By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
Addiction is an overwhelming illness whose hallmark symptoms are the physiological craving of, and emotional attachment to, a legal or illegal substance or practice. Most often, we see addictions in the form of substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs.
Substance abuse is devastating to marriages, families, and relationships. It can result in career loss, financial ruin, divorce, estrangement, and even death. Today, we’ll focus on six landmines that substance abuse plants in your marriage when you’re struggling with addiction.
For all of these issues, we strongly encourage that you and your spouse seek outside professional help. Consult your local minister or physician for reliable recovery resources, like a 12-step system that understands your unique struggle. Addiction is not something you can overcome on your own, but with the right help, you will be able to move past this and rebuild your lives.
Denial is risky business when it comes to facing a life-altering issue like addiction. For the addicted spouse, denial comes in the form of the idea that they’re in control of their addiction–they can stop any time they want. This is frustrating for the non-addicted spouse, who can often (eventually) see the problem for what it is, but finds it difficult to impossible to interact with the addicted spouse who is so strongly rooted in denial.
But many times, especially at first, the non-addicted spouse is also in denial. While the other person may display a host of red flags that point to substance abuse, it can feel easier in the moment for the non-addicted spouse to come up with alternate explanations or write off the signs as coincidence. Denial on the part of the non-addicted spouse is dangerous because it delays the possibility of seeking necessary professional help…even if that help only comes in the form of support for the non-addicted person in the marriage.
Whether it’s you or your spouse who is struggling with an addiction, helplessness takes root quickly. After a period of denial has passed, an addicted spouse may feel helpless to control what is happening to them; they find themselves at the mercy of the drug. The non-addicted spouse is likely to feel helpless when it comes to their spouse’s addictive behavior because they can’t do anything to stop it or make the situation better.
Feeling totally out of control of any situation–but especially a situation like this–is terrifying, stressful, and unsettling. Both spouses are at risk of seeking out behavior patterns that make them feel more in control of their lives, which can create a volatile situation in the relationship.
Addiction breeds dishonesty. It’s nearly an inevitable byproduct of substance abuse. The addicted spouse inherently knows that the substance that’s controlling their life shouldn’t be playing a role in it at all. Yet, because the physiological need for it is very real, they find themselves lying to cover up the problem.
However painful it may be, the non-addicted spouse must keep track of their spouse’s dishonesty. It’s essential to learn the telltale signs that the addicted spouse is lying; he or she may fall into a pattern that is easy to recognize. During and after recovery, the non-addicted spouse may still find it difficult to trust their husband or wife, but if they’ve become familiar with his or her patterns during dishonesty, it could become a framework they can use to evaluate the recovering spouse.
Addictive substances tend to steal an addicted spouse’s entire focus (perhaps not at first, but eventually, this tends to be the case). This can lead to the spouse neglecting the needs of their family, plus their responsibilities at home and at work. As a result, the addicted spouse may eventually find themselves jobless and even in the throes of financial ruin.
For the non-addicted spouse, experiencing neglect is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, the health and wellbeing of their children, and the financial stability of the family. Over time, they find themselves shouldering the burden of the addicted spouse’s responsibilities, plus their own. This can lead to anger, resentment, and contempt, which can be difficult to overcome even after the couple has received professional help to overcome the addiction itself.
PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLNESS & PAIN
Substance abuse often begins when a person is trying to escape pain of some kind. What addicted individuals often don’t realize is that the substance will eventually cause them physical and psychological pain. Addiction also leads to varying types of illness, brought on by the years of self-harm.
For a non-addicted spouse, psychological pain and illness may occur as a result of the tremendous stress brought on by the addiction. Practice radical self-care and talk to your physician or counselor if your family is facing an addiction that has caused your health to deteriorate. Your recovering spouse and any children you may have will need you to be healthy in the coming months as you face this down.
Unfortunately, addiction is capable of creating an abusive environment in your home–be it verbal, physical, emotional, or otherwise. A person who has become addicted to a substance is susceptible to personality changes that include aggression and violence.
If you are a non-addicted spouse and your husband or wife has become abusive, creating a dangerous environment in your home, get yourself and any children you may have to safety. Consult your counselor for the safest way to communicate to your spouse that you have left the home, and you won’t be able to come back until it is safe for you to be there. Encourage them to seek the help they need to get well so that your family can be together again in a healthy environment.
If you would like help with your marriage or addiction, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.