There’s only one thing you can do and only one step you can take.
Most couples tend to have quite a few things in common—it’s one of the things that attracts us to people in the first place. But when it comes to addicts, denial can be one of the most commonly shared traits.
Addicts are typically in denial. They don’t believe they have a problem, or if they do, they think it’s something they can handle on their own, without professional help or outside support. They burrow deeper and deeper into drugs and alcohol, and that can cause major damage to their relationship.
When you’re married to an addict, you may be in denial too. You may try to brush off your spouse’s problem, or perhaps you think, as a good partner, you’re strong enough to take care of it yourself. When that doesn’t work, you start resenting them for not changing, and resenting yourself for not being able to make it happen.
This kind of attitude can be dangerous for your marriage, for your family and for your partner’s physical well-being. The sooner you both realize that the two of you aren’t strong enough to handle this disease on your own—and that that is perfectly normal—the safer your relationship may be in the end.
Find Support for Your Spouse
First, you need to find your partner the right support—and that person isn’t going to be you. For one, addiction is physiological disease, and unless you’re a medical professional, you probably won’t be able to handle withdrawal symptoms or the other sometimes dangerous side effects of quitting alcohol or drugs. It’s also often a psychological disorder, and you’re not a therapist. (Even if you are actually a therapist, you need to sit this one out.) Don’t try to provide more emotional support than you can handle, because doing so may doom you both.
Find Support for Yourself
You need as much support as your partner. You’ve probably been hurt, embarrassed, and abused in the past by the person you planned to spend the rest of your life with. A lot of shame comes along with that, plus feelings of failure at not being enough to stop it. But you don’t have to be alone in this. Seek out friends, family, clergy, or support groups designed specifically for the spouses and partners of addicts.
The key is figuring out a support system that works for both your spouse, on an individual level, and for your family as a whole. In-patient rehab treatments can offer round-the-clock medical and emotional care, plus access to less traditional therapeutic treatments, like yoga and meditation. If your spouse wants to stay home, find them a psychiatrist or psychologist, and one for yourself, and one for both of you to see together. If money’s tight, pick a free support group for couples, in addition to AA or NA for your spouse to attend solo.
Find Support for the Family
The stakes are obviously even higher if you have children. Even if they’re too young to really grasp what addiction is, chances are they’ve noticed that something’s amiss with mom—they’ll understand that she’s sick, and they’ll understand that she needs to see a doctor to get better. If they’re older, and if they’ve been exposed to any kind of anti-drug and alcohol campaign or watched any number of TV shows and movies, then they’ve probably already made assumptions about what’s going on. If that’s the case, don’t shield them from the truth, but make sure they’re getting the support they need as well. Groups like Alateen are designed specifically for the children of addicts. No parents allowed.
A lot of work needs to be done before your partner can beat addiction—and be prepared for your relationship to change. There’s no way to predict what will happen to the two of you, but it’s going to come down to how well you can work together to fight this battle.
That being said, no one should stay in an abusive relationship, whether it’s physical or emotional. If a month goes by and things haven’t changed and you’re confident they won’t, then it may be time to seek a way out. You don’t have to stay in a toxic relationship.
But as long as you still love your spouse and can forgive them, and as long as they’re willing to take that first important step to seek help for their disease, then you shouldn’t give up on your relationship. That first step is so crucial. Be there to help them take the next one.