Being married to an addict is not easy. Drug and alcohol abuse affects millions of Americans. The consequences of this lifestyle have a negative impact on many aspects of their lives, including their intimate relationships. Sadly, substance abuse can eventually destroy marriages and lead to conflicts over parental responsibilities. Close relationships that are meant to be a safe haven turn into tumultuous, unhealthy partnerships.
Whether your relationship involves a marriage, a domestic partnership or an informal living arrangement, addiction affects everyone in the home. Let’s learn more about substance abuse in a marriage, how to support recovery and ways to build a healthy home.
How Substance Abuse Affects Couples
In domestic partnerships, substance abuse can lead to verbal and physical conflict. It doesn’t take long for the addiction to become the focal point of the relationship, consuming energy from both partners. Other sources of tension may be suppressed, but eventually, they resurface. Without intervention and couples therapy, addiction is likely to gain power in the relationship.
Every relationship is different. Some people leave the partnership right away while others stay for many years. Unfortunately, the longer you stay in an unhealthy relationship, the more likely you are to be a victim of abuse. There are also other problems that arise when married to someone who has an addiction such as:
- Financial difficulties
- Legal conflicts
- Child neglect
- Sexual dysfunction
- Shame or embarrassment
- Lying and mistrust
- Broken promises
- Denial of the abuse
Addiction changes people. Any experience involving physical or sexual violence should be taken seriously. Depending on the incident, your partner may require anger management classes and face legal consequences. If you feel like you are in danger, seek help immediately from a substance abuse counselor, medical provider or the police.
Ways to Support Your Spouse (Without Enabling)
As long as you feel safe in your environment, you can support your loved one by getting them the help they need. However, you must be careful not to enable addiction. Despite good intentions, some spouses end up enabling their loved one, leading to more problems down the road.
Enabling occurs when one partner allows the other to continue drinking or using drugs without consequences. Here are a few examples.
- Making excuses for your spouse when they don’t show up to family gatherings
- Calling into work sick for your loved one because they are hungover
- Paying for your adult child to live with you while they spend their money on drugs
- Taking your spouse out to bars so they don’t have to drink and drive
Signs You are Enabling
Basically, if you find yourself lying or making excuses for your partner while they continue abusing drugs and alcohol, you are enabling instead of supporting. If the enabling continues, you can start a codependent relationship with your spouse. This unhealthy relationship occurs when one partner relies on the other to feel a sense of purpose.
To make sure that you’re not enabling your spouse, here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Am I setting healthy boundaries for myself?
- Do I let my spouse’s choices affect my day?
- Is healthy eating, exercise and other forms of self-care a priority?
- Am I spending enough time on my own stress management?
- Are other people in my family taking care of their responsibilities?
- When feeling stressed, do I reach out to others for help?
After reviewing your responses, decide if you need to redirect your energy. It’s possible that all of your attention is going toward your spouse and their addiction. While this is a major factor in your life, it shouldn’t consume all of your energy. You are important, too, and you must care for yourself, manage your stress levels and enjoy happiness.
Couples Therapy Options
Years ago, addiction was viewed as an individual problem that had to be treated by stopping the drug or alcohol abuse. Today, we know that this is not the case. The best way to treat an addiction is by involving all members of the family unit. The goal is to create a healthy home environment, improve communication and address underlying family trauma. By participating in couples therapy, your marriage has a greater chance of surviving the addiction.
Let’s break down the various types of couples therapy and what to expect from each one.
- Behavioral couples therapy. BCT is best for couples who are strongly committed to improving their relationship. This therapy helps both partners address dysfunction within the family unit and how it led to addiction. Benefits include improved communication, problem-solving skills and self-help.
- Emotionally focused therapy. EFT helps couples recover from the stress of the addiction. The therapist works with the couple to regulate their emotions and develop a stronger bond.
- Family therapy. Family therapy is a great option when children are involved. To help them make sense of the trauma, a family therapist will work with the family to solve family problems, handle special family situations and create a better home.
Support for Couples in Drug Rehab
It’s also recommended for couples to join support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. It’s helpful to connect with others who have gone through or are going through similar struggles as yours. You can develop a fresh perspective, learn new coping strategies and have hope for the future. People in these support groups are at different parts in their journeys, so you’ll always have new insights to learn from.
Here are the benefits to joining a support group:
- Feel less lonely and isolated
- Reduce stress and depression
- Improve coping skills
- Take openly and honestly about your feelings
- Stay hopeful for positive change
- Improve your understanding of addiction
Maintaining a Healthy Home Environment
One of the most important things you can do for a spouse with substance abuse is create a home environment that supports long-lasting change. This is often harder than people realize, especially if you have others living in the home. Everyone must work together to create a positive home setting. Just one visit from an old friend or a simple birthday gathering with alcohol can raise the risk for relapse.
Here is a checklist for keeping a sober home.
- No drugs or alcohol. Everything should be removed from the home. If alcohol cannot be eliminated, keep it hidden and locked away.
- Limit access to prescription drugs. Pay attention to prescription drugs, particularly narcotics, sedatives, and stimulants. If they are medically necessary, keep them hidden and locked away.
- Take down suggestive posters. Take down any posters, wall hangings or other items that condone drug or alcohol use.
- Serve healthy snacks. Hunger can be confused for a craving. Keep healthy snacks on hand to prevent this, such as granola bars, fresh fruit and veggies, and yogurt. Water, teas, and juices are also great options to stay hydrated.
- Maintain a tidy environment. Keep your home as clean and organized as possible to reduce stress and anxiety. Bring in plenty of natural light and use plants to inspire new growth.
- Set up relaxing areas. Create areas where your spouse can relax. For example, dedicate a space in the living room for pillows, beanbag chairs, and books.
If, at any time, you feel that you cannot provide a safe, sober living environment for your spouse, reach out to a treatment center in Agoura Hills that can help you find a sober living program.
Seek Help Today
Being married to an addict is probably not something you signed up for. This is a complicated journey, but it doesn’t need to have an unhappy ending. By recognizing the problem, supporting recovery, seeking counseling and creating a healthy environment, you can win the fight against addiction. To learn more about the flexible outpatient programs at Awakenings Treatment Center, please contact us today. We’re happy to help couples and families!