Recovery and Spouses
Marriage and relationships can be difficult even in the best of times. But when one spouse is battling addiction, the other may feel completely hopeless, angry, impatient, full of distrust, sad, and an array of other emotions. With the persistent threat of relapse lingering, the emotional roller coaster in marriage during recovery can continue for many years. Recovery is never easy but getting support and giving love and support are two ways to overcome difficulties and keep your marriage intact.
An important key to strengthening your spouse during recovery is to take care of yourself. This may seem crazy because you want so much to help your addicted spouse and then you think your life will improve afterward. But, self-care, or meeting your own needs and wants, is key to being supportive to your spouse. Your spouse’s addiction most likely has had a devastating impact on you personally. Through self-care as well as educational workshops, family therapy sessions and family visits, spouses learn new skills with their loved one and can practice those skills to strengthen themselves and the marriage. Recovery programs often recommend resources in the local community as well, including therapy and Al-Anon, S-Anon, or other meetings which support spouses of addicts.
Loving and supporting your spouse during the first months – during early recovery – can prove to be the most challenging and difficult. Many significant life changes happen in the first year of sobriety. During that time, addicts in recovery need to be somewhat “selfish,” focusing on themselves in order to maintain sobriety and rebuild their lives. This can leave some spouses feeling neglected and resentful. What a recovering spouse needs more than anything is the support, patience, and love from their partner.
When you’re living with a spouse who is addicted to something harmful, you’ve likely grown accustomed to dysfunction in your marriage. You may have alternated between being the spouse who tries to fix all of the addict’s mistakes to the disengaged spouse who just wants some peace. Without intending to, you may have assumed some unhealthy roles, such as an enabler or being codependent. Through therapy and counseling, you can also identify unhealthy patterns and learn more positive ways to get your needs met that will ultimately help your spouse in recovery as well.
You can be there for your spouse by educating yourself, taking care of yourself, keeping communication lines between you open, being patient, avoiding blame, working toward forgiveness, and preparing for setbacks. It’s also important to understand that your relationship may change; in fact, it may end all together. Your spouse’s progress may be slow, or it may be surprisingly quick. Allowing your spouse some freedom to explore who they are without their addiction while in recovery, can bring a positive shift in responsibilities and dynamics to your relationship. Standing by and supporting your spouse through recovery is difficult and draining, but the rewards and benefits are most often worth the effort.