Dos and Don’ts When Your Partner Is Struggling with Addiction

DCSD Detox Center of San Diego
Struggling With Addiction
Dos and Don’ts When Your Partner Is Struggling with Addiction

Being in a relationship with someone who uses drugs or alcohol may cause you to experience your own difficult feelings. Loving someone and watching them navigate something over which you have no control can cause a lot of fear and pain. Even if the person is going through changes that affect their mood and behavior, you still love them for who they are authentically, outside of their addiction. While you may not be in a caregiver role, you most likely feel a sense of responsibility to keep them safe and healthy because you love them. You are probably wondering how you can assist your addicted spouse or partner. What am I supposed to say when they are struggling with addiction? Where do I even begin? Although there are no set guidelines for dealing with a loved one’s substance use disorder “the right way,” there are some “do’s and don’ts” to keep in mind.

What To Do When A Partner is Struggling with Addiction

1. Educate Yourself About Addiction

It can be difficult to watch your partner struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction if you have never been exposed to these diseases. Your partner may be acting in ways that are out of character for them. It may appear that your relationship is not a top priority right now. All of these factors can strain your mental health as well as your relationship with them.

To begin helping your addicted partner, you must first recognize that addiction is not a choice. It is a crippling psychological and physical condition that alters brain chemistry and controls almost every aspect of a person’s daily life. Understanding addiction as a progressive brain disease rather than a choice or moral failing can help you move past your own pain. Understanding that once a person is in active addiction, they are no longer making choices based on critical thinking or weighing short-term and long-term consequences can provide a new perspective on what you are seeing as well as what they are experiencing.

For example, you could be holding onto narratives like “Why are they choosing the alcohol over me?” or “If they loved me, they would just stop.” There is a great deal of pain in those perspectives, which can make it difficult to be empathetic, understanding, and ultimately supportive. Being able to de-personalize your experience and reframe those narratives to include the disease can help you see the reality of the situation and work together with your spouse to address the problem and make long-term changes.

There are numerous ways to begin learning about addiction. You can look up free articles, speak with mental health professionals, or join a support group or online forum. We have a support group at the Detox Center of San Diego specifically for spouses or partners to gain support and guidance while navigating their loved one’s addiction and recovery. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are all good places to start.

2. Address the Issue, Not the Person

Addiction and your concerns can be difficult to discuss with your significant other because it is a sensitive subject. While in active addiction, your loved one may be experiencing a variety of difficult emotions, including frustration and shame. Even if they know you are loving, caring, and supportive, it is likely that they will find it difficult to share their feelings and experiences with you because of their shame, as well as their fear of rejection and retaliation. You can start by addressing the situation calmly.

Instead of blaming your partner for hurtful behavior or actions, try focusing on sharing your feelings and informing them of the impact their addiction has  had on your relationship. This can be accomplished by employing “I-statements.” This is when a person keeps their sharing grounded in their own experience, allowing them to provide clear, complete, and respectful feedback. Instead of saying, “You are being XYZ,” try saying, “When x happens, I feel y” to elicit less defensiveness and more desire to work together to solve the problem at hand.

Reframing “you never want to spend time with me,” which may elicit a defensive or otherwise polarizing response, to “I feel lonely and disconnected when we go days without spending any quality time together,” which will likely signal to the other person that you want more time together, is an example.

Your spouse may be more open to listening to your concerns if you communicate from a place of empathy and love. While it is essential to express all of your emotions, it is also critical to listen to the other person. Do not assume you know everything there is to know about their addiction because you did some research. Each addict is a unique individual with their own set of experiences and needs. What feels supportive to each individual can also vary, so try asking them questions like, “Is there anything you need from me?” This can empower them to express their needs and gain helpful support from you.

3. Set Healthy Boundaries

It is difficult to watch your significant other struggle, and you probably want to do everything you can to save the person you care about the most. Although you may believe you are assisting your addicted spouse, you may be enabling them to continue their addiction without even realizing it. Making constant excuses for your boyfriend’s absence or lateness, covering for your girlfriend’s financial gaps, drinking alcohol with or around them, or even doing all of the household chores and responsibilities are all examples of enabling behavior. Your over-functioning could be contributing to their continued under-functioning. And doing this prevents your loved one from facing any consequences that could serve as catalysts for change.

While you love your partner and want the best for them, you must remind yourself that you cannot control their behavior or compensate for their flaws. Setting boundaries is one solution that involves communicating what you need and informing the other person what you will do in response to a specific behavior rather than erecting barriers or attempting to control that person’s behavior. Creating healthy boundaries, while difficult, will assist your addicted spouse or partner in accepting responsibility for their own actions. Setting boundaries allows you to step back and allow their choices and behaviors to be theirs alone rather than affecting you as they once did. This allows you to stay safe while remaining involved in your partner’s life.

Sharing with your partner that when shouting occurs in conversations, you become upset and shut down is an example of a healthy boundary. Inform them that you will need to remove yourself from future conversations that include shouting and that you will return to speaking with them once both parties are calm enough to communicate in a quiet and respectful tone. Furthermore, rather than trying to control their use in general, healthy boundaries for their drinking or substance use could look like communicating that you are uncomfortable around them when they are under the influence and will be unable to spend time with them in that condition.

4. Research Treatment Options

If your spouse is still actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, they may not be ready to accept your assistance just yet. If you just wait for them to contact you, it can be difficult and potentially dangerous. Addiction is a progressive disease, which means that your loved one’s condition will most likely worsen over time. You can begin by researching various addiction treatment centers and their services or offerings. Visit their website, read through their program descriptions, request brochures and pamphlets, or call them. Investigate your options and decide what is best for your loved one.

