Can a marriage survive drug addiction? In this article, we discuss the requirements for both partners if the marriage is to survive.
Many marriages do not survive drug abuse. The addiction can cause so much pain and damage to the relationship that it is often impossible to recover.
However, there are some married couples that are able to survive drug addiction and even thrive. These marriages are typically built on a foundation of love, trust, and communication. And, they put into place practical steps to move the relationship in the right direction.
This article is part of a series on the challenges couples face. We call it Can A Marriage Survive. We tackle those difficult issues with practical advice on how to navigate your marriage to health.
Statistics On Addiction And Marriage
In 2015, approximately 5.9 million adults reported use of psychotherapeutic drugs (including prescription pain medication, tranquilizers, and stimulants). And 27.1 million used illicit drugs. (Source)
A 2011 study determined that family members of addiction patients experienced poor functioning and a higher level of psychiatric and mental health issues.
Another study by K.T. Lee (and others) indicated greater levels of depression and stress, and lower levels of well-being than families without addiction issues.
These are staggering statistics.
Before we discuss the steps necessary to make your marriage work as you deal with addiction issues, let’s explore how addiction affects relationships.
How Addiction Impacts Marriage
Marriage is supposed to be a safe place for both partners. When you are in a relationship with an addict, this is not the case. Addiction can lead to family upheaval and instability because of the constant chaos.
1) Financial Stress
Addiction issues do not happen in a vacuum; they do not stand alone. They are most often accompanied with financial stress. Addicts usually cheat, steal, and lie to get the fix they desire.
Addicts often spend a lot of money on their drug of choice, which can leave little money for other expenses. Additionally, addicts may lose their jobs or be unable to keep a job because of their addiction. This can create an incredible financial strain on families.
2) Emotional Strain
The emotional strain of living with an addict can be incredibly difficult. Many people report feeling isolated, helpless, and hopeless. They may feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells, and never know what to expect.
This can lead to a great deal of stress and anxiety.
- Common indicators you are under undo stress are:
- Feeling tense, jittery, or on edge
- Feeling like you need to be on constant alert
- Feeling irritable or easily agitated
- Feeling overwhelmed or like you are constantly in fight-or-flight mode
- Having difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling physically ill, such as experiencing headaches, stomachaches, or dizziness
Getting help with the emotional pain of addiction is top priority.
3) Shifting Family Dynamics
You might find yourself taking care of your partner more than he or she takes care of you. Or more than they care for themselves. The relationship often becomes extremely one-sided.
The healthy partner takes care of finances, children and work, while the addicted spouse abandons responsibility. This disrupts the family dynamic and has several negative effects.
First, the addict may begin to withdraw from the family and isolate themselves. This can lead to communication breakdowns and a general feeling of tension in the family.
Second, the addict may start to lie and manipulate family members in order to get what they want. This can damage trust and create conflict.
Third, the addict may start to exhibit risky or dangerous behaviors, which can put other family members at risk.
Finally, the addict may begin to neglect their responsibilities, leading to financial strain and other problems.
4) Character Changes In The Person Struggling With Addiction
An addict’s behavior and personality often changes, which can impact their marriage negatively. For a marriage to be healthy, trust, communication, and respect are key. However, an addict may neglect these important aspects.
For example, addicts may use secretive behavior in order to hide their substance abuse. When they do spend time with their spouse or family, they may seem disconnected or mentally checked out of the conversation.
If you suspect something is wrong, they may become defensive and angry when confronted, which can be heartbreaking.
A healthy marriage is one that minimizes these factors.
Also Read: How To Forgive: 5 Videos To Help You Let Go
Should You Stay Or Should You Leave?
This is the question that is most often asked when living with a person struggling with addictions. It’s not an easy question to answer.
Ideally, a marriage would work together to create a healthy, positive and safe environment that fosters love and respect. This is typically not the situation when dealing with active drug addiction.
Below we discuss the behaviors necessary for the relationship to work – behaviors required of both parties.
In short, if both partners are willing to implement the guidelines outlined below, the relationship can survive and recover. However, if any of these is missing from the equation, it complicates the restoration process.
Note: The guidelines mentioned below are not the only ones couples should put in place. They are starting points. In our experience, if couples are willing to put them into place, they have a greater chance at rebuilding a strong marriage.
