Substance abuse hurts everyone involved: the person struggling with addiction, friends, family members, and especially their spouse. Many spouses feel lost and stuck, navigating tough emotions, financial repercussions, and their own issues.
If your spouse is struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to set boundaries and take care of yourself. Here are six tips for spouses going through this difficult time.
Get Control of the Finances
One of the most important things you can do as the spouse of someone with a substance abuse disorder is to take control of the finances. Unfortunately, this task is often easier said than done.
The first step is monitoring accounts and setting alerts. These tools will help you act quickly if a large withdrawal or fraudulent activity occurs. If you have joint accounts, consider transferring the sums to a separate account and notifying the banks of the issues you’re facing.
It’s important to understand that managing finances and manipulating your partner using financial access are two very different things. Your approach may vary depending on where you are in the recovery journey. Many recovering addicts understand the risks and are happy to hand over financial control to their partners.
If your partner isn’t ready to discuss their addiction, your priority will be to ensure bills get paid and money is set aside for treatment and your future. If you have limited access to accounts or documentation, talk to an attorney for guidance.
Research Treatment Options and Resources
You can’t force your spouse to seek treatment. You can look for treatment options and support resources in your area and present them to your spouse. This exercise will also help you understand the options available and start planning for when the time comes.
No two treatment programs are the same. There are long-term rehab programs, outpatient programs, detox-centric programs, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) programs. Choosing the right one depends on several factors, including the nuances of your spouse’s addiction, other influencing elements (like past trauma), and your budget.
Educate Yourself About Addiction
Taking the time to educate yourself about addiction and how it affects your spouse will help you operate from a position of knowledge and strength. This experience will also help you better identify how their addiction has influenced you and your family.
Many spouses discover that they have co-dependent tendencies or trauma due to their experience with an addicted spouse. Researching this information will also help you understand that what’s happening isn’t your fault. Sometimes it helps to know the science behind addiction when trying to process the emotions surrounding it.
Understand Enabling vs. Helping
There’s a fine line between enabling and helping when your spouse struggles with substance abuse. Many spouses take the path of least resistance and enable behaviors. Again, if you discover you’ve done this, it’s not your fault. However, it’s essential to curb this behavior.
Doing things like covering or lying for them or providing money and resources are enabling behaviors. For example, if you’ve called in to work on their behalf or lied to family about their whereabouts at events, you’ve enabled the behavior. Spouses often do these things to save their own embarrassment or shame when their partner faces addiction.
Helping looks like finding treatment options, driving them and participating in counseling if needed, and practicing patience and empathy.
Prioritize Your Family and Yourself
When someone you love is struggling, you want to take care of them. Many spouses struggle with self-care for this reason. However, being supportive while prioritizing the health, wellness, and safety of your family is your most important job during this time— and that includes you.
Spend time with your kids, keeping up routines and creating new, fun memories together. Stay connected with friends and family members, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Prioritize nutrition, stress management, and sleep to stay healthy during this challenging time. Consider reaching out to a support group or counselor for you and your family.
Know Your Limits
Considering that your marriage might be over is a tough thought. However, you must clearly define what you will and won’t accept and communicate it to your spouse.
Let your partner know how you feel while avoiding blame-heavy language— i.e., “I feel hurt,” not “you’re hurting me.” Clearly state what is unacceptable to you in a marriage and what you need to continue, whether it’s financial control, enrolment in treatment, etc. If those basic needs aren’t provided, you might have to do the hardest thing possible: leave.
Substance abuse is a terrible thing that hurts everyone affected, but there is help. Reach out for support throughout this journey.
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