Being married to an addict is most certainly a kind of hell. It’s like riding on the child of a carousel and a roller coaster. You go up and down and around and around over and over again. Addiction is a disease—whether you classify it as a physical disease or a mental disorder—that is progressive. It only ever gets worse without treatment. Unfortunately, addiction is also a family disease. It will affect your spouse (the addict) just as affects you and your children and your friends and your extended family.
When you’re stuck on the carousel of hell as I like to call it, it feels like life will never be normal again. It can also feel as if there is no way off that ride. You spend so much energy picking up the pieces, shielding your children, fixing the constantly broken finances, and literally cleaning up the mess an addict leaves behind that it can feel impossible to devote any energy to yourself.
Yes, being married to an addict is definitely one of the circles of hell. Dante must have just forgotten to write that one in.
The Most Important Thing To Do When You’re Married to an Addict
In my experience, the most important thing to do is to find a support network. Addiction is incredibly isolating. Trust me, I know. I’m open about the fact that my husband struggles with addiction, but I spent years hiding it. I hid it for him because I didn’t want my family to think less of him, and I was embarrassed and ashamed that our life had become so broken.
Being married to an addict means you deal with a lot of gaslighting, too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming yourself for their addiction.
If only I hadn’t nagged him about the dishes or the trash again.
Maybe if I had just let that argument go.
If only, if only, if only.
Having a support network like those available in Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Smart Recovery Family and Friends is critical. It allows you a safe, judgement-free space to vent, listen to others’ experiences, and, if you choose, to get advice. Most importantly, it prevents you from falling into the isolation that comes with being married to an addict.
All of the programs I mentioned have physical meetings you can attend, and most locations have at least one group that meets weekly. If there isn’t a meeting near you or if you’re a parent who can’t always leave your kids, many also have private Facebook groups. There are even online meetings for some.
Other Tips for Being Married to an Addict
I think of addiction like diabetes. I can’t tell my husband to love me enough to not be an addict in the same way that I couldn’t tell him to not need insulin if he were diabetic. The root causes of addiction are often deep and complicated. Interventions, shaming them, and scare tactics simply don’t work. Your spouse has to want to get better, and no amount of pushing will make that happen on anyone’s time but their own.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to get sucked into the downward spiral with them. While not everything works for everyone, here are some tips that have helped me maintain my happiness, health, and sanity.
Detach with Love
It could mean physically asking for space through a separation/divorce or making the decision to emotionally disconnect from your addict’s addiction and recovery. It’s a way for you to offer support to your spouse as they deal with their addiction without it affecting you personally, financially, etc.
Boundaries are the gated fence you build around yourself. What you allow to walk through that gate is up to you. Boundaries may include things like no tolerance for drugs or paraphernalia in your home. They may also be making the decision not to financially support your addict.
Invest in Yourself
It’s so easy to let your needs get lost in the shuffle, but now more than ever, make sure to take care of you. That might mean giving yourself some extra pampering, seeing a counselor on your own, or treating yourself to a bag of chocolate you don’t share with your kids.
Encourage Your Spouse But Take No Shit
I say this a bit tongue in cheek, because it is important to offer positive reinforcement for the good work your spouse may be doing. Progress over perfection, they say. However, don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in positive reinforcement that you ignore negative behaviors or avoid conflict. You didn’t cause your spouse’s addiction. You can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.
Being married to an addict comes with a lot of ups and downs, and you find yourself wondering at times if divorce is inevitable. I wish I had all of the answers, truly. I don’t go into too much detail for the privacy of myself, my husband, and my children, but I will say that I’m still figuring it out, too. Through good days and bad, I just take it one day at a time.