When one person begins using drugs, be it illegal drugs or prescription medication, their risk of developing an addiction increases. Mood-altering chemicals can have a profound effect on the brain and there is no way to predict who will and who will not be affected by addiction. As well as this, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact cause of addiction, although scientists have discovered that some individuals are more prone to it than others are.
What is evident, however, is that addiction can have a deep and lasting effect on relationships. The reality is that this is never an illness that affects only the drug user, despite what many others might believe. Assuming that drug addicts harm only themselves is naïve because those closest to the person with the illness will also suffer. In many cases, it is the spouse or partner of the addict who suffers the most. If you are one of those that wonders how drug addiction affects marriages, we discuss the topic in depth in the following paragraphs.
How Addiction Affects Spouses
Family members in general will be negatively affected when a loved one develops an addiction to drugs, but spouses often suffer more than any other family member. This is usually because they are the closest person to the addict and the one who is first to notice that something is amiss.
The way in which a spouse reacts to the addiction will differ from one person to the next, but many will be hurt or angry and some will try everything they can to ‘fix’ their addicted partner. They might beg and plead with him or her to stop taking drugs, but these pleas often fall on deaf ears. It may even be the case that the addict cannot see how serious the situation is.
What often happens is that the spouse will become co-dependent. He or she will start to change in response to the behaviour of their addicted loved one. Spouses often change their own behaviour as they try to cope with the unpredictability of living with an addict.
Spouses sometimes cover up or lie for their other half. They will lie to other family members about what is going on in a bid to hide the addiction. Some do this to protect their addicted loved one while others do it to hide their own embarrassment. Spouses also lie to employers about why their partner cannot go to work, and if money has been spent that was needed for household essentials, he or she will look to make cuts in other areas.
The social life of the spouse will also be negatively affected. Having a partner with a drug addiction can mean that spouses often withdraw from social activities for fear that others will discover their secret. They may be afraid that their addicted partner will cause a scene and so would rather stay away than risk this happening.
Living with an addicted spouse can have a devastating impact on marriages. It can affect the mental health and wellbeing of the non-addicted partner as well as any children they might have. Without treatment, it is unlikely that the marriage will survive.
Can Rehab Save Your Marriage?
The issue of how drug addiction affects marriages is one that often comes up during rehabilitation. It is for this very reason that many rehab providers offer family therapy as part of their treatment and recovery programmes. They know that addiction has a serious and often lasting impact on all family members and that everyone needs help to overcome the effects of this destructive illness.
The aim of family therapy is to help all members of the family express their feelings and thoughts with the goal of rescuing relationships that have been damaged by the addiction.
As well as giving members of the family the opportunity to express how they feel about the addiction, family therapy helps them to understand more about addiction and why their loved one became ill in the first place.
Part of the process will help them make changes in the relationship to ensure that it can move on and recover when rehab is complete. However, an obstacle to family therapy is the fact that many people do not feel they are the ones in need of treatment.
If you are married to an addict, you probably already know how drug addiction affects marriages, but you should also be aware that your marriage can survive this problem. If you are prepared to work with your addicted spouse during his or her treatment programme, and if you are prepared to make some changes to your life once the rehab programme comes to an end, there is no reason that your family cannot go on to live a healthier and happier life together afterwards.
What to Expect After Rehab
The early days of recovery and immediately after a programme of rehabilitation should be spent on maintaining sobriety and ensuring that relapse is avoided. As the spouse of a recovering addict, you might believe that things will go back to normal once your partner leaves rehab, but it is rarely the case that things run smoothly in the beginning.
You need to remember that your spouse has been through an emotional experience and will probably have changed forever. Nevertheless, if you are prepared to give him or her some more time, you may find that you prefer this new and improved version of your partner.
Remember that recovery must remain your spouse’s number one priority until the recovery is stronger, but there will be a point at which he or she is ready to work on rebuilding relationships within the family unit. When this time comes, you will need to be patient with each other as you learn to live together again.
