Counseling Helps Marriages in Trouble With Addiction

It has long been recognized that both partners in a couple are affected by addiction, even if only one person in the pair is addicted. And research shows that couples counseling can help with addiction as well as the relationship problems that go along with it.

But sometimes one or both partners are confused or offended by the suggestion that they should have counseling for relationship problems, feeling they have weathered the storm, and that the addiction should be the focus of therapeutic attention.

Here are five important ways that counseling for relationship problems can pave the road to recovery from an addiction, as well as a better relationship. You can also explore if you are enabling your loved one.

Recognizing Partners Need Support, Too

Man and woman with relationship counselor

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One of the most significant contributors to recognizing this fact was the work done by Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Lois co-founded Al-Anon family groups in recognition of the fact that she, along with other wives of the early Alcoholics Anonymous members, was struggling with relationship problems with Bill, both during his addiction, and during his years of recovery. Relationship problems are often pushed aside when the couple focuses exclusively on addiction.

Although support groups can help, counseling for relationship problems helps partners uncover new sources of support, and coaches couples in becoming more mutually supportive.

Enabling an Addiction Is a Relationship Problem

Although an addiction seems to be driven by the addict, it is often a relationship problem. The non-addicted partner may inadvertently enable the addiction, and when both partners are addicted, it may be more difficult for either to quit.

Enabling behaviors are things that the partner does which allows the addiction to continue, often without meaning to, such as covering up, cleaning up messes, lending money, and taking care of the addict’s responsibilities.

Counseling for relationship problems can help both partners to become aware of these enabling behaviors and can help both partners to break these patterns of enabling.

Helping Couples Work Through Emotional Issues

There are many life events that are emotionally stressful, which can be exacerbated by addiction. Issues that affect couples include the death of parents and other loved ones which may be more difficult if the person who died had an addiction or was abusive.

Also pregnancy, pregnancy loss, or becoming parents require a lot of emotional adjustments. When relationship problems exist between a couple, the addict may focus on coping behaviors which reinforce the addiction, and the partner may focus on the addict being the problem, rather than acknowledging problems in the relationship.

Many people with addictions have co-occurring mental health problems, which add to the emotional stress.

Couples counseling can help couples to work through their emotional issues arising from their relationship problems together in healthy ways, rather than the addicted partner attempting—usually unsuccessfully—to use their addictive behavior to cope, while the other partner is isolated and unsupported.

Identifying and Solving Problems Arising From the Addiction

Counseling for relationship problems can also help couples to identify and solve problems related to the addiction itself.

Problems arising from the addiction can include legal problems, especially arising from alcohol, drug and sex addictions; financial problems, especially arising from the certain drug, gambling, and shopping addictions; and health problems, especially related to food, alcohol and drug problems, and also sex addiction if it involves exposure to STDs.

While the couple may cling to the denial that they have relationship problems, relationship counseling can help them fix the problems that they are willing to face up to.

Repairing and Resolving Relationship Problems

Perhaps the most significant help that couples counseling for relationship problems can provide to a couple affected by addiction is related to repairing or resolving damage to the relationship.

While they may have a hard time acknowledging and admitting to relationship problems, the greatest healing can come from a couple working through their relationship problems together. 

This includes facing up to patterns of lies and secrecy, acknowledging and healing from current or past affairs, seeking and granting forgiveness, and ending patterns of abuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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