Behavior The Spouse Of The Addict Must Avoid To Make Marriage Work
One thing that keeps a person in the cycle of addiction is behavior by others that fosters the addiction.
1) Codependency and Enabling Behavior
According to the American Addiction Centers, it is any behavior that allows the person to continue in their addiction without facing the consequences of their actions.
They recommend asking yourself these questions:
- Am I setting healthy boundaries for myself?
- Am I letting the people in my life take responsibility for themselves?
- Am I seeking help from professionals outside the home?
- Am I giving myself time for my own stress management activities?
- Am I making time for my own recovery activities?
2) Trying To Change Your Spouse
It’s tempting to think you can say the right words or do the right thing that will change your spouse. It’s not true. The sooner you realize you are not responsible for their addiction or recovery the more healthy you will be.
Sure, you play a role in their recovery. But this is a far cry from being responsible for it. They must take full responsibility for their actions and drub abuse in order to get free. This means it is not on you to make it happen.
3) Pretending It’s Not A Big Problem
I see this often with couples. They minimize the problem. This only delays (and often stops) the recovery process.
The cold fact is, you cannot recover from a problem you deny. The sooner you face it head on, the quicker you can move in the direction of help.
4) Trying To Do It On Your Own
The first reason we can’t do it on our own when we want to help a spouse who has addiction issues is because addiction (according to most research) is a disease. It’s not something that someone can just stop doing on their own. They need professional help to get and stay sober.
The second reason is that addiction takes a toll on relationships. It can cause communication problems, financial problems, and emotional problems (as mentioned above).
When we try to help our spouse with their addiction, we are also trying to repair the damage that has been done to our relationship.
Another danger of trying to help an addict on your own is that you may enable them to continue using drugs or alcohol. If you enable an addict, you are essentially helping them to keep using substances, which is not helpful in the long run.
You may also put yourself in danger if you try to help an addict on your own. For example, if you help an addict obtain drugs or alcohol, you may be putting yourself at risk of being arrested.
Finally, it is important to remember that addiction is a disease, and as such, it is not something that can be cured overnight. If you try to help an addict on your own, you may become frustrated and discouraged if you don’t see results immediately.
Behavior The Addict Should Avoid
Even though addiction is a disease, the person must take responsibility for their behavior. I’ll put these in two categories: Actions and Attitudes.
Actions The Addict Should Take
There are many steps to recovery. These four are great ‘first steps’ in the journey.’
1) Admit They Have A Problem
There are a few reasons why it is important for an addict to admit they have a problem.
The first reason is that admitting that you have a problem is the first step to getting help and beginning your recovery.
Second, admitting that you have a problem can help you to take responsibility for your actions and start to make changes in your life.
Third, admitting that you have a problem can help you to face your fears and begin to deal with them.
Fourth, admitting that you have a problem can help you to start to build a support system of people who can help you through your recovery.
Fifth, admitting that you have a problem can help you to begin to see yourself in a new light and start to believe that recovery is possible.
Finally, (and this is the most important) you cannot fix what you ignore or fail to admit is wrong.
Once the addict comes to the place of realizing they need help, the journey to recovery can begin.
2) Check In To A Rehab Facility
It’s easy to think you can handle it on your own. This rarely works.
Rehab facilities and treatment centers are designed to help people with addiction issues. They have counselors, medical staff, and resources specifically designed to aid in recovery.
It is selfish to expect your family to be your sole source of support on your journey. They have issues they must navigate as well. The responsible thing to do is check in to a facility that specializes in addiction treatment.
3) Get Counseling For The Deeper Issues
There is usually a trigger that begins the downward spiral of addiction. It’s important to identify this trigger so you can deal with it successfully.
Most rehab facilities offer counseling during your recovery stage, but this should not be viewed as a ‘one and done’ situation. Most addicts have underlying issues that take time to resolve.
Ongoing counseling can help deal with those issues.
Simply kicking the habit is not enough. You must identify and conquer the beliefs and inner wounds that trigger addictive behavior.
Master Center says this about counseling as a treatment option:
Professionals are well-equipped to provide patients with steps that will help them to return to healthy routines slowly. Counselors can also advise clients on whether what they are doing is working or not. If things turn out to not be giving the desired results, then they can offer a different course of action. Professional expertise on what the next steps should be can prove to be invaluable.
