Marriage & Relationship Coach

Help Me With My Marriage: My Spouse Abuses Drugs or Alcohol

drugs alcohol marriage

Drugs, Alcohol, and Marriage Don’t Mix

Arguing about your spouse’s drug or alcohol abuse will do little good.

  Usually, arguing just creates more distance between partners which then either results in increased substance abuse and/or a decrease in communication between the partners.  The problem remains.  Substance abusers generally do not become motivated to work on overcoming their abuse until they experience severe negative consequences from the abuse.  Arguing, although unpleasant, is not a severe consequence as long as the relationship remains.  People can get used to arguing.

Arguing may seem to work sometimes

When a partner does work on overcoming substance abuse following an argument, it is because the non-abusing partner takes actual steps like separating or filing for divorce.  The problem with this approach is the arguing usually weakens the relationship, making the substance abusing partner less motivated to work on ending the abuse.  When the non-abusing partner takes steps like separation or filing for divorce, it will have less power to help the substance abusing spouse to change.

Love and boundaries go together a whole lot better than fighting and boundaries

What is needed is to maintain a good emotional connection with your substance abusing partner while also using good boundaries.  You may need to separate or divorce if things are bad enough, but if you maintain an emotional connection with your partner he or she will be more motivated to work on overcoming the abuse so as not to lose you.  People who abuse drugs or alcohol may have experienced many rejections in their life and being rejected by one more person might not make much difference.  It might just prove something they already believe about themselves (that they are defective or unlovable).  They may have never experienced someone using a tough love approach with them.

“Tough love” means being tough and loving at the same time

Some people confuse a tough love approach with a tough approach.  Tough love is actually a combination of being tough and being loving.  Simply being tough won’t do it.  To give your partner the experience of tough love, you must maintain your verbal messages of love and desire for connection, even as you use good boundaries.  Compare the following two messages:

“I’m moving out of here because I can’t stand your drinking and selfish behaviors anymore.”


“I love you and want to be with you, but I can’t while you are drinking.  It hurts too much.”

 The first message is tough, but it is not loving.  The boundary used is separation.  The second is loving, with the same boundary of separation.  The first is blaming.  The second takes responsibility.  No doubt the second one would be harder to say when you are angry and hurt, but our love and commitment to our spouse demands that we not intentionally do them harm.  We may have to leave them, but we don’t have to kick them at the same time.

It can be hard to know where to turn when you have an addicted spouse

I am not a drug and alcohol counselor.  But you are not abusing drugs or alcohol.  Your problem is a relationship problem.  Your spouse’s problems are both a problem with an addiction and a problem with your relationship.  Often the best place to start is by you getting help with the relationship, which will include doing the interventions that help your spouse to get treatment for the addiction.  Another reason to get help for yourself is that you will have to be both stronger and more prepared to end the relationship than your partner if you are to succeed in making your relationship work.  If you would like to start this process with me, I recommend that you get one coaching session for us to discuss your situation and your options.  Being more clear about your choices and your options will help you to get out of an endless cycle of regret.

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