3 Guidelines for Spouses Affected by Their Partner’s Addiction


3 Guidelines for Spouses Affected by Their Partner’s Addiction

Managing a loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction is never easy, but those whose spouse has a substance use disorder (SUD) face an especially tough and lonely road. For one thing, the painful and often traumatic relational fallout due to addiction is compounded by the greater likelihood of divorce, which is itself ranked as the second most stressful life event anyone can experience.

When the addict’s partner is knee-deep in navigating their spouse’s substance abuse, confiding in their own parents, in-laws, children, or relatives may not seem a safe or healthy option, leaving them with a grave sense of loneliness. So much of their energy is directed at helping their spouse to recover that their own needs and emotional wounds often get neglected.

As a therapist who has worked with the partners of addicts, I’ve quickly learned that handling the situation with empathy, acceptance, and patience isn’t just a helpful way to support a spouse with addiction – it’s also a healthy strategy for one’s own self-care.

So how, as a spouse, do you take this more empathic approach when the natural tendency is to react in anger and point fingers or to shoulder more than one’s a fair share of responsibility for the problem and its solution? Below are three guidelines.

Focus on the problem, not the person

It can be easy to take a spouse’s addiction personally, as a referendum on you and on characteristics about you that can’t be changed. In a similar vein, it can be easy to begin defining your spouse exclusively in terms of their addiction. (And, to be sure, a spouse stuck in a self-destructive cycle of drug or alcohol abuse can seem like a different person altogether from the one you first fell in love with.)

But that’s a trap.

Attributing what’s a diagnosable disease that can benefit from treatment to an inherent character or personality flaw in your spouse can get in the way of the healing and recovery process. It assumes that positive change is virtually impossible. Similarly, absorbing your spouse’s addiction in terms of what it negatively says about you can also prove of no utility when you’re working on building a supportive relationship. If you can, then, do your best to separate your spouse from their problem, and then try to work together on a solution to the problem. For example, finding out of state help like Florida rehab centers that can help your spouse reach sobriety.

Ask yourself what’s okay and not okay for you

Empathy, acceptance, and patience are a good rule of thumb, so long as you’re not constantly bending over backward to accommodate your spouse’s needs. If you find yourself getting rundown by endless self-sacrifice, make a list of what you will and will not do in an effort to be empathic and supportive. Then stick to it with the understanding that you can always tweak the list as you go along.

Giving yourself permission to have healthy boundaries is itself a way to support your spouse in their recovery.

Use “I feel” and “I need” statements

“You” statements tend to put most people in a defensive mode. The same dynamic pertains only more so to those shielding an addiction.

Instead, try to access what you are feeling in response to your partner’s behaviors, and then speak from that first-person place of emotion in response to concrete experiences.

For example, you might say, “I felt terrified when I came home from work to find you passed out on the couch,” or, “I have felt so lonely lately because when I’ve wanted to talk with you, you’ve been drunk.”

While unfortunately there’s no guarantee that your partner will hear you as drugs and alcohol blunt a spouse’s capacity for empathy, these sorts of statements will be more likely to elicit emotional connection than others. And that mutual empathy (the emphasis being on the “mutual”) will be a critical building block in both your recovery, your spouse’s recovery, and your relationship’s recovery.

If you are a professional who works with couples affected by addiction, you may benefit from attending Couples and Addiction Recovery, a one-day training presented by addiction specialist Dr. Bob Navarra.

Candice Rasa, LCSW, is Clinical Director of the Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida. She has over 10 years experience in the mental health and substance abuse arena.

If you are a professional who works with couples affected by addiction, you may benefit from attending Couples and Addiction Recovery, a one-day training presented by addiction specialist Dr. Bob Navarra. 

By Candice Rasa, LCSW
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog.

— Share —

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Up Next

4 Reasons Why A Drinking Log Can Be A Powerful Tool To Cut Down Your Drinking

A Drinking Log? Powerful Reasons Why You Should Have One

If you’re struggling with cutting down on alcohol, then maintaining a drinking log is one of the best and most effective things you can do. Explore the benefits of having a drinking log and how it can help you change your relationship with alcohol.


The main purpose of keeping track of one’s alcohol consumption is increasing awareness. Some habitual drinkers pick up a drink by default.

