Addiction is one of those topics many people struggle with, but very few are willing to talk about personally. It tends to fall into the category of things we try to hide from others, that thing which brings us shame and makes us feel defective. This can feel especially true in a marriage, not only for the struggling addict, but also for the spouse. We worry others will judge us for wanting to stay in the relationship, or will not understand the deep love we still feel for our partner.
In those moments, when we need support and encouragement, we find ourselves feeling isolated and helpless. So what do we do? How do we support a spouse in their journey toward sobriety?
Alison wrote the following article to help you effectively navigate supporting an addicted spouse.
In This Article
About the Author
Alison Pitts, MA, LPCC has experience working with individuals struggling with addiction, depression and communication issues, and is excited to begin working with couples that are looking to enhance their marriage. From Alison: “I believe my compassionate and non-judgmental presence will help create a safe space in which you can process life’s twists and turns, and also where we can work together to help you not just work through challenges but also grow in your relationship with the Lord.” You can schedule an appointment with Alison for online counseling or in-person at our Denver, CO counseling center.
Helping Your Addicted Spouse
1. Learn the importance of taking care of you.
When we are in relationship with an addict, it can become all about them. We lose ourselves in their vortex of urgent needs and chaos.
If this is how you are feeling, it is so important to remember you will only be helpful when are caring for yourself. Just like when a flight attendant on an airplane reminds us to put our own air mask on before helping others, we can be most helpful to our hurting spouse when are also caring for ourselves.
Learning how to take breaks and participating in activities that fill you back up will be crucial as you continue to provide support to your spouse.
2. Set boundaries.
It is likely you have had the experience of feeling uncomfortable about a request or decision they make. Discomfort means they have crossed one of your boundaries. Setting boundaries allows you to live a life that feels safe and respected, not only by your addicted spouse, but by all those you are in relationship with.
Sometimes when spouses feel like their boundaries have been crossed they can justify the boundary being crossed by saying to themselves, “I need to be ok with this decision so my spouse can get what they need,” or “If I agree to my spouse’s requests I can maintain peace in the household.”
The key essence of setting boundaries is we are teaching others how to respect us and taking responsibility for what we need in relationships. Again, if you are not taking care of yourself and honoring your own boundaries, you are ultimately harming yourself and setting yourself up for resentment in the relationship.
3. Understand you are not responsible for their behavior.
A common thing I have seen in my work with an addict in recovery and those in relationship with them is people tend to take on responsibility for the addict’s behavior. This desire comes from a place of caring, but is often harmful to the relationship.
In order for the person in recovery to truly understand how their behavior affects others, they need to see the effects of it. As difficult as it is to watch a loved one hurt, taking responsibility for what they have done will only prolong their recovery process.
It also will put more pressure on your shoulders and will create another barrier between you two, which will make it more difficult to rebuild closeness in the marriage.
4. Pray for them.
Praying for your addicted spouse is important whether they are struggling with addiction or not! When they are fighting that battle, though, it becomes even more important. Our prayers help us see the situation the way God sees it.
Prayer shifts our heart to dependence on God and not on our spouse and their behaviors. Remember the Psalmist David; he would cry out to God with all of his struggles and frustrations. Even when things felt helpless David would ask God for help and declare God’s goodness! God wants to be a part of all aspects of our lives, not just the clean and presentable parts.
5. Seek outside support.
So much of the time when we face struggles in our lives, we feel like other people won’t understand. Usually the times we feel this way are the times we need the most support! Remember, there are resources and groups for people struggling with similar issues.
There are Recovering Couples Anonymous groups, as well as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon groups for spouses and loved ones to find support and encouragement. Celebrate Recovery is another great faith-based resource for people whose lives have been effected by addiction, including sexual addictions.
The important piece to remember is that the journey feels lighter when we bring people along with us.
If any of this resonated with you or your experience, remember that having someone to talk with can be incredibly healing and helpful. Talking with me or any of the other awesome counselors here can help you create a plan that will support your growth and help you be the best support possible for your spouse. Remember, you are not alone!
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