If you’re married to an addict in recovery, you’ll need to be prepared on what to expect. Furthermore, you’ll need to know how to best support your loved one.
In this article, we’ll inform you on how to best handle certain situations and circumstances that will most likely arise during addiction recovery. In addition, how you should care for your own wellbeing as well.
Over 20 million Americans currently struggle with addiction in one form or another, and many of them are married. While dealing with addiction in the family can be a tiresome struggle – and a very rewarding one, in time – seeing your loved one be torn apart by addiction is both heartbreaking and emotionally difficult. However, being a spouse to someone in recovery means being in a crucial position of support.
Addiction recovery is not done alone – while it’s all up to the person in recovery to go through their process to sobriety, they will need all the help they can get, and knowing all you can about addiction will most definitely help them improve their chances at staying sober and preventing relapses.
There’s no question that addiction is a tough foe to beat, not just for an individual but for a couple. Spouses are meant to be a unit, two people fighting together to overcome their problems, supporting each other in dire times – and recovery is no different. But your idea of support may not actually help your partner, and in some cases, you may even be inadvertently undermining them in getting better. Here’s what you need to know to prevent that from being the case.
It’s Not Their Fault
First and foremost, it’s important to internalize that addiction isn’t something you can reliably blame on anyone. It can be blamed on pain, on trauma, on genetics, on circumstance or fate or what have you. But at the end of the day, you need to put down the finger and accept that playing the blame game is a massive waste of time. Instead, it’s important to understand what addiction is and why your partner isn’t at fault.
Addiction is a symptom. It’s brought about by a combination of unique factors, different from case to case. In some cases, addiction is a matter of self-medication, a way to cope with a loss or with stress. Some people use drugs to deal with the mountain of work they have, or to deal with family issues that they don’t want to discuss. In other cases, a single traumatic event may lead someone down the path of addiction to suppress a feeling or a memory, or mask a form of chronic pain.
In some cases, addiction is caused by a lack of connection. Aside from stress and trauma, people who find themselves not truly belonging anywhere may turn to drugs as way to feel something. If you two have been emotionally distant with each other for a long time, then the addiction may be a side-effect of a struggling marriage.
If you’re in a marriage with a recovering addict and you truly love them, then internalize that blaming yourself or them is useless, and any guilt or shame thrown around will only make things worse.
Addiction requires healing, not punishment. It requires treatment, not anger and alienation. And from you, your spouse will need someone who can keep them on the right track.
How to Support a Spouse in Recovery
The first thing you’ll want to do to is look deeper into addiction. While we’re still working on understanding what addiction is, and there is debate around the issue – some argue that it’s a chronic brain disease, others argue that it’s a developmental disorder – we have a much better idea today of what to do and what not to do to help those in recovery than we did in the past.
Second, put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. It’s hard, and even humiliating to some struggle with addiction recovery – you must make sure that your partner understands that you two are there to support each other no matter what, and that you’ll stay to help.
However, you must make sure you want to stay. Taking care of your own emotional health is critical when supporting someone in recovery. Early recovery especially can be a massive emotional rollercoaster, with outbursts of anger, sadness, joy and resentment. Learn to be patient and understand that there is a lot going on in your partner’s head. And that the stress of trying to fix themselves and continue living a normal life can get to be a bit much.
Consider making changes to your marriage, and your life in general. Go running more often, or do some other type of exercise together. Cook together and eat better. Go out more often, make the time to be romantic with one another. Give your spouse things to look forward to in life, and make your relationship fun again. You’ll want plenty of pleasant experiences together to help you make it through the initial stages of recovery, which can tear a relationship apart.
Finally, it’s important not to be overbearing – and to be calm when you’re accused of something. Some behavior may seem supportive, but can come across as condescending and patronizing. While you may only be trying to help, your spouse might take it that you have no faith in them. Again, be patient. Talk to them. Communication is vital if you two want your relationship to survive through recovery.
Rebuilding Your Relationship
Every relationship is prone to some form of dysfunction, and every relationship needs to put in the work to stay together. But all that is exasperated by addiction. It’s likely that there’s a fair amount of negativity between you two as it is, and you’ll have to put in a lot of work to maintain peace and still be a couple rooted in love and support. And yes, it does get easier.
Be sure to talk often, and talk truthfully. You’ll have to both ensure that you have an environment of truthfulness, where you can voice issues and argue with one another. Arguments are good – if they’re fruitful. Never let a conversation devolve into insults, or turn into a fight. Arguments aren’t fights, and be careful about starting one.
Things Not to Do
It’s easy to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing while having the right intention, especially when you’re trying to help your spouse through addiction, anxiety, depression or any other similar struggle. Unless you yourself have successfully coped and dealt with these issues, it’s difficult to relate to them – and it’s impossible to relate to your spouse’ unique set of circumstances. All you can do sometimes is trust that they’ll figure things out on their own.
However, while it’s hard to quantify what you should do, it’s much easier to explain what you shouldn’t do. You can’t:
- Do the work. They need to attend their group meetings, go through rehab and complete their programs.
- Let them trample over you. There’s a fine line between being patient and tolerant, and accepting emotional abuse. Learn where your line is, and be sure to have a discussion with your spouse when they threaten to overstep.
- Force them to stop taking drugs. That’s their battle.
- Look for things to blame. Things happen, and it’s normal to seek blame. But in addiction, it’s only a source of strife. Put your energy towards helping your spouse.
Addiction recovery is rarely easy to overcome, but your partner will have much better chances with your help.