Addiction is a killer. It’s a killer of relationship, dreams, and self. When your spouse is addicted to something, it doesn’t really matter what it is, it feels like you are losing a competition. They love something more than you. The question becomes: How do I respond to my spouses first love that’s killing them and us?
It’s not about you:
First, realize it’s not about you. ALL addiction starts with wanting to run away from unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories. There is something deeply troubling in them that they are running from. It is possible that they can have deep feelings of affection toward you AND not want to face their pain. (I chose to not use the word ‘love’ here, because love sacrifices regardless of feelings and it is true that they are not loving you.)
Secondly, shame is the number one emotion that will send a person back into an addiction. Sometimes, we try to use shame as a means of motivating them to change. We think, ‘if they just understood how their behavior is hurting me, they would stop.’ But communicating in a shameful way will just send them back into their addiction.
Call Them Higher
Trying to understand what they are running from will help you to heal the wound. For instance, many people are afraid of not being enough in some capacity. When you tell them ‘you’re a lousy spouse and only care about yourself,’ they want to run back to a place to feel numb, so they don’t feel their feelings of not being enough. When you tell them, ‘I see you are struggling, and I believe you can face this hard thing and conquer it,’ they are motivated to rise to the expectation. It doesn’t always work, but it’s your best shot.
It’s alright to let them know that dealing with the addiction is a non-negotiable. It may mean 100% abstinence (for things like a substance abuse) or it may mean bringing in accountability to control excess (for things like finances or excessive habits). Some things really can be non-negotiable or the relationship needs to end.
No Secrecy – Bring in Accountability
Addiction loves secrecy because secrecy is the best environment for addiction to thrive. You can let your spouse know that for each relapse you will be seeking help from your support community. When relapse does occur, you then let the next tier know, which can include family, friends, pastors, counselors, or community members. This is for the purpose of finding help NOT shaming!!! You’re bringing in people that will offer support not criticism. The circle of people remains as small as possible and you let your spouse determine how big that circle gets by their sobriety.
Healing the Wound
The ultimate goal is to help heal the wound that is driving the addiction. When relapse does occur, we begin to explore the question of: What was the emotion going on before relapse? Rejection? Fear? Loneliness? THIS is what needs to be healed. Healing this is what will bring long-term sobriety and make it possible for your relationship to heal.
If your spouse is not willing to face their struggle and their emotions, you may need to make stronger boundaries in hopes they will pursue the healing they need. Realize there really are some addictions that are so toxic that separation or divorce are really the necessary options.
The most difficult part of this journey is learning how to step out of being offended, when it truly is offensive. You will need strong and healthy boundaries in place and find a supportive community that will work both as a means of protection for yourself and as a way of calling your spouse higher.
May God give you the strength and wisdom to walk this hard road.