You cannot coerce your partner or spouse into entering a drug or alcohol rehab facility because they must ultimately decide to stop using substances and pursue sobriety. Nonetheless, there is no harm in making future plans. The more you know, the better prepared you will be when they are ready to improve.

5. Take Care of Yourself

When your spouse or partner is struggling with drugs or alcohol, your own well-being is often the last thing on your mind. However, addiction is a family disease in the sense that what happens to one member of the family affects how the family functions as a whole. Whether you realize it or not, your loved one’s addiction affects you as well. As much as you want to assist the addict, you must remind yourself that it is not your responsibility to “fix” them. In family recovery groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, they talk about “the 3 C’s,” which stand for “you did not cause it, you can not cure it, and you can not control it.” While you love your partner, this is their journey, and supporting them means taking care of yourself just as much as it means being there for them. As the cliché says, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Make time to take care of yourself—exercise, eat healthy foods, spend time outside, read a book, and do things that make you happy. If self-care practices are not enough, know that it is okay to seek help, even if your spouse isn’t. Getting your own therapy, hiring a Family Recovery Coach, and attending support groups for family members like at the Detox Center of San Diego or Al-Anon/Nar-Anon can all be beneficial.

What Not to Do When A Partner is Struggling with Addiction

1. Don’t Look Down on Them

It is normal to be upset with your spouse when they exhibit behaviors associated with active addiction, but constantly scolding them for their mistakes may exacerbate the situation. Because drugs and alcohol impair judgment, your loved one may not always act logically. This can be frustrating to watch because you know deep down that they know what is right and wrong.

Avoid passing judgment on a loved one who is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, and be mindful of the language you use when speaking to them. They do not need to hear something hurtful, such as being called “an embarrassment” or being referred to as a “junkie” or “addict.” All they need from you is your love and support, not your judgment.

2. Don’t Ignore the Problem

Nobody ever expects addiction to strike someone they care about. So, if it is discovered that your partner has a substance abuse disorder, you may do everything possible to deny it. You may be tempted to ignore the signs of addiction, make excuses for your loved one, or minimize the seriousness of their addiction. However, convincing yourself that “it is not that bad” or that they are just “going through a rough patch” only serves to exacerbate the problem.

Another reason not to ignore your husband’s or wife’s substance abuse is that they may be aware of their problem but unsure how to seek help. If you are unsure how to confront your loved one about their addiction, begin by expressing your feelings and what you have noticed in your relationship. Being open with them may be the push they need to seek treatment.

3. Don’t Force Them to Quit

Tough love rarely works when it comes to addiction. Some states allow for court-ordered rehab if the individual is a danger to themselves or others. However, issuing ultimatums or forcing your loved one to seek treatment is not the best option because it usually works only temporarily. If your partner is not ready to become sober, they will most likely revert to their old habits once they leave rehab. It is critical that they are motivated to participate in the process in order to sustain long-term growth and change.

As previously stated, you can set boundaries by telling your loved one that you will leave their presence if they are using it. You can also tell them that having drugs or alcohol in the house makes you feel unsafe. This informs your spouse of your expectations for the future, and the boundary is for you – you are not attempting to control their behavior. Demanding that your husband or wife attend a rehabilitation center will likely lead to more conflict. They must be the ones who want things to change.

4. Don’t Enable Them

It is difficult to watch your partner’s life unravel in front of you, especially when you are not sure how to help. There is a fine line between being supportive and enabling when it comes to addiction. You may be enabling their use if you lend them money with no knowledge or control over where it is spent and without expecting to be paid back. Another example is making excuses or covering up for failing to follow through on commitments.

You do not always choose to be an enabler, and it often happens unconsciously over time. It could happen because you are in a codependent relationship with no boundaries that prioritize each partner’s needs equally. Set boundaries, prioritize your own needs, determine what you can and cannot support and express that, and pay closer attention to your own communication, actions, and behavior if you want a healthier relationship. Before taking action, ask yourself if you are treating your own feelings and needs as equally important as theirs. This can help you take a step back from enabling your partner’s continued drug and alcohol use.

5. Don’t Give Up

You may become frustrated with your loved one if they refuse to seek help or relapse, but they do not give up. You fell in love with your significant other for who they truly are, and it is an unfortunate reality that addiction separates people from their true selves. The disease may be masking their true personality, but they can still heal, and the relationship can move forward in a healthy way. Would you not want your partner’s continued support if you were battling a disease like addiction?

Your own hope can be a powerful agent of change. Modeling your ability to move from fear to hope may inspire them to do the same. Remember that sustaining recovery is challenging but not impossible. This is a treatable disease, and having a strong support system can mean the difference between life and death. “The opposite of addiction is connection,” they say in many recovery support groups. Your ability to be supportive and provide a channel for meaningful connection can be a powerful motivator for behavioral change! 

While this disease can make you feel isolated, you are never alone. Many other people are navigating a similarly difficult intersection as you are right now. Do not give up on yourself or your loved ones. Reach out for help and keep hope alive.

More To Explore

Help Is Here

Don’t wait for tomorrow to start the journey of recovery. Make that call today and take back control of your life!

Your Path to Recovery Begins Here

Call now to start your journey to freedom from addiction. Our compassionate care, tailored to your needs, offers hope and success. Verify insurance today.

All calls are 100% free and confidential

Detox Center of San Diego Header Logo