Although most people think of infidelity and financial issues as the top causes of divorce, addiction is also a factor cited by many couples who are ending their marriages. Drug and alcohol abuse create a dysfunctional home environment that can strain even the most loving of relationships. However, addiction doesn’t need to result in divorce if both parties are committed to seeking help for the challenges they are facing.
How Addiction Leads to Divorce
Addiction can cause a number of marital problems that increase the risk of divorce. For example:
- Someone with an active addiction is unlikely to be attentive to household chores, due to the time they are spending using and recovering from using. The sober spouse who is handling the cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance is likely to feel angry and resentful.
- Addiction impairs judgement and impulse control, making a spouse with an active addiction act out of character.
- Someone with an active addiction may struggle to keep a steady job or spend the family’s savings on drugs and alcohol.
- Lying to cover up the extent of substance abuse is common in people with active addictions, which creates the impression that the person can’t be trusted.
- Someone with an active addiction may be arrested for possession of narcotics, driving under the influence, or another offense related to their addiction. Legal bills and the consequences of a criminal record can add to the frustration felt by the sober spouse.
- In families with young children, the sober spouse may believe that being around substance abuse is placing the children in danger. The sober spouse may choose to leave the marriage simply to protect the children.
- Even though it’s a common belief that drugs and alcohol can act as aphrodisiacs, substance abuse is much more likely to lead to problems with sexual performance and libido. Over time, a lack of intimacy can exacerbate other issues in the marriage.
Co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD can increase the risk of divorce by creating changes in how sufferers think, feel, and behave. The sober spouse may feel as though the person he or she married no longer exists. Due to the stigma associated with mental health struggles, the sober spouse may also feel as though he or she can’t confide in anyone about the problems at home.
Saving Your Marriage
Can a marriage that’s been damaged by addiction be saved? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. Every relationship is unique and there are many variables to consider as a couple works through their problems.
However, you need to keep in mind that it’s vital for both parties to be committed to making the marriage work. A successful marriage is a partnership. If one spouse is adamant about wanting a divorce, it’s unlikely you will be able to change his or her mind.
It is unfair to ask a sober spouse to stand by while the person he or she loves continues down a destructive path. A commitment to seeking treatment is essential if you wish to save the marriage. This often includes detox and residential treatment, followed by time in outpatient care to build the skills necessary for long term sobriety.
Since addiction doesn’t just affect the person who is abusing drugs or alcohol, sober spouses and children living in the home also need support to deal with their feelings and the challenges they are facing. Addiction treatment centers such as the St. Joseph Institute for Addiction offer family programs as part of their residential treatment options, but outside family or marital counseling may be recommended as well. Continued attendance at support groups such as Al-Anon can provide additional insight and lessen the sense of isolation that the sober spouse may be feeling.
Develop Realistic Expectations
For a marriage to heal from the damage caused by one spouse’s addiction, both parties need to acknowledge that changes must be made in their attitudes and daily lives.
The spouse with a substance use disorder needs to:
- Realize that it will take a great deal of time and effort to rebuild the trust that has been lost
- Remain committed to following the continuing care guidelines set by the treatment team
- Seek healthy ways to deal with conflict
- Take responsibility for being an equal partner in terms of household chores, parenting, and other related responsibilities
The sober spouse needs to:
- Accept the possibility of the spouse with a substance use disorder experiencing a relapse, since addiction is a chronic illness and there is always a potential for relapse
- Listen to what the spouse with a substance use disorder needs to be successful in recovery
- Communicate personal needs in a way that avoids shaming the spouse with a substance use disorder
- Develop outside interests and work to avoid the trap of codependency