What Couples Experience When One is Addicted

Our significant other is often the person we spend our time with- second to our coworkers; many couples find that as their relationship progresses, one or the other changes – and while some minor changes are to be expected, it can greatly affect a relationship when one partner develops an addiction. A loved one may begin to notice that their significant other is coming home later than usual, that they’re starting to smell strongly of substances when they do, or that they’re acting very angry or defensive when concern is brought up. In these instances, it can be really difficult for partners to find their grounding, because addiction can significantly affect the way their partner thinks and behaves.

The Addiction Experience in Intimate Relationships

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), couples in which a partner abuses substances are typically more unhappy than those where neither partner abuses substances. As drinking or drug use worsens, more and more time is taken away from the couple’s core – which is a foundation that needs continuous attention in order for couples to truly thrive. As one partner continuously spends more time obtaining and abusing substances, the other partner is likely to become upset – and when this tension clashes, arguing make take place more often than not.

As stress levels mount within the relationship, the addicted partner may continue to rely on substances in order to relieve some of the stress they’re experiencing from arguing with their loved one; and thus, this harsh cycle continues. A prime example of this situation is within a study published in the journal Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, which sought to explore some of the most common experiences of those who’ve struggled with addiction. One participant stated,

“She pointed out that if I didn’t quit, she would leave…there were divorce threats; that is basically it. I just quit, and, you know, just go for awhile and then the tension would build up, the stress would build up again and I would go back to it.”

The authors noted that there is a theme of what they call “Punctuated Equilibrium,” which seems to be that a person’s stable life – such as with their partner, their employment and their social relationships – become essentially “punctuated” once addiction enters the picture. Unfortunately, many partners don’t know where to go from here; writer Maia Szalavitz explained on Five Thirty Eight, a website that publishes information on politics, sports, science and health, the difficulty families often encounter by explaining:

“Faced with someone who appears to be driving heedlessly into the abyss, families often fight, freeze or flee, unable to figure out how to help.”

It’s hard to argue with addiction, however, and many relationships find little peace when anger and defensiveness emerge as concern is expressed. With so much fear, guilt, anger and other painful feelings surrounding the situation of addiction, this begs the question,

“Are those couples who have a partner who struggles with addiction bound to fail?”

Regaining Stability and Finding Recovery, As A Couple

In many unfortunate cases, addiction brings about domestic violence in the relationship – and this is certainly a case when a loved one should protect their own safety. If extreme circumstances do not occur, however, there may be greater hope for a couple to maintain the health of their relationship – but it will take some work.

Emily Glover, a woman who has previously struggled with disordered eating, told The Fix some great advice for managing an intimate relationship while in recovery (which fits well for couples who want to work through their relationship despite an addiction):

  •    Ensure that enough space is provided so that a loved one in recovery can work on themselves. Through 12-Step programs, therapy, group support and more, individuals can become stronger in their own sense of identity – and this will help them to embrace sobriety as they continue on their recovery journey.
  •    Work closely with a therapist in couples therapy so that both individuals are on the same page. Oftentimes, recovery can bring up a lot of harsh thoughts and emotions – and if not dealt with in healthy ways, partners may hold resentment towards one another. In order to increase the odds of your relationship surviving (and thriving), make therapy together a priority.
  •    Beware of red flags that could set the relationship – and the loved one’s sobriety – back. Partners truly need to be supportive of their loved one’s efforts in recovery, and they can do this by ensuring that the home environment is free from substances and encouraging recovery goals.

It’s Never Too Late

A common belief of many who struggle with addiction is that it’s too late to recover, it’s too late to save the relationship, or that it’s too late to live happier and healthier. It’s never too late – and if you’re ready to work harder than you ever have before towards these things, speak with a professional from the Burning Tree today.

Burning Tree provides programs specializing in long-term residential treatment for clients with a history of drug and alcohol relapse. Our long-term approach and extensive aftercare programs help clients break the cycle of relapse and transition to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Contact us for more information or visit the websites of our two locations: Renewal Lodge, which offers a 30-60 day treatment program, Burning Tree Ranch, which offers year-long treatment.


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