When Your Partner Is an Addict

Being in a committed relationship with a person with a substance abuse disorder is an extremely difficult position. Having the conversation about your partner’s addiction may be difficult to start. Your partner may not be ready to hear you, or you may have been enabling him or her so long you’re not sure how to break the cycle.

You may also feel like your safety is in jeopardy, or that you need to protect your children from traumatic experiences. You may also be feeling like you’re not sure if you want to continue in the relationship, but feel guilty about leaving your partner in a time of crisis.

All these feelings are hard to navigate. But, it’s important to know there are options for you and support communities to help.

Help Yourself First

If you feel like you or your children might be in danger, the first thing you need to do is find a safe space. Nothing good (or productive) happens when you stay with a person who may do you harm, even with the promise that he or she will “never do it again.”

If your partner isn’t physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, you need to find ways to keep yourself healthy. Falling into the vacuum created by your partner’s addiction won’t help either of you find recovery and sobriety. So, spend time with your friends and family who buoy you and can help you find a sense of reality. Exercise, eat well, and find space in your schedule for personal time. When your cup is full, you’ll be much more successful in supporting your partner’s journey to recovery.

Recognize Enabling Behavior

If you love someone, it’s hard to see clearly. You want to do what’s best. However, sometimes what’s best is the most challenging and painful. Your behavior toward your partner and the people surrounding you may actually be contributing to your partner’s substance abuse.

For example, you may make excuses for your partner’s bad behavior or try to downplay the negative effects of his or her actions. You may also be keeping your partner’s addiction satisfied by being financially supportive. These are both examples of enabling behavior.

If you refuse to have any conversation about your partner’s addiction or avoid an intervention because you’re trying to stay conflict-free, you’re enabling. You and your partner may be just as addicted to your enabling behavior as your partner is to a substance.

And, believe it or not, your silence is the most powerful way to enable. If your partner misses an event, is passed out instead of present, or makes others uncomfortable, you need to say it’s not okay. Constantly ignoring problematic behavior or shutting the door on issues that need to come to light can contribute to addiction.

Empower Yourself and Your Partner

If your partner has an addiction, one of the best things you can do is seek support for yourself. Find communities that offer information and support for families affected by addiction. Go to Al-Anon meetings or find other groups such as Codependents Anonymous (CoDA). Visit a licensed counselor to help you learn coping mechanisms and provide you with the necessary tools to stop enabling. Take care of yourself and be available to your partner when he or she gets a wake-up call and asks you for help.

Empower your partner by recognizing when he or she will be most receptive to hard conversations…and have them. Provide them information about support groups and treatment centers. Share your love, but be clear that you won’t be manipulated into serving an addiction.

Empower yourself by recognizing you alone are not responsible for your partner’s recovery. Your partner has to want to be helped. He or she has to be ready for change. Realize you don’t have to have all the right answers, or even any answers for that matter. Your job is to encourage healthy behavior and to be there when he or she chooses sobriety.