End Your Spouse’s Addiction and Have a Better Marriage

Badgering your spouse to end an addiction will do more harm than good. You need to combine love and good boundaries if you want to see things change.

some spouses have drug and alcohol addictions
Learn the two step process for ending your spouse’s addiction

Trying to build a relationship with an addicted spouse is frustrating and prone to failure. Just when you think you are making progress, you will find your spouse is back to the addictive behavior again.  

Then, your trust will be broken, your spouse will either withdraw or blame you, and your relationship will become distant again. After a while, most spouses will then try to rebuild again. This cycle continues until the marriage is lost.

People with addictions lose relationships by making their spouse feel like they are not a priority and by their spouses becoming burned out trying to make things better.

What you must realize, as a spouse of someone with an addiction, is that it doesn’t have to go this way. There are many spouses who use effective methods that work. It is your job to love your spouse enough to learn what to do to end his or her addiction and to do it. You will be helping yourself to a better relationship with your spouse in the process.

If you want to be more successful in anything, you will need to learn what to do and then do it. There is no other way to success.

You must learn not to argue if you want to end your spouse’s addiction

Arguing will not convince your spouse to give up an addiction. Arguing will create more emotional distance between you and your spouse. It will increase your spouse’s desire for the addiction, and your bad relationship will justify your spouse’s addiction.

People with addictions may even instigate arguments to give themselves an excuse for the addictive behavior. That is true for all addictions, whether drugs, alcohol, sexual, or financial.

Your arguing, criticizing, or blaming can give your spouse an excuse to do the addictive behavior. Don’t give your spouse that excuse!

You must take action to end the addiction while you still care about your relationship

Relationships often end because of addictions. People get sick and tired of being less important than the addiction or they find someone better. It is at that point, of ending the marriage, that the spouse with an addiction may be willing to seriously work on ending the addiction.

If you wait until you are at that point, you are not likely to want to save your marriage enough to do what it takes to rebuild. Your spouse will have broken your trust too many times, and you will see his or her attempts at ending the addiction as insincere or manipulative.

Don’t wait until your house burns down to buy a fire extinguisher.

A requirement for helping your spouse give up an addiction

Many people who get coaching with me are eager to use boundaries to stop their spouse’s bad behaviors. Of course, I can help them with a step by step program for doing just that. However, I must assess first how good of a job they have done helping their spouse to feel loved.

You see, when you feel like some really loves you, their boundaries will help you to respect them, make you want to treat them well, and make you want to change for them. A spouse who feels unloved is not likely to be motivated by the boundaries of a hostile partner. The more your spouse feels loved by you, the more effective your boundaries will be.

The same concept is true in parenting. Make your children feel loved. Help them to feel like you think they are the best kids in the world and that you wouldn’t trade them for anyone else. Never, ever, make them feel like you made a mistake in having them. But, also use good boundaries with them so that they respect you and so their bad behaviors won’t become habits.

How to get started with an intervention for your spouse’s addiction

If your spouse feels unloved by you, you will only use boundaries to prevent serious damage or injury while you help your spouse to feel loved. Only after that is accomplished, will you use boundaries to end the addictive behavior.

If your spouse feels loved by you already, here’s what you can do next

You can either create boundaries for the addictive behavior, or you can create boundaries for the side effects of the addictive behavior.

For example, suppose your spouse has a sexual addiction to pornography. You could try directly to put limits on the addictive behaviors. You might limit computer access and set up a monitoring system (Plan A). You could then require sex addictions treatment if the addiction continued despite your efforts (Plan B). If your spouse would not follow through with addictions treatment, you could use a separation boundary until your spouse overcame the addiction (Plan C). You would have a plan A, B, and C.

Having a plan A, B, and C will keep in you control and give you something to do other than taking out your anger on your spouse. It will also keep your spouse from simply disregarding your boundary. Failure to have a back up plan is one of the reasons many people don’t have success with boundaries.

This approach of going directly after the addictive behaviors can work, but it can also create arguments about whether the behavior is really an addiction. You and your spouse are likely to draw the line differently between what or how much of a behavior is acceptable and what is not.

Another approach is to focus on the side effects of your spouse’s addiction. For example, you can base boundaries on disrespectful behaviors, lack of dating, poor sexual performance, sexual avoidance, inability to pay the bills, or shirking of household or parenting responsibilities.

Such boundaries would avoid arguments about the addiction and would not use an addiction treatment boundary. Instead, you can have a plan A, B, and C in which your spouse either actively participates in your relationship and household (plan A); if not, goes to marriage counseling with you (Plan B); and if not you separate while your spouse works on improving (Plan C).

Either of these methods can be very effective if your spouse feels loved in your relationship. The boundaries would typically only fail if you:

  • did not follow through with your boundaries for plans A, B, and C, if necessary
  • you were inconsistent in using your boundaries or gave them up too soon, or
  • you stopped making your spouse feel loved

If your spouse does not feel loved by you already

If your spouse does not feel loved by you already, your boundaries could only work if your spouse was afraid of losing your relationship for other reasons, such as:

  • financial support,
  • custody of the children,
  • fear of being alone

However, once your spouse no longer needs your money, the kids are grown, or your spouse finds someone else, your relationship will end. Until that happens, your spouse will feel controlled and resentful. For these reasons, I use a secure and loving approach to restoring relationships.

If your spouse does not feel loved, a better approach is to start with boundaries only for behavior which presents a high risk of danger for you, your family, or your marriage. The initial goal is not to end the addiction, but to help your spouse to feel loved. It will also be helpful if you work on becoming a more attractive partner and overcoming any neediness. My book on overcoming neediness would be a helpful resource with this step.

Once you have helped your spouse to feel loved and attracted to you again, boundaries would be put into place as outlined previously. How long it takes to get to the point where you can effectively use boundaries will depend on how badly damaged your relationship is. If your relationship is badly damaged, then working with a coach, without your spouse, can help you to have a plan, learn skills, and focus on steps in the right order to rebuild your relationship and end your spouse’s addiction.

Coaching packages are available on my website for these different starting points. Helping you to stop your spouse’s addiction and to rebuild your marriage would be my pleasure.

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