Living As The Spouse Of An Addict: 10 Coping Strategies For You

spouse of an addict

Do you love someone struggling with addiction? Do you lie awake- night after night- hoping and praying for a change? For an answer or some much-needed relief?

You’re not alone. Addiction ravages families around the country. Being the spouse of an addict can feel incredibly lonely and painful.

Let’s get into some of the best coping tips for managing your marriage.

1. Educate Yourself On Addiction

Addiction can be complicated. After all, why can’t people just stop drinking or using? Why can’t they see the pain their actions cause to others?

First, you should learn the signs and symptoms associated with addiction. You may have an intuition that something isn’t right. Even if you don’t have hard evidence, don’t ignore that gut feeling!

If your marriage suddenly feels different, there’s a reason why!

Note that addicts can be fantastic liars. If you have no experience with addiction, you may not know what to look for. However, there are many physical and emotional symptoms to investigate.

Some examples include:

  • mental health changes (i.e., increased depression, anxiety, or euphoria)
  • lack of motivation
  • dramatic weight changes
  • sleep changes
  • unusual odors in the home, car, or on the person
  • engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • changes in hobbies, work, or friends
  • financial issues or secrecy around money

Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing sooner. Again, addiction is tricky to determine. It’s also highly stigmatized, which makes people ashamed to talk about it.

Your loved one may not offer information voluntarily. That doesn’t mean you still can’t learn about what’s going on.

2. Seek Professional Therapy

Drug addiction can be debilitating for loved ones. One moment, you may feel alone and scared. The next, you may feel incredibly angry and downright helpless.

Individual Therapy

Professional therapy can help you sort out these thoughts and feelings. Therapists can support you in processing this discomfort. You’ll be allowed to share what’s on your mind- without worrying about judgment.

In therapy, you can focus on:

  • developing positive coping skills
  • improving your self-esteem and self-worth
  • establishing healthy boundaries
  • managing your mental health
  • exploring family dynamics
  • healing past traumas

There are numerous types of therapists and therapy modalities available for support. You may need to consult with a few professionals before finding the best one.

Couples or Marital Therapy

Couples or marital therapy can be incredibly powerful if you and your spouse struggle with:

  • identifying and setting boundaries
  • healthy communication
  • lack of trust (i.e., lying or stealing or infidelity)
  • financial issues
  • significant stressful changes (i.e., death in the family, the birth of a child)

If your partner is newly sober, this therapy can help you both navigate the uncharted waters.

Being nervous is normal. Some people worry about therapists siding with one partner. They fear to air their dirty laundry before a stranger.

You should know that therapists, by nature, practice neutrality. They are not interested in taking sides or determining who is right.

Instead, they want you both to attack the problems together. They want you both to unify as a team and utilize your strengths to make progress.

Family Therapy

Addiction is considered a family disease. That means all members play a role in maintaining the addict’s choices.

Family therapy can be very beneficial if you have other members impacted by the disease. This may include you or your spouse’s immediate families (siblings, parents, etc.). It may also include your children.

Family therapists believe in using the entire family unit to evoke change. They may ask each member to describe how the addiction has affected them. They may have each person set boundaries.

Family therapy can be emotionally intense. A few sessions cannot solve years of dysfunctional dynamics. However, it can be an excellent starting point for change.

3. Seek Your Own Support Group

Of course, you want your loved one to receive help. However, far too many spouses only focus on the addict. They may spend hours, days, and weeks trying to locate information for support.

That said, you are allowed to have your own support during this process. Groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon or Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) can provide invaluable guidance.

Members speak about their own recoveries. They speak about how they have learned to implement boundaries. They share their fears, struggles, hopes, and successes.

Having a support group can help you when things become difficult. For example, if your spouse relapses, you can reach out to one of the members for guidance.

4. Prioritize Your Own Self-Care

Many spouses neglect their own needs in the face of addiction. They become consumed with what their spouse is (or isn’t) doing.

Self-care isn’t optional. It’s a required task that keeps you emotionally and physically healthy. You need to prioritize it like you would any other appointment.

Self-care doesn’t need to be extravagant, expensive, or time-consuming. It simply needs to help recharge your emotional batteries.

Healthy examples of self-care include:

  • Meditation and yoga
  • Fitness and exercise
  • Arts and crafts
  • Spending time with friends and loved ones
  • Cuddling and playing with animals
  • Sightseeing and traveling

Again, you must make time for your own self-care. This makes you a healthier individual. In turn, this also makes you a healthier partner.

5. Set Your Own Boundaries

Many spouses struggle to set boundaries with their loved ones. Sure, they may try to establish boundaries. However, they often falter to enforce them.

