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The Vending Machine Principle

Uncategorized Jun 21, 2021

by Jeff Ford, LMFT, Clinical Director

Imagine a vending machine. Think about the clear glass on the front, and the buttons on the side that allow you to select your favorite treat or drink. What do you need to do to get it? We all know the process. You add a few coins or tap your phone on the pad, and punch in the correct number. In a few seconds, the candy bar or can will fall to the bottom and you can go on your way enjoying your treat. 

Too often, addicts learn to treat their loved ones or those around them like vending machines. When they want something, they walk up, punch the right buttons, and then walk away once they receive what they want. The problem, of course, is that people aren’t vending machines. We don’t want other people showing up only when they want something from us. We also want more connection than the punch of a few buttons. 

If this is happening in your relationship, the first thing to do is to set your boundaries. You don’t need to give in simply because someone showed up and pushed the right button. It can get messy. Just think about what happens when you try to get something out of a vending machine and it gets stuck. You might try to shake it or force it to do what you want. In a relationship, that can mean emotional abuse as a spouse becomes overly demanding or blames their partner for “making them act out.” 

As a spouse who has been treated like a vending machine, it can be hard to change. Just remember to hold the line on your boundaries. You can do it. Don’t give up. Reach out to your support group, a counselor, or others you can trust when you need to. Keep going. Keep trying.


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