Even after recovery is well under way, family therapy may be necessary for maintaining emotional health in the relationship.
4) Establish Continual Help and Follow Up
This step links with the previous point – you need ongoing help.
It’s important to join support groups, have mentors, and accountability partners to help you stay on the right path. Most addicts are not able to kick the habit alone and never struggle again. This is why support groups are important.
Drug rehab not only helps the addict, it has value for the spouse and family.
Drug rehab can also help make the future brighter for each spouse, whether the relationship survives or not. Wellness and recovery simply offer a way for people to experience better outcomes in general. Marriage is a two-way street and addiction does a lot to block the whole road. With a good drug rehab program, recovery and marriage can move forward together.Source
Attitudes The Addict Should Demonstrate
Attitudes are an integral part of the healing journey. People who admit they have a problem are more likely to win the battle than those who continually deny they have a problem.
These attitudes are foundational; which means, without them there is very little hope of continued victory.
1) No More Excuses
It’s typical for addicts to make excuses for their bad decisions. The first attitude to establish is ‘I’m responsible for my actions.’ If this is not in place, chances are the person will continue to struggle because they are not owning their choices.
2) Stop Blaming Others
This goes along with the excuses. One thing many addicts do is place blame on others. It’s another way of avoiding responsibility.
When a person owns their own behavior, they are on the road to recovery.
3) Take Responsibility
This means stop blaming other people for your decisions, as well as, investing in your own recovery.
I often see addicts expect other people to do the hard work for them. This doesn’t work. Unless you are willing to do the work, you will not succeed. It’s that simple.
Taking responsibility means you own your problem (in terms of admitting its YOUR problem and not other people) and are willing to do the work to get back on track.
Practical Steps To Stay In Control
I usually do not like to use the word control in reference to relationships, especially marriage. But in this case, control is appropriate.
With addiction issues, it often boils down to ‘who is in control?’ Most addicts learn to manipulate to get what they want. This causes conflict in the home. So the goal is to stay in control so the person struggling with addiction is not able to manipulate and control the family.
Here are practical steps to take to remain in the driver’s seat:
Step One: Get Professional Help
Counseling will help you work through issues related to addiction.
For example, many spouses have deep resentment for what they have experienced. The emotional, financial, and relationship strain on the marriage can feel unbearable. You need help working through those issues.
For recovery to happen, both partners need to be in it together. This means getting help navigating the inner issues that can interfere with restoration and healing.
Step Two: Consider Joining A Support Group
There are many groups available that are designed to help families who have a member who battles addiction.
See the Resource tab at the end of this article for a short list of support groups.
Step Three: Establish Rigid Boundaries
I intentionally use the word rigid. It’s not a term I employ when dealing with healthy couples. However, for situations involving addiction, it is necessary.
Rigid boundaries are required because an addict usually becomes a master of manipulation. They know if you bend at one point, they will continue to press you to bend at others. Eventually eroding the boundaries you need to reestablish control in the relationship. (See above about control)
Addiction can be a very destructive force in a relationship.
Addicts can be manipulative and may try to control their partners through their addiction. They may also use their addiction as an excuse to neglect or abuse their partners. If a spouse does not establish strong boundaries, they may be enabling the addict’s behavior and enabling the addiction to continue.
Final Thoughts On Marriage Surviving Drug Addiction
A marriage can survive drug addiction if both partners are willing to work on the relationship and get help for the addiction.
Drug addiction can cause a lot of stress and conflict in a marriage, but couples can overcome these challenges by communicating openly, setting boundaries, and getting support from family and friends.
It is also important to seek professional help to address the underlying issues that may be contributing to the addiction. With treatment and support, couples can learn to trust and love each other again and build a stronger marriage.
- Statistics On Addiction And Marriage
- How Addiction Impacts Marriage
- Should You Stay Or Should You Leave?
- Behavior The Spouse Of The Addict Must Avoid To Make Marriage Work
- Behavior The Addict Should Avoid
- Practical Steps To Stay In Control
We have resources available to help you create the marriage you desire and deserve.
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
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The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
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Five Simple Steps Marriage Course
Marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. In this 5 part mini-series, you’ll discover practical steps to redesign your marriage.
Healthy Marriage Academy
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.