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August 5, 2014
by Casey Truffo, LMFT

How to Support Your Spouse During Addiction Recovery

August 5, 2014 02:55 by Casey Truffo, LMFT

Through Sickness and In Health

There are trials in every marriage, but one of the lowest points that can be experienced in a marriage, other than death of a spouse, may be the result of your other half battling drug addiction.  It's likely the spouse who is not addicted feels helpless, hopeless, and angry when their spouse checks into a rehabilitation clinic.  There is always the threat of relapse because recovery is never easy.  In fact, it can continue over several years.   Addiction recovery is stressful for both the addict, and the spouse of the addict.  Many times the addict's spouse is left alone to take care of the children, the house, all the chores, and all the bills, all while trying to keep the marriage from failing. 

Drug Addiction is a Disease

First, realize that drug addiction is a disease.  Yes, it can hurt you emotionally, financially, and socially if your spouse enters rehab.  It is important that you embrace your spouse's addiction as a family issue.  In fact, the best rehab clinics have programs which involve family members as part of the addict's treatment.  Clinics have family therapy sessions, family days, and workshops where both of you learn new ways of doing things to help you succeed once your spouse is home.  

The best thing you can do is to be there for your spouse during recovery.  No matter how high the bills are piled, how much of a wreck you have become, or how lonely you are while your spouse is in recovery, it is important that you deal with it.  Commit to the long haul while your spouse is in recovery and realize that your spouse will seem very selfish at first due to working on how to live sober and how to build self-esteem.  If you are the spouse who is not addicted, this can make you feel resentful.  Remember, your spouse needs your support more than anything else.  In fact, some professionals feel that if the non-addicted spouse is too critical of their spouse in rehab, the addict is more likely to experience a relapse. 

How to Help

Here's how to show support for your spouse who is going through recovery.  Learn everything you can about recovery and work with your spouse to lessen the chances of experiencing a relapse.  Be willing to talk about the issues and work towards shared goals.  Accept that your relationship is going to change.  Your spouse is going to be meeting new people, and maybe even getting noticed at work.  This is part of recovery.  Realize that one, or both, of you may consider divorce.  You may find that you no longer have anything in common.  Recovery is like riding an emotional rollercoaster.  It causes a lot of stress in a marriage.  Understand that without drug or alcohol use, your spouse may no longer be the person you once knew.

Try to forgive your spouse. 

Many times, spouses have a lot of anger and/or resentment built up after spending a large chunk of their lives dealing with a spouse who's an addict.  Although you have the right to those thoughts and feelings, try to get past them and move forward.  Here are a few hints regarding feelings and attitudes that may shine through while watching your spouse experience addiction recovery.  Trying to do these things will show that you are committed and you are trying to make a difference in your spouse's world, all things considered. 

  • Try not to be critical.  Remember that your spouse's addiction is a disease.

  • Praise your spouse when praise is deserved, and encourage your spouse to meet with their sponsor whenever needed, even if it's not at a good time in your world.

  • Realize there may be road blocks, but don't blame them on yourself.  If your spouse relapses, be sure to get your spouse back into a rehabilitation facility.

Here are examples of things not to do when your spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is going through recovery.

 ●     Do not feel like your spouse is a disgrace to your family.

 ●     Don't nag or lecture your spouse. ●     Don't play the part of "holier-than-thou". 

 ●     Don't use the phrase, "If you loved me you would..." 

 ●     Avoid threats unless you are prepared to follow through on them.

 ●     Don't expect an immediate change in your spouse.

Many spouses who have been through drug rehab with their spouse, agree that you need to be supportive of your spouse, but you, too, also need a plan for your own well-being if things go badly.  Start by understanding what rehab is about and how it will affect your spouse.  Request information from your spouse's recovery counselor so you can understand your spouse's addiction.  Comprise a list of behaviors you are willing to accept from your spouse.  Will you allow alcohol and/or drugs in your home?  If not, what course of action will you take if your rule is broken?  What will you do if physical violence is displayed by your spouse when they return home from rehab?  Maybe those are the deal breakers for you.  Use the time and distance of rehab as a time to get your emotions in order and your rules in place.  However, you need to do this while supporting your spouse's recovery.  Decide at what point you leave home and/or the marriage.  Be sure to tell your spouse at what point you will walk away, and be prepared to do it.  Discuss your situation with family members and/or close friends who can be there to help in your time of need, should that time come.  Try to maintain control of your emotions.

Practice Helps

There is no better time than when your spouse returns home from rehab for the two of you to begin practicing better communication skills.  First and foremost, accept your spouse for whom s/he is.  Do not blame, do not try to reform, and do not try to make your spouse anything other than who they are.  Do not demand that your spouse change to something you deem appropriate.  Change can only happen when a person works at it and wants to change, themselves. 

Praise your spouse when praise is due.  Be honest at all times and be ready for compromises as well as for disagreements.  At some point in your spouse's recovery, you will need to think about forgiveness.  Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting.  Remembering how your spouse acted before means you can learn from the past and hope for, or ask for, a better turnout.  Forgiving also doesn't mean excusing.  Forgiving is letting go of the pain someone caused you in order for YOU to move forward to better times and stronger relationships. 

Commitment is Key

After the initial homecoming of your spouse, you both will need to commit to healing your marriage for as long as it takes.  Drug addiction has destroyed many relationships due to lies and hurt feelings.  Try to create a new marriage and realize the old marriage is gone.  There's no way to change what happened, and no way to forget the hurt you have experienced in the past.  This is why you have to create a new marriage.  Think about things and the way they were before and things you would like to see changed in your newly committed relationship.  Communicate these things to your spouse.  Changes will not occur if they aren't spoken.

Seek Professional Help

The next step is to get counseling.  Recovery is not something that happens too often without seeking counseling for you and your spouse.  You may need to have individual sessions and couples sessions.  The staff at the Relationship Center Orange County are professionals who are trained to help you pave the way to healing so you may love each other and respect each other again.  Another great asset in recovery and starting over is to join a support group of people who have gone through the same things you and your spouse are facing.  Support groups, coupled with therapy, could be what you are both needing to make a fresh start.

Sometimes it helps to write things down in a journal.  It is oftentimes difficult to say things that may hurt your spouse during this process.  In this case, write about it in a journal that only you have access to.  Similarly, if you find it hard to talk to your spouse, write your spouse a letter.  Encourage your spouse to do the same.  Once you both feel comfortable with writing letters, it will be easier to have conversations. 

You have to heal at your own pace, and nobody but you will know when you feel better.  Healing is a long process.  The key is to find what works best for you and embrace the journey of healing.  Remember, you can't change what happened in the past, but you can change the impact it is has on you today.  Be strong, be focused, and be determined.  You will find the way, the path to your individual healing and to your new marriage.

Consider the professionals at the Relationship Center of Orange County for your treatment needs.  Call us today at (949) 430-7389 or use our on-line scheduling tool to book your appointment. 


About the Author

OC Relationship Center OC Relationship Center, LMFT

You deserve to feel better - in your life and relationships. At OC Relationship Center we want to help you find more love, more joy, more peace...and less conflict and less stress. Our licensed and caring counselors can help if you are single, dating, married, divorced.

OC Relationship Center can be found at
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