Combining the lives of two people in marriage often comes with many joys and challenges- some foreseeable and some not. Of all the trials a marriage can face, addiction is one of the greatest. Over time, the emotional and mental traumas of this disease can destroy even the strongest of couples by undermining trust, creating legal or financial problems and causing spouses to keep secrets from one another. While there are numerous resources available to help those actively addicted seek treatment, these same resources rarely exist for the sober spouse who has to watch their partner suffer while also picking up the pieces after their latest binge. With so much pain to go around, how does someone recover from their spouse’s addiction?
How Addiction Affects A Marriage
Marriage is often a safe haven. A place where spouses can be themselves completely without fear of being judged. Unfortunately, when one person in a marriage is struggling with addiction, it will change the entire dynamic of a union. As one person falls deeper into the disease of addiction, their partner is left to clean up the mess left behind. When one person in a marriage starts taking on more responsibility to cover up for their partner, it begins to breed feelings of resentment and anger. These emotions lead to increased internal and marital conflict. [middle-callout] Addiction also comes with many other consequences including:
- Job loss
- Legal troubles
- Financial troubles
Unfortunately, these consequences are often felt most by the sober spouse as they try to keep their marriage together while also trying to hide their partner’s problem from family, friends and colleagues. While secrets have no place in a marriage, addiction forces spouses to hide things from one another in order to thrive. It’s a disease that will turn one spouse against the other and create chaos in what once was a happy union. Those actively struggling with addiction have treatment options available to them along with a number of outside resources willing to help them find recovery. However, for the sober spouse that has endured equally as much hurt and pain at the hands of their partner’s addiction, these resources aren’t as readily available. So how does a spouse recover from an addiction that’s not their own?
How To Recover From Your Spouse’s Addiction
After suffering through the pain of watching a spouse struggle with addiction and facing the consequences that go along with this ruthless disease, it can be difficult to find peace again. However, while there may be a lot of suffering, there is also healing to be found.
- Seek Professional Help: If you’re married to someone suffering from addiction and struggling to keep it all together, it’s best to reach out to a professional for help. Making recurring appointments with a therapist or counselor will give you a scheduled time to vent, cry, and yell about the emotions that may fall on deaf ears when you’re speaking to your addicted spouse. A therapist will also be able to give you techniques to handle challenging emotions and situations with an addicted or recovering spouse.
- Build A Support Network: There are 23 million American currently living in recovery. This means that there are also millions of other spouses or ex-spouses that have lived through their partner’s addiction. Attend a local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting and share your story with others who are going through the same thing. Talking about your experience out loud and to people who can relate is extremely therapeutic. Additionally, you can use the knowledge of those who have lived through their spouse’s addiction as a guide to your own recovery.
- Do The Things You Love: Whether your spouse is still struggling with addiction or working hard in recovery, make time to do the things that you love. In active addiction, it’s easy for the sober spouse to give up everything around them in order to help their struggling partner, but this will only lead to more resentment down the road. By practicing the things you love daily, you’ll empower yourself and relieve stress- two very important things when dealing with the chaos of addiction.
- Work Your Own Recovery Program: Recovery programs aren’t just important for those that suffered from addiction, but also those that suffered from their spouse’s addiction. While the same resources may not be available for a recovering spouse, this doesn’t mean you can’t build your own recovery program. Learn about the disease of addiction, practice meditation, religiously attend support groups, ask someone who has lived through their spouse’s addiction to be your sponsor or mentor. Above all, find the methods that work for you and be dedicated to working your program every day.
- Set Healthy Boundaries: While you may feel obligated to clean up all the messes your spouse makes while actively addicted, but that doesn’t mean you should. You might be married, but you’re under no obligation to take care of a grown adult at the expense of your own emotional and mental health. Let your partner endure the negative consequences of their actions in active addiction and it might convince them it’s time to seek help. This might seem harsh, but once you stop obsessing over your addicted spouse’s life, you’ll give yourself the space to heal.
- Approach Couples Therapy: Addiction causes a lot of turmoil that doesn’t just go away once your spouse has stopped using. Active addiction is a breeding ground for feelings of distrust, anger, resentment and shame. If you and your spouse plan to move past these emotions, you’re going to have to talk about them to each other. A therapist will help guide these sessions in order to maximize you and your spouse’s potential for a healthy marriage in recovery.
Finding peace in recovery isn’t always easy. It may take months or years to feel like any healing, but recovery is always possible- even for those that didn’t suffer from addiction.
Does Addiction Have To Lead To Divorce?
It’s true, many marriages that involve addiction will end in divorce. Alcohol and drug use is a very difficult and nuanced problem to overcome, especially if an addicted spouse refuses to seek help. However, for every story of divorce, there is also a story of redemption. There are some marriages that have faced addiction and have come out on the other side- but in order for this happen, the partner struggling with addiction must receive treatment for their illness. Additionally, the sober spouse must dedicate themselves to finding their own path to recovery. Over time, both partners will begin to heal from the emotional and mental traumas of addiction and can begin working with each other to rebuild a healthy marriage.