Copyright 2014 by Roberta Gallagher
Substance abuse damages marriages. Often the alcoholic or addict betrays, lies, is irresponsible and unavailable. Their defenses include denying, minimizing, rationalizing and blaming; not very attractive.
But, you may be surprised to know that when couples are committed and the addict addresses this primary problem, they can heal without compromising their integrity or principles. Committed relationships don’t end because of betrayal they end because people give up and end them.
It is true that abuse of drugs and alcohol which is a drug, is very much like throwing a stone into a still pond: the effects ripple out and influences all that is near. This disease is felt by children, relatives, friends, and co-workers.
The greatest price is most often paid by the substance abuser’s partner.
Valerie and Luis came into see me about their marital discord. I always check out conditions that preclude benefitting from conjoint counseling. Those are physical violence, substance abuse, any kind of addiction i.e. gambling or eating disorders. These must be dealt with before any real progress as a couple can be made.
When I asked about drugs and alcohol Luis said “They are not a problem.” I know that the person who is abusing will usually deny or minimize their use.
I asked Valerie about her use which turned out to be “Very little on social occasions.”
I asked if she saw a problem in Luis’s use and she replied “I am at my wits end. His drugging and drinking have created chaos in my life.”
I asked Luis if he thought Valerie’s use was a problem and he said “No. She exaggerates my use because she is controlling and does not want me to have fun.”
I asked if he saw this issue as the main cause of fighting and he agreed that it was.
Valerie then described a pattern of great unhappiness due to Luis’s not coming home when he said he would be. He made promises to slow down or quit that he did not keep. Sometimes he disappeared for a day or two. He described a pattern where he felt so much pressure from her that it drove him to use to reduce tension. It had been a downward spiral.
The pattern when drinking or drug use is harming relationships:
1. Money problems, not taking care of responsibilities in the home.
2. On different occasions, having to “cover” for a partner who is high or drunk by making excuses for him or her, such as reporting to a boss or co-worker that the abuser is “sick”.
3. The mate not using is now (saddled, burdened with?)in control of all household responsibilities including the children and feels very resentful.
4. “Angry touching” by either partner when the partner has been using.
5. Needing to be high or drunk to show affection or communicate at all.
6. Isolated from friends and relative to hide the situation.
Both partners feel a sense of betrayal. “If you loved me you would not try to change me.” was expressed by Luis. From Valerie “I think you have had a lot of opportunity to cheat on me. I am an idiot for putting up with you. I had so many hopes and dreams for us that you threw away. You are selfish.”
Neither of them had a notion about the disease concept of abuse. The abuser does not know that he/she has come to a point where they have no choice but to use. The mate believes that will power would solve the problem.
My point of view is that no one took a drink or a drug because they wanted to become addicted. The abuser is not responsible for being sick but is responsible for getting well.
It is important that the partner using receive individual help to enter recovery. Later their mate must be included so that the problems in the relationship gets treated. Some of the couple’s problems preceded excessive use, some are the result of excessive use. Lasting recovery from substance use depends, in part, on making the relationship better.
Luis did enter a recovery program. Valerie participated in the program and entered a support group for mates. In a few months they returned to couples counseling with a better understanding of what they needed to change about themselves in order to have a successful relationship.
They worked very hard in therapy on conflict resolution, communication, empathy, problem solving and a non blaming attitude. They each had to go through a grieving period for the innocence that was lost. This was replaced by a faith in their ability to get to a better place than they had ever been.
It has been slow going. One year down the road I see them smiling more, having fun, having sex and experiencing a whole new way of life. They will continue monthly sessions to solidify their gains.