There are few things more painful and confusing than trying to help a loved one who is struggling with a serious addiction problem, especially when the loved one is a spouse.
Many spouses who have a partner with a substance use disorder (SUD) go through a rollercoaster of emotions.
You may feel angry or betrayed as your partner appears to “choose” the substance of abuse over you, fearful as they fall deeper into substance abuse, and powerless as the addiction continues.
Many spouses feel alone.
The relationship between partners is incredibly intimate. Often, you are the closest person to your spouse. You may feel compelled to help your spouse hide or downplay the problem, especially in the beginning, and feel guilty when you turn to others for help.
But turning to others for help is usually necessary. Most individuals with substance use disorders aren’t able to overcome addiction on their own; in some cases, doing so can be dangerous. You certainly can’t overcome addiction for your spouse either.
A comprehensive treatment plan, designed by experienced medical professionals, is the safest option. It provides the greatest chance of long-term success in recovery.
But how do you persuade your spouse to enter treatment? Oftentimes, an individual with a substance use disorder is in denial about the extent of their problem or may refuse to take steps to address the issue.
Getting a reluctant spouse to begin addiction treatment is often not an easy task, but it may be the only way to save the relationship and their life.
Substance abuse can take hold quickly in an individual’s life, forcing them into situations and desperation that would have been hard to imagine previously. Just as rapidly and impactfully, it can create turmoil and trauma in a marriage, shifting dynamics dramatically.
If your spouse is struggling with an addiction, you may quickly find that you no longer recognize your relationship. The first step is to be honest with yourself.
Especially in the beginning stages of your spouse’s addiction, you may experience some denial, refusing to see warning signs or symptoms of addiction, and accepting your partner’s excuses too easily. This can be a source of guilt or shame, and you may feel like you could have stepped in earlier before the problem got worse.
You might feel like you enabled your spouse’s addiction, often without meaning to. You may have provided them with money or a means to obtain drugs.
Dealing with an individual who is dependent on a substance and entering withdrawal can be unpredictable and frightening. You may have chosen to help your partner get their fix in order to avoid the withdrawal experience.
To address your partner’s substance abuse problem, you must come to terms with whatever missteps and mistakes have been made in the past. Forgive yourself and move forward with a fresh perspective. You can then be unburdened by the past and free to make decisions from a place of strength and honesty.
Even if you have been in denial about your partner’s substance abuse or enabled them repeatedly, it is not too late to change these destructive relationship patterns.
There are many approaches you can take to convince your husband or wife to get treatment.
The letter should be compassionate and not accusatory. Rather than listing the faults and failures of your partner, remind them of all their positive traits and accomplishments, and how their addiction is getting in the way of who they really are. Clearly explain how the addiction is affecting you, as well as other family members and the relationship. Outline steps you plan to take if the partner does not enter treatment.
Couples therapy may be helpful for many partners, and it may be easier to convince your husband or wife to attend therapy than to get them to commit to a treatment program. Therapy may help them see some of their problematic behavior as well as underlying issues that may be feeding into the cycle of addiction. You will benefit from therapy as well, as it may help you establish safe boundaries and get out of dysfunctional relationship patterns.
In the beginning stages of addiction, you may have frequently covered for your partner. Coming clean with friends and family about your partner’s problem can be an essential step. You may feel more resolved to make a change, knowing you’re not alone in trying to save your spouse’s life. Friends and family can also provide support and encouragement to your partner as they take steps toward recovery.
During an intervention, a small group of friends and family, often led by a professional interventionist, gather to convince someone with a substance abuse problem to enter treatment immediately. Usually, the group surprises the individual, ideally at a time when the person is not distracted, high, or drunk. Attendees will address the individual, one by one, expressing their concerns in a clear and compassionate way.
To ensure the intervention is as successful as possible, have the treatment all lined up. If your husband or wife agrees to enter treatment, they can do so immediately and without hassle.
Of course, not every individual with a substance abuse problem will agree to enter treatment, no matter how hard or effectively their spouse tries to convince them. The person may want to save their relationship, their family, and their life, but the pull of addiction is too strong.
Unfortunately, the options a spouse has to get their partner to enter treatment after they’ve refused to are limited.
The laws regarding involuntary commitment of individuals with a substance abuse problem are rapidly evolving, especially in regard to the rising epidemic of opioid abuse. States like Indiana, Florida, and Kentucky have had laws that make it possible for an individual to have someone committed in some situations for up to 90 days. However, patient advocacy and civil liberties groups are actively working to change these laws.
In many cases, involuntary commitment may not be an ideal choice, as your spouse may not have much control in choosing a treatment option. If you are considering having your spouse involuntarily committed, speak to a legal professional in your state to gain a more detailed understanding of the process and the type of treatment your spouse will receive if this option is chosen.
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your partner is to establish and maintain boundaries. In a marriage, the bottom line will likely mean divorce or separation. Making boundaries clear, and then sticking to them, makes your partner realize that their addiction has real consequences, and the behavior can’t continue.
Boundaries also protect you, ensuring you don’t lose your sense of self or well-being in the chaos and pain that come with your spouse’s addiction.
Once your husband or wife enters an addiction recovery program, the work isn’t done. Your participation will be a critical part of their addiction treatment. Many programs will involve spouses and other family members in the recovery process, often through family therapy, marital counseling, and family visitation days.
Couples counseling will help to heal aspects of the relationship that were damaged by addiction. Communication will be improved, so you and your husband or wife can have a good foundation before they exit treatment and return home.
Relapse is common with addiction, but it isn’t a sign of failure. Relapse may be part of your spouse’s recovery process, and the critical part is that they get back on track with treatment right away. Your help will be necessary to this process, as they’ll need your encouragement.
It can be tough to watch someone you love struggle but know that there is hope in treatment. In a comprehensive addiction treatment program, your spouse can begin to build new habits and skills that strengthen their ability to stay sober.
Even if your spouse is not initially receptive to the idea of treatment, it’s important that you make your feelings known. With each conversation, your partner may move closer to accepting help.
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