partners and loved ones is they lose self-care. We say, “Well, that’s pathology. Why do they stop taking care of themselves?” The answer is because they love somebody. That person is failing. Every one of us who love, deeply love a family member, a sister, a brother, a child, we would absolutely give up ourselves if we’re healthy to help support them. That’s what love is. That’s what family independency is. Why would we, as under codependency, ever blame someone?
Back to self-care, I do think that once I or someone is helping or a professional is helping someone deal with the addiction problem, part of dealing with that is saying to the person, “You might take a night off. Maybe you should get someone to hang out at your house so that your spouse doesn’t go out driving and drinking. You can take a yoga class.” In other words, we slowly weave in the idea that the person who loves the troubled person needs to begin to refocus on themselves, not at the detriment of the relationship, not saying, “I have to leave or pull back from the relationship, but I have to take better care of myself as any caregiver of someone who’s medically sick would have to do.”
Beautiful. I think this thing of getting help is so hugely important, and that help needs to include a community of support in some way. A therapist is wonderful and important once a week or maybe twice a week, and that kind of community of people that you can reach out to is also a really huge thing. Just to share a story of mine, a personal story, I was dating somebody with who I was cataclysmically in love with. It was a complete revelation.
That’s not the right word for love. That’s not supposed to be the right word for love.
It wasn’t a kind of really healthy love at all. In the slightest, it was what I call an attraction of deprivation, but it was one that cracked me open and changed my life because it was such a revelation in so many ways. There were really good parts to what I learned. Anyway, the relationship ended, and the pain that I experienced was so intense. I mean, I felt like I literally could not catch my breath. Somebody recommended that I went to a Codependence Anonymous meeting. I remember going to that meeting, and it provided me with a completely different angle on things because it asked me to look at the ways in which I gave up on myself, focusing on getting this person to love me.
I literally had the experience of oxygen coming back into my being. Somehow my being was allowed to breathe again with that insight. Those meetings were amazingly helpful for me and really important. In this whole arena of addiction, I just want to acknowledge and make space for twelve-step work, which as a psychotherapist and as someone who’s had a lot of addiction in my family, I have seen heal so many lives in addition.
I will tell you that all over the world, people are starting Prodependence Anonymous meetings because they want to be in rooms where the fact that they gave and loved and gave of themselves is considered a gift and not a fault. Ken, even in your situation, what you described is not what I would call love. I would disagree with this. You said, “We love the person so that we are loved.” I think we love people because we love them. Whether that man was available to you or not, you loved him and you wanted to have a relationship, and you might have been more available than this other person was. Maybe the choices that you made and you’re attempting to get something from a stone really is about you, but the fact that you might have cared for this person, that you might have been needful, that you might have hoped they would meet your dreams, I think that’s human.
I also think our relationships fail, even bad ones. We grieve them. We’re sad. We miss them. Even the abusive people we miss, because they’re our most recent experience of deep and meaningful attachment, even if they hurt us. I understand how codependency can bring a different light to people over time, but I’m interested in the first six months or the first year when someone is finally looking at their partner’s addiction, or that partner finally gets sober, or they’ve left that partner. I’m interested when they’re in a crisis around addiction, how do we treat them? What do we call them? Because people who are wanting personal growth, I think as you described, they can read books, they can go to therapy, they can go to twelve-step meetings, and they can grow if they wish.
I believe people who are involved with an addict just want to get back where they were. They just want things to be okay again. I actually think that to impose personal growth on people is abusive because most people just want to get back to the way it was. Who said it was my job to make them more functional, better people? If people seek that, that’s great, but if all they’re seeking is to tolerate, get past, live with and hopefully, heal someone’s addiction so that they can begin to heal themselves, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them at all.
Intimacy is created when you take the risk of revealing yourself to others.CLICK TO TWEETYou’ll like this. I wrote a chapter in Prodependence called 2s Don’t Marry 7s. What that means is if you’re emotionally a 2, you’re going to look at a 7 or an 8 emotionally. You’re going to say, and I hear this all the time, “They’re so boring. I don’t want to date someone that boring,” but they’re the healthy person. Then if you’re a 2 or 3, that 8 or 9, that healthy person looks at you and says, “Oh my God, too much drama. I don’t want to date that person.” I actually do believe that people of a similar emotional level with similar emotional issues, will be drawn together. I think that’s a good thing provided both members of the relationship are working on themselves. They’re going to twelve-step meetings. They have self-awareness. They’re in therapy.
I can date or be in a relationship with anyone. I can love anyone as long as they are willing to be accountable for their part of the relationship. I can love an addict. I can love a troubled person as long as they keep their side of the street clean and can own their part. I can only not be in a relationship with someone who makes me wrong all the time for bringing things up, for talking about things, for asking things to get better. Troubled people, I think actually two 2s together or two 3s together have the possibility of becoming a 5 together. This idea that codependency has that we need to separate and distance and not be in a relationship in order to heal, I just don’t agree with or believe in.
