Addictions and Marriage Counseling

It has long been recognized that the impact of addiction isn't limited to the person living with it. And research shows that for partnered people, 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.

This article discusses five important ways that counseling for relationship problems can pave the road to recovery from an addiction and a better relationship. You can also explore if you are enabling your loved one's addiction.

Senior therapist explaining analysis to mature couple against bookshelf at home office
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How Couples Counseling Can Help

While addressing the addiction is critical, couples counseling can also help you and your partner overcome other issues that may have arisen as a result of the addiction.

Addiction can create many problems in a relationship, including the breakdown of trust, intimacy, and communication. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, addiction can cause serious damage to a relationship and these issues need to be treated, too.

Not only can therapy strengthen the relationship but making the relationship better can also help improve the success of addiction treatment. People are more likely to maintain their sobriety if they have strong, healthy, supportive relationships, and couples counseling can help people achieve that.

Recognizing Partners Need Support

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 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.

Recap

Counseling can be an important source of support and guidance for people who are affected by their partner's addiction.

Recognizing Signs of Enabling

Although an addiction seems to be driven by the person with the addiction, it is often a relationship problem. Even if not living with addiction themselves, a person may inadvertently enable their partner's addiction. And when both partners in the relationship have addictions, it may be more difficult for either to quit.

Enabling behaviors are things that a partner does that allow the addiction to continue, often without meaning to, such as covering up, cleaning up messes, lending money, and taking care of the other person’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 Address Emotional Issues

There are many life events that are stressful for couples, nearly all of which can be exacerbated by addiction. When relationship problems exist between a couple, the person experiencing addiction may focus on coping behaviors that reinforce their addiction, and their partner may focus on the addiction being the problem, rather than acknowledging other 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 together in healthy ways, rather than one or both partners attempting to use their addictive behavior to cope, while the other partner is isolated and unsupported.

Solving Problems Caused by Addiction

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

Relationship problems arising directly from the addiction can include:

  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Legal problems

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.

Recap

Addictions often lead to additional problems—including legal, financial, and health-related issues—that can take a serious toll on a relationship. Counseling can help couples recognize these problems and take steps to address them.

Repairing Relationship Problems

Perhaps the most significant help that couples counseling 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.

What to Do If You're Married to an Addict

If your partner has an addiction, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and encourage your spouse to get the help that they need. Steps you can take include:

  • Learning more about addiction: Becoming more informed about the nature, symptoms, and treatments for addiction can help you find ways to address the problem. Once you have a better idea about what you are dealing with, you can seek out resources that can help you and your partner.
  • Stop enabling: After learning more about addiction, you may have a clearer idea about the types of enabling behaviors you might engage in that, while often well-intended, allow your partner to continue in their addiction. While it is hard, stopping these behaviors is essential.
  • Join a support group: Finding outside support is vital, so find a support group in your area or join one online that is specifically meant for the partners and family members of people with addictions.
  • Care for yourself: Make sure that you are practicing good self-care. Getting rest, regular exercise, healthy meals, and social support are essential for your mental well-being as you cope with the stress of your partner's addiction.
  • Seek help: Encourage your partner to get treatment for their addiction and support their efforts. Set boundaries on what you are willing to accept in your relationship and follow through with consequences.

Recap

Couples counseling can be helpful when a marriage has been affected by addiction, but there are other steps you should take as well. Learn more about addiction, find a support group, and encourage your partner to get professional treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Couples counseling isn't just helpful for addressing problems in a marriage; it can also be an important part of a person's recovery from addiction. If your relationship has been affected by addiction, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for advice and support. By addressing the addiction as well as the relationship problems that emerged as a result, you can get your marriage back on track.

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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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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