Strong Enough For Two: What Do You Do When Your Partner Has An Addictionrelationships
Is Your Relationship Strong Enough To Weather Addiction
When you love someone, you can easily blind yourself to their faults. At the same time, you can feel those faults all the more keenly than someone who may be a friend or just an acquaintance. The truth is, we all have them. They can range from something as basic as being a little bit messy to things that are a lot more dangerous. And when you are in love with someone, to the point that your lives are intertwined, then that love complicates matters.
Be honest with yourself, if you’re in a relationship right now. Have you ever uttered, or thought, the words: “It doesn’t matter what he/she does. We’re forever. Warts and all, for better or worse.”? Or, allowing for flowery language, some equivalent of those? Most of us have. And we mean it too – how many famous couples can you name where one partner has obvious serious issues? We wonder why the stable one doesn’t just leave. But would you?
On A Destructive Path
A considerable number of films, books and songs have been written about sticking with someone no matter what they do. No matter what they become. And it is laudable up to a point. When someone close to you has problems, how can you turn your back on them? How would you live with yourself if you leaving was what drove them off the edge?
This is one thing if your partner has issues with stress and is sometimes rude or hard to be around. It enters a whole different arena when they are on a destructive path. This can involve a partner becoming abusive. The abuse may be physical but isn’t always. Certainly, a great number of cases of spousal abuse begin with harsh words and raised voices. They may then escalate to physical violence, or they might not.
Whatever the case, a recurring theme in cases of abuse and violence seems to be the issue of addiction. It may be a direct cause or a contributory factor. It may be a point of disagreement that starts the argument which then escalates. But one thing is sure: when there are problems in a relationship, drug and alcohol abuse will only make the situation worse.
Living With An Addict
There are many relationships where both partners have a problem with addiction. These can be particularly complicated, especially when one partner wants to get clean or sober. When the other one does not, it makes it difficult because the surest way for an addict to relapse is spending time around other addicts. It may be the case that the only solution is an ultimatum: we both get clean, or I leave.
In other relationships, you may find yourself the clean or sober partner to an addict. Maybe you have the occasional glass of wine or a beer with dinner. For this article, that can be considered “sober.” Addictive behavior is when the drink, the drugs or anything else become the center of your life. And if you are the sober partner of someone with an addiction, it’s hard.
Reasoning With Them
The frequently portrayed image of an addict is unhelpful when evaluating how much of a problem someone has. People who are addicted to heroin can spend considerable periods of time lucid, chatty and charming. Off the drug, they are often artistic, caring and fun to be around. On it, they seem like a thinly drawn version of themselves. Crucially, they don’t see it that way.
If you are trying to get an addict to change their path in life, they will often point out that you get along great. “Don’t we have a good time?” they’ll reason and will suggest that just because they take drugs, it doesn’t mean they stop being that person.
But when someone is in the grip of addiction, they do very much live two lives. The one where they surprise you with thoughtful gifts and the one where they’re flat on their back.
A key reason why addiction is so dangerous is that it leads to risky behavior. It’s not just in the use of drugs that they expose themselves to risk. Merely buying drugs opens you up to arrest, theft and potential violence (dealers are rarely the most upstanding of people). Getting the money for them may involve stealing or other illegal and often dangerous pursuits.
This, more than anything, is what you need an addict in your life to see. Yes, you love them. Yes, they’re funny. Yes, it would never occur to them to harm you. But in using, they aren’t just putting themselves at risk. They’re opening you up to risk too. Not least of these risks is the prospect of losing them, but there are other, more acute hazards. Just being the partner of an addict can see you in the crosshairs if a dealer comes to collect a debt.
Having The Conversation
If there is to be hope for a couple where one partner is addicted, then it needs to come down to them getting clean. This is an awkward conversation to have. It’s not as simple as laying down an ultimatum: “You get off drugs/stop drinking, or I walk.”
The issue of their addiction needs to be raised as something that hurts you. In the first instance, an ultimatum like the above can easily be flipped to make you seem like you’re looking for a way out. “Oh, here we go! Running away because life isn’t what you hoped it would be!” is a common refrain. Worse than that, if you lay down an ultimatum and don’t keep to it, any future ultimatum loses power.
Lay down in no uncertain terms what their habit does to you, and to them. Explain that your love for them is as strong as it has ever been, but you hate what the drug does to them. Emphasize that you’re worried about what could happen to them. And be prepared, because they’ll have answers for all of it.
“I’m still me! I’m still the person you fell in love with!”
“I don’t share needles. I don’t drive while drunk. I don’t buy off the street.”
“I know my limits – I’m not going to overdose!”
All of which, inside their head, are no doubt perfectly rational. But they don’t stand up to analysis. The person you fell in love with wouldn’t put you at risk. There are risks involved with addictive behavior above and beyond infection, car crashes and deals going wrong. And one shot of heroin can be that bit purer than the last. Addicts overdose, even when they always buy from the same dealer.
You may need to go back at them, harsher than before. Tell them that they can’t be sure they’re safe. Underline that addiction makes them rationalize in ways that just don’t hold true. Make it clear that their arguments just show how strong the drug’s hold on them is. Ask them to seek help (you can discover more at Clearbrook Treatment Centers or other facilities).
If they are still adamant, then it’s worth indicating that you have to consider your safety. You don’t want to leave, but you have to protect yourself.
Dealing With The Storm
When you ask an addict to give up, the chances are that deep down, it’s what they want to do. The high from any drug is momentary, and the lows go on for longer. The hedonistic portrayal of drug addiction may make it seem like an endless party for the selfish user. The reality is anything but. Nonetheless, they are likely to be scared of trying to live without drugs, and this is what drives their resistance.
They may well lash out and point out flaws of yours – imagined or real – and say that they love you despite them. You can offer to work on those. They may ask about that glass of wine you have with dinner. Give it up – you can live without it. They may just act like a selfish child who won’t give up their toys. Your job is to remain calm among this storm.
Helping Them Cross That Bridge
At the bottom of all of this is fear. Your fear that you’ll lose someone who means so much to you. Their fear that they won’t be able to quit. Your fear that they won’t try to give up, or that they will try and fail.
Their fear that you’ll walk away. And fear is a reason many people don’t try something – but in this case, it needs to be the reason you both do.
When people try to give up drugs or drink, relapse is always a threat. Relapse rates after a spell of recovery range from 50% to nearly 90%. So it is an ever-present threat. You cannot be surprised if it happens, and you should not be angry either. Some addicts relapse many times and still get clean. This is rarely a smooth journey for either partner.
You’ll need support in all of this. You have to be strong for them, and it’s unlikely they’ll have the strength to do the same for you initially. Confide in a close, ideally not mutual, friend. Encourage your partner to do likewise. And, not wishing to end on a downer, be prepared for the fact that at some point, for your safety you may need to walk away. Hopefully, it never gets to that point – but it needs to be an option if this is ever going to work.