The process of rebuilding your relationship with your recovering loved one will mean learning how to trust him or her once more. There is no doubting that the addiction will have deeply affected you, particularly if your loved one left the family in financial trouble because of the addiction. It will take time to heal the scars, but it can be done with patience.
However difficult it may be, you will need to remember that the addicted person did not choose to be an addict and the harm that was caused to the family unit was the result of the way the chemicals being abused affected his or her brain.
That being said, you cannot change the hurt that was caused and how you feel about it, so learning how to establish trust again will take some time. Your spouse will need to prove to you that he or she can stay sober in the first instance. This is by far the biggest test.
The Importance of Communication
It may be difficult for you in the early days of recovery. After all, you have been living with the unpredictable behaviour of your addicted spouse for some time. You might still be feeling hurt and resentful and you may be struggling to come to terms with having your spouse back in the house, particularly if he or she was away for several weeks in a residential facility.
You could have started to get used to living without him or her and now you will have to get used to having your spouse at home again. If you feel that communication between you is poor in the early days, do not despair. The fact that you are communicating at all indicates that there is a relationship worth saving.
It is important for you to be completely honest with your loved one at this point. Even if you feel that what you have to say might be painful for your spouse to hear, no good will come from lying or being dishonest. If you are honest, you and your spouse can begin to establish trust in each other once more.
Another thing to remember is the importance of saying what you mean. Many people get upset when their loved ones do not read between the lines. If you are discussing things with your spouse, be sure to say exactly what you mean so that nothing gets lost in translation. You cannot expect your spouse to always be able to read between the lines.
In the early days of recovery, sexual intimacy may be a huge problem. Your sex life with your spouse was probably not all that good while he or she was under the influence of drugs, but to expect things to get back to normal as soon as he or she is sober is unrealistic.
Sexual problems are very common in early recovery and both men and women are affected. Lovemaking is rarely enjoyable in the early days and there are many reasons for this. Both you and your recovering spouse may have issues that are affecting the ability to enjoy being intimate with each other. Below are just some examples:
- Low Self-Esteem – Low self-esteem can affect both you and your spouse and can prevent you both from resorting to intimacy with each other.
- Hormones – Your partner’s hormones have probably been affected by the drugs he or she was using. Certain chemical substances can cause a loss of libido, and this can take some time to heal.
- Bad Memories – Sex was probably not great when drugs were involved. You and your partner may have bad memories, and this can get in the way of sober lovemaking.
- Guilt – Recovering addicts often feel guilty about the way they treated their spouse while under the influence of drugs, and this can stop them from performing sexually.
- Resentment – You may still be harbouring feelings of resentment towards your spouse, which can become a massive barrier to intimacy.
While there are many issues that can get in the way of sexual intimacy, all is not lost. If issues are present, it is not a good idea to ignore them. Doing so could result in further issues down the line and could make it even harder for you to get this side of your relationship back on track.
If you and your spouse are prepared to work together, you can rebuild all aspects of your relationship. Focus on communicating effectively in the early days and work on the non-sexual part of your relationship. Get to know each other once more and instead of concentrating on the physical act of sex, work on being affectionate with one another in other ways. If you do this, sexual intimacy will eventually follow.
Learn to Have Fun
For a long time, fun might have been the last thing on your mind. Now that your spouse is sober, there is a world of opportunity that awaits you both. Having fun does not have to centre around substances such as alcohol or drugs. There are plenty of things you can do without mood-altering chemicals.
When your spouse’s sobriety is more stable, he or she will be able to focus more energy on enjoying life with you and your children if you have any. Look for sober activities that you can all enjoy and make the most of your new life together.
The issue of how drug addiction affects marriages is a complex one, but there is no need for this illness to destroy a marriage for good. With the right programme of care and support, you and your spouse can recover fully and go on to enjoy a much happier life together than you ever thought possible.