I talk a lot about healing from the trauma of a failed marriage, or from the painful things that you and your partner have said and done to each other in the past. But you know what no one can heal from? Injuries that are currently being inflicted on you. Wounds that have salt pouring into them, right now.
If you or your partner is suffering from a serious addiction, you need to address this before you can start to heal at all. That’s because, until the addiction is brought back under control, frankly you might as well not exist.
Losing Your Other Half
A serious addiction is all-consuming. It’s the centre of the addict’s universe. A partner and marriage become secondary – as do anyone else’s needs. For many people who are married to addicts, it feels as though your partner is cheating on you and rubbing it in your face, and you’re expected to be polite and accepting the whole time!
A serious addiction is all-consuming. It’s the centre of the addict’s universe.
This is hurtful and it’s humiliating. What’s more, it’s an insurmountable barrier to saving your marriage. Healing together has to be a joint priority, so until you’ve tackled the addiction and ensured that both your needs are each other’s priority, it’s simply not going to work. You also can’t begin to forgive someone for the ways they’ve hurt you if they are still hurting you in exactly the same way.
Ultimately, you both need your spouse to be your partner, not your keeper. You can’t relax if you don’t trust each other, of if one of you is constantly monitoring the other’s behaviour. The balance of your relationship needs to be restored, and you need to start caring for and respecting each other, to move on. Addiction prevents all that.
Living in Fear
A big part of healing from relationship trauma and laying the groundwork for healthy relationships is breaking the cycle of self-destructive behaviour and learning to set boundaries.
Obviously, someone who is still feeding an addiction has not begun this process yet. For their partner, if you are still tolerating the addiction, you have not set boundaries to protect yourself.
Addiction is an all-consuming illness, and addicts frequently push or ignore normal boundaries in the service of their addiction. They make unreasonable demands. They may lie to or steal from their loved ones. They sometimes become violent or emotionally abusive. They neglect their partners. They make terrible decisions that hurt their partners while under the influence, like cheating, taking risks with their safety and health, or even getting arrested or fined.
When you’re married to someone in this state, you can’t avoid becoming liable for their problems
When you’re married to someone in this state, you can’t avoid becoming liable for their problems – practically, emotionally, and financially. You’re the one that gets the call if they get picked up by the police. You’re the one struggling to pay the mortgage alone if they lose their job. You’re the one that has to drop everything and take them to hospital in an emergency.
This is untenable. One of the key boundaries you need to set is for them to stop feeding their addiction. Without this, your marriage will fail.
Meeting Your Needs
I’ve talked before about Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, which lays out the core things all humans must have to be happy and confident. This pyramid depicts these, from the most fundamental, basic needs at the bottom, to the harder-to-attain ones at the top:
The bottom of the pyramid is the physiological stuff: food, drink, sleep, shelter etc. Next is the need to feel safe, physically and financially. Third is love and belonging, feeling that you are part of something, and people care about you. Fourth is esteem, i.e. your self-respect and respect you get from other people. Right at the top is self-actualisation: achieving the things that matter to you, and being able to to be the best version of yourself.
Here’s the problem with addiction. It throws all of these needs out of the window, from the most basic survival ones at the bottom of the pyramid, right up to the high-level stuff that makes us feel complete.
If you are married to an addict and they refuse agree to get treatment, no amount of kindness, care of understanding on the your side will fix the marriage.
That’s because having an addiction, or being married to an addict, creates today uncertainty and insecurity about whether you’ll lose your money and home, whether you’ll even be able to afford to eat. You can’t feel safe when you aren’t sure what you might do next, or what someone might do to you. You don’t feel loved or like you belong when society sees you as a failure, or when your own partner prioritises their addiction. And respect for yourself and your partner? That goes straight out the window when addiction dominates your marriage.
Lastly, addiction is all-consuming. It leaves no space for you to pursue the things you really value, or to try to be your best self. That’s true whether you suffer from the addiction, or your life is arranged around your partner’s. You simply can’t heal or achieve happiness while this sickness is ruling your lives.
You Can’t Do It Alone
To save your marriage, you have to tackle the addiction. But here’s the thing: if you’re going to get through this, you have to be in it together.
If your partner is an addict, they need to make the decision to start trying to get better. If you are an addict, you have to take that responsibility. Yes, you need help and support, including from your partner, but only the addict can ultimately decide to try and get better.
If you are married to an addict and they refuse agree to get treatment, no amount of kindness, care of understanding on the your side will fix the marriage. No one can’t do it for them – they need to beat the addiction. Unless they start on that journey, you are ultimately headed for divorce.
Get help tackling addiction
We specialise in getting people over emotional trauma, such as bereavement, divorce, redundancy, PTSD etc. To achieve that we work with the client’s emotions to get them through the pain and out the other side. We can’t do that if the emotions are being masked by social drugs, or an addiction issue.