A drinking log can provide valuable information over time, giving insight into one’s particular drinking patterns.

Keeping a drinking log helps a person see any progress they’ve made more clearly.

Up Next

3 Common Mistakes That Drinkers Make That Keep Them Trapped

Common Mistakes That Drinkers Make That Keep Them Trapped

If you struggle with drinking and alcohol consumption, then maybe it’s time you change your relationship with alcohol. There are three mistakes that drinkers make that keep them stuck in the same loop forever, and understanding those mistakes can help you break out of that vicious cycle.


The question “Am I an alcoholic” can be alienating and gives the illusion of safety. It often keeps drinkers stuck in shame and blame.

A solely behavior-focused approach fails to address the roots of a behavior and often keeps drinkers trapped in an internal tug-of-war.

The limiting beliefs about life in sobriety keeps drinkers from creating a life that

Up Next

The Emotional Secret to Resisting Alcohol: How To Quit Drinking And Be Sober

The Emotional Secret To Resisting Alcohol: How Can You Quit?

Resisting alcohol is probably one of the toughest journeys to be on, but it is doable. As long as you know the right way to deal with your unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you are in a good position. Let’s explore the secret to resisting alcohol, and how to improve your relationship with alcohol.


Sobriety often fails when driven by logical “shoulds” instead of emotional “wants.”

Unlocking your emotional “why” can lead to lasting sobriety.

Intrinsic motivation trumps external pressures for sustaining change.

When I ask new clients why they want to cut dow

Up Next

Why We Drink: The Truth About Our Alcohol Obsession

The Truth About Our Alcohol Obsession And Why We Drink

Drinking culture has become so ingrained in our society these days, that imagining any celebration or social event with alcohol consumption is almost impossible. This article is going to discuss the truth of alcohol obsession, why we drink and drinking culture in general.


Media’s glamorization of alcohol shapes societal drinking norms.

Alcohol’s “special” role in celebrations may be more a habit than truth.

Studies link alcohol portrayal in media to youth and to joy.

For many, sobriety offers a secret pathway to a vibrant life beyond the buzz.

Up Next

8 Different Types Of Drunks: From Buzzed To Being Absolutely Blotto

Different Types Of Drunks: Buzzed To Absolutely Blotto

Ah, the magical elixir that transforms us into curious creatures of the night—the mighty drink! It’s fascinating how a single sip can turn even the most reserved souls into animated versions of themselves, each with their own unique flair. So, let’s raise our glasses and delve into the interesting world of the different types of drunks.

From the life of the party to the sad soul, alcohol can bring out everyone’s hidden side; the side which they keep concealed most of the time.

We all know that person—the one who suddenly becomes an unstoppable DJ, playing the most happening songs of the night. Or perhaps you’ve encountered the philosopher, whose profound thoughts flow like rivers of wisdom, fueled by every drop of liquid courage.

Let’s explore the different types of drunks, and how they behave when i

Up Next

When To Leave An Alcoholic Partner? 6 Signs It’s Time For You To Escape

When To Leave An Alcoholic Partner? Warning Signs

Love can be a powerful force that binds two souls together, but there are moments when you must summon the courage to let go. If you’ve found yourself in a relationship with an alcoholic partner, you understand the rollercoaster of emotions and uncertainties that come with it. So, when to leave an alcoholic partner?

It’s not an easy decision to make, but sometimes leaving becomes a necessary step towards healing and finding your own happiness. In this article, we’ll explore seven tell-tale signs that indicate it may be time for you to break free from living with an alcoholic.

So, grab a seat, take a deep brea

Up Next

How Children Of Narcissists And Addicts Display Distressing Symptoms

Toxic Children Of Narcissists Symptoms To Look Out For

Children of narcissists often find themselves negotiating a confusing emotional landscape. In this exploration, we delve into the unique challenges they face, and offer insights and support to those forging their paths in its bizarre labyrinth.

Children of narcissists and addicts (all substance abusers) grow up in a stressful, dysfunctional family environment, which in most cases leads to codependency.

Children Of Narcissists Symptoms

Due to the symptoms and defenses related to substance abuse and narcissism, particularly impaired boundar