How to Deal with a Partner who Has an Addiction

Addiction shatters relationships all the time—and the only way to put them back together is by being there, giving time, and staying positive.  

Each society has their “norms” that people abide by and expect everyone else to abide by as well. They usually differ from place to place but there seems to be one behavior or problem that is shunned in them all; addiction. Many marriages will end when dealing with addiction because the abuser won’t change or the partner just collapses under the weight of carrying the all-too-heavy load. I know all of this because we were one of the lucky families that came out on the bright side. Along our broken and beaten road I learned a few things about dealing with a spouse who has an addiction whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming, or pornography.

Stop the Enabling

We have all heard the term “enabling,” but do we truly know what it means? In most cases, including mine, it took the form of calling his boss and saying he wasn’t coming in that day because he wasn’t feeling well, cleaning the messes he left, paying bills, and trying to cover up the problem because of the shame I felt. I was the one up at night waiting for the call from a hospital, the police, or anyone calling to give me bad news. Not only is this not a healthy way to live, but the amount of resentment I felt started building and I would explode from time to time.

Once I started realizing he really needed to hit rock bottom and my job was not to cover things up but just to love him, things started changing. It was no longer something I needed to feel resentment about because I was focusing on me and my kids instead. Eventually he started realizing that he had to deal with his own choices and clean up after himself. When he had to own up to his actions, he truly started seeing the damage he was doing to our family and himself. That was the key.

Get Help

Whether you choose to go to a private counselor, group counseling sessions, or attend a group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), having someone to talk to about the problem helps. The amount of relief I felt about having people that could relate to me and vice versa made me feel very understood which brought a feeling of freedom. Even though my husband chose not to come with me at first, there was a meeting just for families that I went to alone and it started changing everything. That was where I learned about the problems I was contributing and gained the strength to do what I needed to.

Be Strong and Stay Positive

The times are going to get hard. There is no easy way to overcome addictions and expecting a spouse to do it immediately is going to ruin all chances of recovery. Stop enabling, stop giving money, stop making excuses, and just know that things are going to get better. I watched my husband hit his rock bottom and chances are you’ll have to do the same. We had breakdowns and fights and both wondered if our marriage would survive, but I tried to never give in to the negative. Eventually things slowly started getting better and it was much easier to be positive. Help your spouse and you will help your family. Stay positive by remembering what the end goal is and you will have a purpose to this entire trek.


Read more on Addiction on The Good Life.

—Photo hashmil/Flickr

About Erika Christensen

Erika Christensen, with Candeo Behavior Change, enjoys helping others overcome addiction problems they may be facing. She has spent her life learning about brain science and the functionality of the mind. She also likes to travel with her friends and family.


  1. Yeah I’m sort of with Leia on this one, I’ve learned to be cautious until I can see that someone has it together/is working their life properly and not depending on other people to deal with their problems. If they’re not interested in being a grown up, it’s bound to be a casual acquaintance at best.

    I’m not sure there IS a responsibility to deal with a partner who has an addiction…..unless they show that they are willing to put the relationship/family ahead of their addiction (understanding there will be missteps) it’s not really going to matter what the supporting partner does. That’s why it’s especially sad when kids are involved and the addicted person isn’t really invested in changing.

  2. I have been really close to a few alcoholics in my life…trying to be supportive can quickly turn into enabling….and further abuse….

    I have had to cut off these relationships…or at least distance myself away…

    So many emotional vampires out there flying around and trying to glom onto the next victim….gotta be careful!

  3. I don’t understand the part about attending AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). I think it’s really important for friends and relatives of the addict to attend Al-Anon, the group for friends and relatives of alcoholics. The support is essential. I’ve found the groups to be even more helpful than counseling since there are many voices, a forum to be heard, and lots of experience, strength and hope.

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