We might have some different beliefs about that, but as you know I don’t believe in codependency. I think that’s a cruel name for people who deeply love, and are now being blamed for the love that they have given. You can say that someone loved the wrong person. You can say that someone loved someone who couldn’t give love back. You can say that somebody loved into a situation which is only going to cause them harm. You can say that you can love people who will never love you back, but the love itself, and the giving itself, and the choosing, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that the person you choose has not gotten past some of their troubles or isn’t willing to look at themselves, then the couple won’t grow, but if both members of the couple are willing to grow, I believe that individuals can grow faster in coupleship than they do as individuals, but that’s me.
I think we certainly agree on a few of those points and including the major ones, but I think that there are very few 2s I feel like if you are a 2 or a 3 using this construct who can take responsibility for yourself, and not blame the other person, and be willing to and want to grow, then you wait no 2. You are like a 6 or above because that is a treasured quality. It’s a huge quality. It demands a huge amount of integrity. I think that there’s some line where if both parties are willing to do the work, even if deeply imperfectly, I agree. I think that’s a glorious thing, but I think that that takes a certain level of self-acknowledgment. I don’t think that happens easily with an addict who is active, for example.
Right, but I would never get in a relationship with an active addict until they were sober and looking at themselves.
I agree with that.
This is the wisdom of the partners looking for love. I would say this constantly, “Go find a broken person. Great, but make sure they’re working on themselves. Make sure they have a language for it.” You’re going to find a broken person anyway because you’re broken, and you’re going to find somebody at your same level of functioning. Find someone who really works for you, but make sure that they’re already sober. Make sure they’re already working on themselves. In that way, you can grow together.
That’s a huge point. I really agree with this. The choice not to enter into a relationship with someone who has an active addiction is an essential choice. This is something that I say all the time is that if you or your prospective partner has an untreated, unstabilized, serious-psychiatric disorder or an active addiction, it’s better not to commit to the relationship until those things have been really significantly addressed. I think that’s also a really, really important thing. You said, Rob, that there are Prodependence Anonymous groups. That’s very exciting using the twelve-step model but applying it to these concepts.
Yes, but we would never use the word prodependency because it’s not a pathology. It’s not a name. It’s not a label. It’s a concept, which says the troubled people who love other troubled people, who are both on a journey of healing are better off together than they are separate. Codependency in my belief system broke up a lot of good marriages that could have been saved in the ‘90s, had people been redirected back to their relationships instead of simply asked to self-actualize for themselves.
I deeply agree with that. Harville Hendrix’s work really turned my head around when he talked about there’s a certain point in a relationship where your partner cannot give you the thing you most need, but that’s not the point to end the relationship. That’s the beginning of doing the work of deeper love. This blew my mind when I heard it. I do remember in those Codependence Anonymous meetings. There was a thing. It would make me laugh that somebody would say, “I just broke up with my partner,” and people would clap. It was like a kind of general thing that people would do. For a lot of assumptions that were under there, “I just broke up with my partner who wasn’t treating me right, etc.,” but the fact that that kind of separation was the way to go instead of in it and through it, assuming the kind of qualities of integrity that we keep talking about as being so central.
Let’s not forget, Ken, that not everyone has those qualities if they are an active addict. It doesn’t mean that they are not present. In other words, I might as a heroin addict spend my kids’ college fund to get some drugs, but sober, I might work 3 or 4 jobs and take no time for myself to pay that fund back. Many addicts have very intact moral and ethical belief systems. It’s just that they’re obliterated by the addiction.
Yes. It’s so deeply true. Rob, anything you want to share in closing about codependency, about prodependence, about being in a relationship with an addict, about exploring whether or not you might have an addiction? Any closing thoughts you want to share?
I want to say to you, Ken, that I love that you’re doing Deeper Dating. I love that you’re helping people find their true selves and be able to reveal them as fully as they can to the people they love because that is how intimacy is created. It’s the revealing of oneself to others and taking that risk. First, I have to say kudos to you for the work you’re doing. I think it’s much needed, especially with single people, because I hear them struggle. I hear, “What is the relationship? How do you find a relationship? What is intimacy? What is love?” We’ve all struggled, but especially in this digital era, I think it’s really a struggle. Kudos to you for doing it.
Thank you. Kudos to you for bringing kindness, humanity, compassion, and clinical clarity to this entire concept of prodependence versus an approach to codependency which really can limit us and devalue us at the same time. Rob, thank you so much for all that. How can people get in touch with you and learn more about your work?
I’m in lots of places. If you want to hear the podcast, as you said, it’s very, very popular. We’ve had Harville Hendrix and Sue Johnson and a whole bunch of really famous therapists on there, and that is Sex, Love, & Addiction. You can read my blog on Psychology Today, Sex and Love in the Digital Age, or you can drop me a note at our treatment program because I’m [email protected]. Our treatment program, which is for men with sex, intimacy, and drug disorders because sometimes they cross and they’re co-related, is SeekingIntegrity.com. Thank you again for having me.
Thank you so much, Rob. It’s always a joy to speak with you. We will continue our conversations. Thank you, everybody, for listening to this episode, and we look forward to seeing you on the next one. Thanks.