Dealing with Addiction in Marriage and How Therapy Can Help
Dealing with addiction in marriage can be overwhelming and lead you to wonder whether you should stay in the relationship. It is essential that you break through denial to acknowledge the full reality of what you are experiencing, realize that addiction is not about you, and stop any enabling behaviors. Although it can be easy for addiction to take center stage, it’s also vital that you prioritize self-care during this difficult time. By encouraging treatment and seeking therapy, you can help guide both you and your loved one toward recovery and a brighter future, whether together or apart.
Each person struggling with addiction has a unique story—how they started using, why they kept using, how addiction crept in, how addiction took over. In the midst of the opioid crisis, we are now exposed to these stories perhaps more than ever before, as journalists seek to bring addiction out of the shadows and show how it comes to be in the lives of real people. However, addiction is not just the story of the addict.
If you are married to someone struggling with addiction, you know that the effects of your spouse’s substance abuse ripple through your partnership. Perhaps your spouse starts lying to you, destroying the trust that once served as the bedrock of your relationship. Perhaps they begin to withdraw from you, emotionally or physically—or both. Perhaps their personality begins to transform, they skip important events because they’re too drunk or high or coming down, and they endanger themselves or your family psychologically or practically. You wonder what happened to the person you fell in love with and whether staying in the relationship is worth it. You wonder if there is a relationship worth saving at all.
“No doubt, addiction is one of the greatest challenges a marriage will face,” says Susan Pease Gadoua, a social worker specializing in marital issues. Indeed, dealing with addiction in marriage brings up a host of painful emotions and difficult decisions as you try to find a balance between supporting your partner and protecting yourself. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that you can move forward in the best way possible, whether or not you ultimately decide to stay in the relationship.
Break Through Denial
Even if you acknowledge that your spouse struggles with addiction, it’s vital to recognize the full scope of that addiction in order to have a complete and realistic understanding of both your spouse’s substance abuse and your own experiences. It is often tempting to minimize the severity of addiction to protect yourself from being overwhelmed or from facing the real dangers drugs and alcohol pose to your family. Take an honest inventory of your loved one’s condition, even if doing so is frightening.
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Realize Addiction is Not About You
The nature of the marital relationship can make it easy to feel as if your spouse’s addiction is a rejection of you or a sign that they simply don’t love you enough. As Gadoua says, “[Addiction is] perhaps one of the most frustrating in the sense that a rational non-addicted person looks at the addict and says, ‘Can’t you see what you’re doing to us? Why don’t you stop using?’ or, ‘If you really loved me, you’d stop drinking.’” You may also wonder if you have done something to cause your spouse’s substance abuse. But, of course, addiction is not caused by a lack of love, nor is it the result of some personal failing on the part of someone’s partner. Rather, addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. Your loved one’s drug use is spurred by psychological and behavioral dysfunction that are out of your control.
The desire to save and protect our loved ones is deeply rooted within us. However, when the person you love struggles with addiction, this desire can sometimes lead you to do counterproductive things; you make excuses for your spouse when they miss family events, you call in sick for them, you patch up the hole they punched in the wall in a rage. In some cases, you may do these things not just to protect your spouse, but to protect other family members from the repercussions of addiction. However, by covering up the consequences of your partner’s substance abuse, you are inadvertently enabling them and keeping them from having to face the natural fall out of addiction.
Addiction has a way of becoming the center of your world, even when you are not the one who is addicted, and sometimes it can seem as if there is very little room left for you. However, it is vital that you prioritize your own needs. Keep going out with your friends. Keep working toward your professional goals. Keep participating in your hobbies. Keep living. It is all too easy for spouses to become isolated within the world of addiction, which ultimately only serves to deepen your suffering. Make sure that take care of your own mind, body, and spirit and nurture close, trusting relationships with friends and family—you need them now more than ever.
If you wish to connect with others who understand the unique challenges you are facing, look up support groups for friends and family of people struggling with addiction. Groups such as Al-Anon can be invaluable to help you find camaraderie and strength through this difficult journey.
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Comprehensive treatment is the best way—and, often, the only way—for your spouse to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. Research treatment programs and encourage them to seek care in a residential facility that will provide a multidimensional treatment experience using cutting-edge, evidence-based therapies. These programs will provide tailored treatment plans designed specifically for your spouse’s individual needs in order to foster the emotional and behavioral changes necessary for lasting recovery.
Of course, convincing your spouse to go to treatment can be a difficult process if they do not admit that they need help. In these cases, working with a professional interventionist is often the best option. A professional interventionist will work closely with you to develop an effective intervention strategy and open up a healthy dialogue about your loved one’s substance abuse. This includes not only laying out evidence that they need treatment, but creating boundaries and meaningful consequences for continuing to use. The interventionist will also support you and the rest of your family through this process and ensure that you have the resources you need for your own well-being.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your marriage is to seek therapy. An individual therapist with experience working with people dealing with addiction in marriage can help you explore your experiences to more fully understand the impact of addiction on your psychological well-being. With their support, you can process difficult emotions, address co-dependency, and develop a clearer picture of how to move forward in a healthy way. Therapy gives you a safe space to express your anger, sadness, frustration, and fears while developing concrete skills to deal with your emotional pain in healthy ways. At the same time, you can begin to imagine the life you truly want and determine a course of action that will allow you to achieve it and whether that life will include your spouse.
Therapy is not only useful while your spouse is in a state of active addiction, of course. The treatment and recovery process itself can bring about its own challenges and having the support of a therapist as you navigate this new phase of your relationship can be invaluable. In addition to individual therapy, couples therapy can be essential at this stage. A therapist specializing in helping couples through the recovery process can allow you to start an authentic conversation with your spouse about the impact of addiction, how to support each other through the changes of recovery, how to implement boundaries, and what you want the future of your relationship to look like. Your couples therapist will have the expertise necessary to guide this conversation in a productive way that helps you resolve conflict while giving you both the space you need to express yourselves honestly.
Because couples therapy can be such a vital part of healing for both you and your spouse, it should ideally be a part of the treatment process itself. As such, seeking out a treatment program that offers specialized family services like family and couples therapy is essential. This allows you to take an active role in your partner’s recovery while facilitating your own personal growth during this transformative time. Whether or not you decide to stay in your marriage, working together in therapy can help you create a strong foundation for moving forward with confidence, love, and grace.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the journey toward lasting recovery.