She Said, He Said: Question his feelings and needs, not his pot use
September 3, 2018
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My husband and I met in college and have been together for 13 years. When we started dating we were both proud dirtbaggers, spending as much time as possible climbing and biking, and smoking our share of pot. Over the last half of our relationship, I've mostly left it behind, and really love the life we're building together. We still get outside at every opportunity, I have a great job, we have a nice home, and I'm ready to have kids. I'm worried because my husband still smokes pot almost everyday. He also has a good job, and says smoking is how he likes to unwind. He tells me he's not addicted, but also won't go more than a day or two without it, even though I've asked him to. I've noticed since I've cut back, how checked out he really is when he's high, and worry what it will be like when we have kids if he keeps smoking this much. Should I be concerned about his use?
Lori and Jeff: There's a big misconception in Colorado that because pot is legal, and some have even argued non-addictive, it's not problematic. The truth is any substance or activity can be unhealthy and create challenges when done excessively or to numb emotional discomfort — even eating and exercise. So marijuana use in itself (by an adult) is not problematic; it's the "why" that needs to be explored.
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Recreational use of substances is based on a premise of having fun and/or being social. Substance use becomes unhealthy when it's utilized to address a deeper purpose — including taking the edge off, dealing with stress, or having more social confidence. In each of these scenarios, using is a way of feeling something different from the discomfort that's present. When a substance becomes the means for coping, emotional well-being is affected. Our feelings need to be acknowledged, addressed and resolved. When we avoid them or numb out, these emotions continue to simmer and build under the surface. This can lead to depression, anxiety and even deeper dependence on substances. The DSM (the manual mental health providers use to diagnose) also looks to the effects of use to determine if there's a problem — legal consequences, job (or school) performance, and, most importantly in this case, issues in relationships.
Jeff: It sounds like there have been some significant changes in your relationship, transitioning from a life of fun and adventure to one with more responsibilities, expectations and stress. Have you sat down and discussed the changing dynamics with your husband? He may be trying to subconsciously deal with his underlying fear of new roles and responsibilities by continuing to smoke pot. There are many examples of feelings he might not have the awareness or emotional maturity to manage: fear of commitment, fear of intimacy, vulnerability and deeper emotional requests. He also may be feeling overwhelmed at the expectations often placed on men — that we can do it all. The perception of failure in doing so can be a potent source for shame.
I'm also curious about what kind of impact your husband's habit has on his sex drive. Does he avoid sex and intimacy by getting high? If so, this may also be a topic about which the two of you should have a deeper conversation about.
Lori: It's nearly impossible for your husband to have this strong of a relationship with marijuana and also be able to maintain a deep emotional bond with you. Emotional intimacy requires both partners to be connected to their feelings, and a willingness to feel vulnerable. When an individual avoids feelings that are uncomfortable, they also create distance from all of their emotions — feelings are all connected. You can't shut down worry or sadness and still experience joy and love to their full extent. You may have reason to be concerned if your husband doesn't seem fully present. If he's struggling to cope with stress or emotions now, know that having kids is only going to add fuel to the fire.
Lori and Jeff: Rather than focusing specifically on his marijuana use, be curious about what his underlying feelings and needs might be. As your lives become fuller and more complex, continue to check in and support each other through the journey.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.