Addicts can be very deceiving. They can manipulate your thoughts. They know how to tell you what you want to hear.

Often, this is not malicious because it’s a matter of survival. They want you happy and calm. On the same token, they don’t want anything getting in the way of them using.

How do you know if it’s time to set or strengthen your boundaries? Consider these factors:

  • You guilt-trip or nag to get your way
  • You continuously provide advice or solutions
  • You defend for him or her (call in sick for work, pick up from jail)
  • You walk on eggshells in your home
  • You neglect other family members or yourself

Setting boundaries can feel harsh. However, you need to honor your needs. You also need to send a clear message about what you will (and will not) tolerate.

Boundaries may include:

  • I will not give you money
  • I will not lie or cover for you
  • I will not allow drug-using friends in my home
  • I will not bail you out of jail

You can change or add boundaries at any time. That is your right as an adult. If you need helping setting boundaries, consult with your therapist or support network.

6. Stage an Intervention

Is your partner unaware of his or her problem? Do they continue to deny needing help? You may need to stage an intervention.

Interventions refer to preplanned meetings involving all loved ones. Without the individual’s awareness, everyone plans to discuss the impact of addiction. At a determined time, they then meet to confront the individual with their thoughts.

Professional interventionists can help you with this process. They can help you plan out what to say. They can also help you find appropriate treatment referrals.

Contrary to popular belief, staging an intervention doesn’t need to be a ‘last resort.’ You can use this method when you feel like enough is enough.

Just keep in mind that interventions are powerful. Once you say those words, you can’t take them back.

Sometimes, loved ones comply readily with your requests. Other times, you’ll be met with anger or hostility. Plan ahead for all outcomes.

7. Support Recovery Efforts

Has your loved one decided to seek treatment? If so, you’re probably very relieved. You may also be scared or confused about what will happen next.

Addiction is undoubtedly a complicated road. Recovery can be just as complicated. It may take several times for your loved one to find success.

There are numerous addiction treatment options available. You can typically start by contacting your insurance and seeing what they will cover. You can also reach out to loved ones for referrals.

During treatment, your spouse may have limited access to contact you. Many facilities impose rules as part of their care. They want clients to focus on themselves- rather than on external dynamics.

That said, you will probably be in contact with a case manager or therapist. This person will act as your ally. Use him or her a springboard for questions and concerns.

Some clients will enter treatment and change their mind. They will abruptly decide that they want to leave. You may receive an unexpected phone call begging for a ride home or plane ticket.

Proceed with caution with these requests. Always consult with the facility’s staff before making a decision. You don’t want to enable ongoing addiction inadvertently.

8. Tell People Who Need to Know

Yes, this may feel shameful. However, you have a right to discuss your reality. Tell your neighbors if needed. Tell the school.

You’re allowed to receive support. You may also find yourself surprised. By disclosing your spouse’s addiction, people may reveal their own struggles.

After all, addiction is common. Don’t be shocked if someone you know is facing the same battle.

Your partner may react with anger or frustration if they find out. Know that anger is their problem. It is not your responsibility to hold these secrets.

9. Protect Your Children

Do you have children together? If so, you must protect them from your spouse’s actions.

Keep in mind that many children benefit from therapy. Even youngsters can benefit from meeting with a trained professional. If the child is in middle or high school, they may benefit from attending Alateen.

Your children will probably have a lot of questions. They may ask why Mommy is always sleeping or why Daddy always drinks. Use your own discretion in providing age-appropriate language.

Is the home becoming unsafe? You may need to have someone else watch your children temporarily. Or, you may need to leave the home physically.

If your spouse is abusing your children, you must report it. Contact Child Protective Services or the police immediately.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean your kids will be taken from you. It means that law enforcement will do what they can to ensure safety in the home.

10. Leave The Relationship

Even though it may be the last thing you want to do, you can leave the relationship. If your spouse is refusing to change, you may need to walk away to protect yourself.

Of course, this decision isn’t an easy one. You will need legal and financial support during this time. You will also need ongoing emotional support.

Your spouse may lie, manipulate, or turn this decision on you. That is normal, and you should expect it. Regardless, you have a right to your happiness.

That means you have a right to set your boundaries and enforce them. If your spouse cannot respect those, things may never change.

Leaving the relationship won’t be an option for everyone. Furthermore, this is not direct advice saying you should leave. It’s simply an acknowledgement to remember your integrity and values.

Final Thoughts On Being The Spouse of An Addict

Being the spouse of an addict can seem like a full-time job (without pay). It can be physically and emotionally exhaustive. That said, you can also be one of the greatest sources of support if and when your partner seeks help.

Has your husband or wife discussed treatment? If so, we are here to help during this process. Contact us today to discuss the next step.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.