Updated: Aug 15
When your partner or spouse is an addict, it can be scary, stressful, and confusing.
If you're like me, you might feel like everything you're doing is wrong, and you have no idea what kinds of things to do in order to actually help.
You see, in the past I would do all kinds of things that I thought were helpful, like finding a rehab when I found out he relapsed, forcing...I mean, suggesting that he to go to meetings, being his accountability partner, etc.
But all that did was continue to put the focus on him. Instead of finding ways to help myself first and make sure I was taken care of emotionally, mentally, and physically, I put all of my energy and attention into making sure he would recover the way I wanted him to. When that's his job.
And that's the way to go nowhere fast.
Ok, so what do we do then?
Well, lucky for you I have my own experience and mistakes to share with you. So take a look at this list to see if you have been doing this to your addict spouse or partner, and learn from me.
1. Don't rely on them for emotional stability- It’s common to try and rely on your partner for emotional stability, but when addiction is involved, this can be even more detrimental to the relationship. Both partners should be responsible for their own emotions and their own responses, and not look to the other to heal them or keep them from becoming distressed. This comes into play when your partner is in active addiction, but also when in recovery. For example: you shouldn’t look to them to make you comfortable by attending a certain number of meetings, by giving you extra time and attention instead of doing sober-minded activities, or by trying to force your partner to quit their using by making ultimatums or decisions with the sole goal being to “make” them choose sobriety.
2. Don't put their needs ahead of your own- Another common trait of addiction-related relationships is putting your needs on the back-burner and focusing only on the needs of your partner, going beyond what is in your control. For example, you can’t force them to come home, make sure they eat 3 meals a day, give them money whenever they ask so they won’t get stuck in a bind anywhere, etc. You must put yourself first so that you are healthy and well, and so that you can better help them by making and enforcing real boundaries, getting stronger in yourself, and being more at peace with life and its situations.
3. Don't take on their responsibilities- As well-meaning as you can be, you shouldn’t do things for your partner that they should do themselves. This can come into play by not contacting their employer to make sure they keep their job, making sure they go to work, keeping track of their money and spending, keeping tabs on them and making sure they keep appointments, bailing them out of jail, etc.
4. Don't hold them accountable for your feelings and actions- It’s common to build up resentments due to their apparent lack of help or support for you, but most often, we take it upon ourselves to do the things we feel resentful of. Even if that’s not the case, we are the only one responsible for how we feel, and we have full control to change ourselves and our reactions. It’s not our partner’s job to make sure we feel the way we want to, and it’s not their job to make sure we don’t get upset. The more you have unfair and unlikely expectations on them, the more often they will “fail”, and the more upset and resentful you will get.
5. Don't give them unrestricted financial access/support- Money can be a big issue in many ways. We know they need money to continue their active addiction and if we don’t want them to get sick/leave us because we are giving them money to fund their addiction, we might continue to give financial support. We also know that they could be spending all of their money on continuing their habit, and may not have the money for basic necessities, so we may try to give them support so they don’t fall deeper into danger. But in doing this, we only prolong the agony and the time it will take for us to change and become healthier, and in a lot of cases, the time it will take for them to reach their limit and decide to get help.
Now, I will put a disclaimer here and say that, again, these are all from my own experience and of course, you can make your own choices and do what's best for you (as I advocate for always). But, these were common enough that I wish I had changed my decisions sooner, and so wanted to lay them out here.
It can be a long, lonely road loving someone with addiction. But it doesn't have to be. You have the power to change things for your life whenever you choose.
So what's it going to be?