Married to an addict?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
15th May, 20180 Comments
It can feel like a very lonely place when you are married to someone who is in active addiction. Days can feel unfulfilling and there can be a general sense of discontent with the level of communication in your marriage. There might be tension, arguments and disagreements and the discord can leave you feeling uncertain about the future.
Being in a relationship with someone who is addicted will feel like you are playing second fiddle to the addiction. There always seems to be an emotional vacuum when with them. This is when they appear to be increasingly moody, irritable, secretive and otherwise engaged. You sense something is wrong but don't know exactly what.
Digital attachments, such as the constant checking of smartphones, are a common source of relationship conflict between couples. This is compounded when someone is engaging in addictive behaviour such as online porn, hook up websites or online gambling.
An addict's behaviour might trigger your own rescuing tendencies. This isn't a good idea as the consequences for someone's behaviour should reside with them. They should be held to account for their past and current behaviour. If your relationship is to get back on track there needs to be more real communication, with both parties taking responsibility for past transgressions and a commitment to work towards greater honesty in the future.
An addict's obsessive behaviour might make you think that your partner doesn't love you any more. It can be a difficult time for any relationship when there are active addictive patterns at play. You might fear that they are having an affair such is the secrecy around their movements. They can become touchy when asked what they did with their day or evening. This might make them feel like you are checking up on them and they become defensive. This can cause more emotional distance in the relationship.
An addict cannot be fully emotionally present when in active addiction. Relationships can heal but first there needs to be a period of abstinence to take stock of any emotional damage caused. Then there needs to be a period of coming together as a couple. Rather than turning away from emotional intensity in the relationship there can be some relationship building. This is what it means by 'turning towards' rather than 'turning away'. Doing things together again will help to shift the emotional gridlock that has perhaps built up over time. Creating shared meaning with your partner again will ultimately help to rebuild your relationship.
Maintaining your own self-care regime is important in rebuilding your sense of well-being and resilience. The key is to establish the facts of what is happening in your partner's life. It might be helpful to offer support but an addict will usually deny that there are any problems and will most likely resent being told to amend their behaviour. They will invariably only quit when they have hit their own personal rock bottom. It is important that you establish clear boundaries around their behaviour and what you will and will not accept. A useful task in seeking to establish stronger boundaries is to devise your own red flags and red lines for your relationship. This is about knowing what you will put up with and what you won't tolerate.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to make sense of a confusing time. You may have mixed feelings about your own love and commitment towards your partner. This is normal. It can be further conflicting if you have children together. What will help will be having an opportunity to discuss your mixed feelings within a safe and private space and deciding what you want to do next.
About the author
Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.
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