Search for:
  • Home/
  • News/
  • How to Support a Spouse With Addiction During Recovery

How to Support a Spouse With Addiction During Recovery

One of the lowest points in a marriage may come when one spouse is battling an addiction to alcohol or drugs. The challenges throughout the process of addiction recovery are significant, from the feelings of powerlessness a spouse feels while their partner is actively abusing substances to the odd combination of hope and anger that arises when a spouse with addiction enters rehab. With the persistent threat of relapse, the emotional roller coaster can continue for many years.

While addiction recovery is seldom easy – for either the addict or their spouse – learning how to support a recovering spouse is essential during this challenging time. Getting and giving support are two ways you can overcome the obstacles with your marriage intact.

Coping When You’re Married to a Recovering Addict

Supporting a spouse battling addiction is a profound act of love and commitment. It’s about being there for them during their toughest times and showing unwavering support at their lowest points. This support can be a lifeline to your partner in recovery, helping them feel less alone as they navigate the difficult path toward recovery.

Getting Support: Taking Care of Yourself

Addiction is a disease that can have a devastating impact on those closest to the addict. That’s why many drug rehab programs involve family members in their loved one’s treatment. Partners learn new skills alongside their loved ones through educational workshops, family therapy sessions, and family visits. These skills should be practiced before the spouse returns home.

Rehab programs often recommend resources in the local community, including therapy. Al-Anon meetings can also be beneficial for the spouse of a recovering alcoholic or addict.

Living with a spouse who is addicted to alcohol or drugs often means growing accustomed to dysfunction. At times, you may alternate between fixing all of the addict’s messes to becoming a disengaged spouse seeking some peace.

Without intending to – and perhaps without even realizing it – you may have assumed some unhealthy roles, such as an enabler or codependent spouse. Counseling can help identify these unhealthy patterns and teach you more positive ways to meet your needs.

Giving Support: How to Support a Recovering Spouse With Addiction

Early recovery is often the most challenging time for a married couple because of the significant life changes happening in the first year of sobriety. During this time, addicts and alcoholics need to focus on themselves to maintain sobriety and rebuild their lives and self-esteem. This focus can leave spouses feeling neglected and resentful.

A spouse battling addiction needs their partner’s support more than anything. A study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that men recovering from addiction are more likely to relapse if they feel their partner is critical of them.

You can support your partner in recovery – and help preserve your marriage – by taking the following steps:

Educate Yourself

Learn about the recovery process and the risk factors for relapse. Work with your spouse on their relapse prevention plan. Understanding your spouse’s journey into sobriety and the obstacles and personal torment they’ve faced can help you provide the right support.

Open the Lines of Communication

Talk to your spouse about the kind of support they need, taking care not to sacrifice your own emotional, physical, or mental health. Share your hopes and expectations so that you can work toward the same goals. In counseling, you can practice new communication skills and work together to identify and manage feelings.

Accept Change

Understand that your relationship is going to change. Your spouse’s progress may be slow, or it may be surprisingly quick. They may meet new friends, excel at work, and perhaps even outshine you. Allow your partner some freedom to explore who they are without drugs or alcohol, knowing that a shift in responsibilities and power dynamics can bring greater happiness to your home.

Consider the Future

Know that you and/or your spouse may consider leaving the marriage. In the process of getting reacquainted, you may feel that you never knew or loved your spouse or that you no longer have anything in common. The emotional ups and downs of recovery may place great stress on the relationship, and it can be difficult to repair the damage, particularly if legal or financial problems continue to impact the family. Counseling can help you reconnect and remember why you came together in the first place.

Be Patient

Even without drugs or alcohol, your recovering spouse may not become the person you’ve always hoped they’d be – at least not quickly. It will take time for them to fulfill family responsibilities, and it may take time for you to be ready to put those responsibilities back in their hands. Recovery is a gradual process, and expecting immediate transformation can lead to disappointment and frustration. Recognize that your spouse is working through deep-seated issues and relearning how to live without the crutch of substances. Allow them the space to grow and make mistakes along the way. Celebrate small milestones and be prepared for a journey that requires ongoing support and understanding.

Work on Forgiveness

Partners often have a lot of pain and anger built up after years of dealing with an addicted spouse. Those feelings are unquestionably valid, but holding on to them may prevent you from healing and moving forward. Forgiveness does not mean condoning past behaviors or forgetting the hurt caused. Instead, it involves releasing the hold that anger and resentment have on you. Forgiveness can be a powerful tool for healing and rebuilding your relationship. It allows you to move past the pain and focus on creating a healthier, more supportive environment for both you and your spouse. Consider seeking therapy to work through these complex emotions and learn strategies for letting go of past grievances.

Avoid Blame

Remember that addiction is a disease – not a moral failing or lack of willpower – and your spouse likely feels a great deal of shame and guilt for their past behaviors. Blaming your spouse for their addiction or for relapses can be counterproductive and damaging to their recovery. Instead, focus on constructive ways to support their journey. Understand that addiction alters brain chemistry and that recovery is a process of healing from a chronic condition. Show empathy and compassion, reinforcing the idea that they are not defined by their addiction but by their efforts to overcome it.

Praise Progress

It’s important to acknowledge your spouse’s progress. Encourage your partner in recovery to attend 12-step meetings and meet with their sponsor at any time, even if it’s inconvenient. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator. Celebrating successes, no matter how small, helps build confidence and reinforces their commitment to sobriety. Whether it’s acknowledging their attendance at meetings, milestones in their recovery journey, or improvements in their behavior and relationships, your praise can provide crucial encouragement.

Prepare for Setbacks

Even after completing rehab, your spouse may struggle on the path of addiction recovery. Hurdles can range from lying, manipulating, and selfishness to full-blown relapse. Understanding that setbacks are a common part of the recovery process can help you stay supportive rather than discouraged. Setbacks do not mean failure but indicate areas where more support and work are needed. Stay involved in your spouse’s recovery plan, help them get back on track, and reinforce the importance of continuing treatment and support group attendance.

Don’t Take Relapse Personally

Your spouse’s recovery involves you, but it is really about them. If your spouse falls back into old patterns, continue to lend your support and get them back into treatment if necessary. Relapse is often a part of the recovery journey, and it’s important not to view it as a personal failure or a reflection of your support. Encourage your spouse to see relapse as a learning opportunity, helping them understand what triggers need more attention and how they can strengthen their strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Rebuild Your Relationship

Spend time getting to know each other again. You may not recognize the individual you’re living with, but chances are you’ll grow to like this person far more than the person they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Recovery offers an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen your relationship. Take time to reconnect through shared activities, open communication, and mutual support. Attend couples therapy to work through any lingering issues and to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s experiences and perspectives.

The Importance of Self-Care

It’s not easy being married to a recovering addict. For most couples with a spouse in addiction recovery, life doesn’t magically fall into place without a lot of hard work by both partners. However, recovery can deepen the bonds of marriage, but only if you take care of yourself and each other. Recovery may be your spouse’s number-one priority right now, but there’s an important place for you in the process as you support your spouse with addiction.

Supporting a spouse through addiction recovery requires patience, understanding, and a commitment to both your own well-being and the health of your relationship. By educating yourself, maintaining open communication, and practicing forgiveness and patience, you can help your spouse achieve lasting sobriety and build a stronger, healthier marriage.