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  • Writer's pictureChristina Neri, LCSW

Is your partner an addict? Does your relationship need care too?

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Addiction has taken control of your relationship and after riding the ups and downs of each episode you realize your partnership is in real danger. You have little control over the triggers as they come and find yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and at a loss for what to do next. You know you need to focus on your own recovery and wellness as you work through this, but the trauma of the relationship makes this feel almost impossible.

When a couple decides to explore the notion that aside from individual addiction work the couple as a unit needs healing this can be a turning point and begin the process of couple recovery.

In the context of addiction behaviors- this could include drugs and alcohol, gambling, sex, shopping, etc. The research suggests that couples are best treated in the couples context when it comes to recovery as opposed to the historical recommendations that couples were told to only seek individual counseling support. Couples told to devote time to individual work, but not their relationship creates further isolation and possible feelings of shame thus preventing them from actual change and healing. It would not be a far stretch for a person in the throes of addiction and recovery to begin to think, “I am not good for anyone. I can’t be in relationship with anyone.”

John Gottman’s team provides training to clinicians to be able to provide couples with the right tools to navigate these challenges. And they have made it clear that the “longitudinal research suggests relationship wellness is one of the single biggest predictors of long-term recovery success.” We cannot ignore these needs and falsely believe they are not common. There is hope for you and your relationship.

Ultimately, the recommendation is that the individuals both seek individual counseling and focus on their own self-care while simultaneously pursuing couples counseling. Self-care being the operative word here because self-care is at the foundation for a healthy recovery program. It is essential work to recognize triggers, manage them effectively, and give self time to process emotions, needs, and goals. This lifestyle shift is meant for both the individual engaged in recovery from a substance or behavior, and for their spouse or partner. Specifically, partners endure traumatic experiences, feelings of hopelessness, and coming second to their partner’s addiction. These complex experiences deserve space and time to process and ensure we address the elements of codependency as well.

If you still don’t believe me and I get why you may feel hesitant to enter into the couples counseling arena if you are experiencing the impact of addiction in your relationship I want to simply share the 3 goals that would be explored within the couples work:

  1. Learn about actual practical tools you can use to manage conflict effectively without continuing to wound one another repeatedly.

  2. Process the trauma associated with the realities of addiction and it’s impact on both individuals and the relationship.

  3. Explore how trauma is also present in the context of recovery- this is not an easy path to take and ultimately leads to challenging conversations. You will learn new relational skills you can develop and apply for the rest of your relationship.

Does this sound like a path toward healing? At least a place to start? I want to encourage you that there is hope and support available. Neither of you need to face these challenges alone. Seek help today.


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