Addiction is a pervasive disease that affects entire families. Living with someone who suffers from addiction to a substance (drugs or alcohol) can be chaotic and unpredictable. Couples and families who live with addiction experience persistent trauma that rocks the stability of their relationships.
For the unaddicted partner, the answer seems simple. Just stop! What makes it so difficult to stop is physical and psychological dependency on the substance. The addict may attempt to cut back or even abstain for a while, but dependency on the substance becomes overwhelming. Until something happens that convinces the addict that using the substance is dangerous and threatening to emotional and physical well-being, the disease will do anything to remain active -- lie, cheat, deny, rage, and manipulate. Negative behaviors are reinforced, rather than curtailed. The more the non-addicted spouse attempts to stop or control his or her partner's behavior, the more the addict will disengage and disconnect from the relationship. This leaves the unaddicted partner feeling hopeless and helpless.
Can marriage counseling help?
In a couples relationship, addiction is not unlike having an affair. The non-addicted partner often feels betrayed and unable to trust, as he or she is constantly dealing with lying, cheating, irrational thinking and many other destructive behaviors. With cases of infidelity, in order to heal the couples relationship and rebuild trust and stability, the third person must go. The same is true with addiction. Instead of experiencing betrayal in the form of another person, the alcohol or drug and one's need for it become the “other person.” The third person, in this case, is the substance. In order to heal the marriage, the substance that is creating the betrayal and mistrust must go.
In many cases, couples therapy can help. Just as in healing after infidelity, the goal is to build trust and create a secure attachment bond that includes emotional intimacy. The therapist can help guide the couple into more effective conversations about the addiction. Having these painful conversations with a trained professional can help to create a safe environment for both partners to express themselves on a deeper level. This includes guiding the couple into more empathic and compassionate conversations rather than negative ones that tend to escalate. A positive outcome of couples therapy could be that the addicted partner is able to accept that his or her addiction is a problem in the relationship and is motivated to seek treatment in order to have a more secure and satisfying relationship. Once the addicted partner is willing to do so, then couples therapy along with individual addiction recovery treatment can produce positive outcomes.