When I met my fiancé, I was pretty open about my past issues with substance abuse. It wasn’t something I was currently battling, I had been clean for years, but I still see it as a part of who I am and something I will always be cautious about. I needed him to understand this part of me and allow me to be open about it, something he was and continues to be. The journey to recovery is different for everyone and the battles faced are more difficult for those working toward recovery as opposed to those currently in recovery.
If you love someone with addiction, no matter the part of the battle they currently face, there are some keys to maintaining a safe and open space.
Understand the difference between enabling and helping
If you are in a relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, you first need to understand the difference between enabling them and helping them. If you are in a relationship with someone who is still using, it’s important to understand that enabling your partner is doing something for them that they should be able to do themselves — providing money or paying bills are two prime examples. Helping them is doing something for them that they can’t do themselves — listening to them, attending meetings with them or offering to help them with their something (like a resume!) that may further their ability to gain work. Staying away from enabling will help you refrain from a codependent relationship with them. You are their partner, not their keeper.
Put yourself first
When someone you love is struggling, it’s difficult not to do everything in your power to help them feel better. Many people who are in a relationship with an addict may experience feelings of guilt, inadequacy or resentment for their partner’s reliance on a substance. It's important to note that it is natural to feel this way and should be discussed with your partner. Self-care is especially important for the spouse of an addict and there are support groups available in order to maintain good mental health so you can be strong for your partner. Loving an addict is difficult because when they are battling their addiction, they tend to put that substance first. They can be manipulative, angry and a worse version of themselves. If you need to leave the situation, that is your prerogative — as is staying — but don’t stay with an addict that is using with no active intention of getting clean. Your happiness matters.
Believe that recovery is possible
If your partner is currently struggling with addiction, it is important to truly believe that their recovery is possible. Addiction is a difficult thing for everyone involved and at some points it can seem like recovery is a world away. Be supportive, hold them accountable and keep from engaging in enabling behaviors if you want to help your loved one reach sobriety. It’s not an easy road, but many people are able to start the journey and eventually reach their destination. It can be a difficult thing balancing a realistic view of your partner’s issues while hoping they recover, but know that it’s possible.
Remain open to communication
Communication is important for any relationship, but it’s natural for an addict or their spouse to bury certain feelings or thoughts. This is the recipe for disaster as far as recovery and sustaining a relationship goes. Encourage your spouse to discuss their triggers, if they are having thoughts about using, their anxiety, their fears, and their doubts. Talk to your partner if you suspect they are using or if you are scared, angry or experiencing any other emotion related to their sobriety. Be supportive when they exhibit openness and continue to encourage their openness with you. Your partner who is in recovery or trying to reach recovery should always feel like they are able to talk to you about their feelings regarding their substance abuse, so remain open to their constructive discussions with you. Resentment is often common in relationships with someone who is experiencing addiction, and communication is a way to diminish the likelihood of this developing.
Encourage their accountability
Treatment and recovery programs put a heavy emphasis on the importance of accountability. There’s a difference in understanding the causes of addiction and why some are predisposed to substance abuse — but it’s not intended to be a crutch. Addicts must still be held accountable for using, for their actions while they use and the people that they have hurt in the process. Understand that you are not at fault for their actions — they are. Correct them if they place blame on a family member, friend or situation, but keep from blaming them. Allow them to be open while still keeping their accountability in check.
Being open in my relationship during struggles with addiction was helpful for my continued sobriety. It was difficult to be honest about a topic that is so frequently stigmatized, but it’s been the best thing for our relationship. Being in a relationship with an addict that is not yet recovered is extremely difficult and involves a lot of time, patience and understanding as well as a focus on your own well-being. Being in a relationship with a recovered addict means being open, developing trust and finding comfort in each other. Regardless of if you are in a relationship with someone who is on their way to recovery or already recovered, it’s important not to enable your partner while still putting your well-being first. Understand that recovery is possible, communicate frequently and hold your loved one accountable. It’s not an easy road, but life is often accompanied by struggles we must face head-on.
Chelsy Ranard - Guest Blogger