Loving someone who is addicted can feel like hell. It can be lonely and painful to watch the person that you love stay stuck in the same cycle with their substance. On top of that, the addiction starts to come between you. It causes fights that your partner does not even remember the next day. It makes sense that you would seek out couples therapy when you are in this spot. However, couples therapy is not going to be enough alone when your partner is struggling with addiction. Here are a few steps to be taking to get the most from couples therapy:
Keep the Right Perspective
Our culture stigmatizes addiction. Just think about the language when we say someone is an addict. It can be easy to define your partner by their problem. You might even start to blame or define yourself by the addiction. Saying things like “If I was better they would not use.”
People are never just the problems that they have. Remember when things are tough, your partner is fighting this addiction too. You are on a team with your partner, you are not fighting against them. Here is a helpful blog post from marriage guru John Gottman that talks about how to separate your spouse from their addiction. Remember, your spouse isn’t just an addict. They’re a person and they’re your spouse. So do your best to to try to see them in that light and your actions will come across as being on their team instead of against them.
Set Your Boundaries Based on Your Needs
Boundaries are key when your partner is struggling with addiction. You will need to be able to ask yourself how you need to be approached and treated by your partner. And if these boundaries are crossed, you need to make plans on following through. Ultimately, you might need to separate for a time if too many boundaries are crossed too often. I know that those are easy words to type, but it is not that cut and dried. I am talking about the person you love after all. Addiction thrives when the person struggling is shielded from the consequences of their actions. Holding firm boundaries with your partner is how you help them break this cycle.
Get Help/Support of Your Own
I want to preface this by saying that some behavior is never acceptable. Addiction is not an excuse. Physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse of any kind is never okay. And if you have had to endure any of these things, you are not to blame. Outside of those instances, you will have to do some reflecting on how you might have contributed to the cycle that you are your partner are stuck in. Maybe it has to do with shielding from consequences, like I already mentioned – maybe it’s something it else. Though you cannot control your partner’s behavior, you can control and change your own.
This could look like therapy for you. I always recommend support groups or group therapy for partners of people struggling with addiction. This can be a very isolating experience. So it is important to know that you are not alone in the pain you experience. And we all need relationship and support in our most trying times.
If you are attempting to repair your relationship in the aftermath of addiction, give us at The Marriage & Family Clinic a call.
About the Author
Ryan Hicks is a licensed therapist and marriage counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with couples in high conflict and working with couples in the LGBTQ community. When he’s not working with couples, you’ll find him rock climbing or taking in the great outdoors of Colorado.