I’m in Recovery But My Spouse Won’t Get Help

I’m in Recovery But My Spouse Won’t Get HelpWhat do you do when you find recovery from addiction and your spouse doesn’t?

While it isn’t always the case, addiction often runs in twos. This is because in relationships, like attracts like. Healthy attracts healthy, and unhealthy attracts unhealthy. Many marriages are the development of relationships that started out as a binge buddy arrangement. While both partners may not suffer from the same addiction, it is quite common that some tendency toward addiction or co-dependency will characterize both partners.

Trouble comes when one member of the union decides that enough is enough and it’s time to get help. He or she recognizes the addiction and actively begins to pursue sobriety, recovery and a deeper relationship with God.

Naturally, this can cause some conflicts in a marriage. Addiction establishes patterns of living and interacting that the sober member will now be intentionally breaking and reforming. Modes of relating and communicating inevitably change, and though these changes are, when viewed objectively, positive, they are not always welcomed by the spouse who persists in addiction.

So what does the recovering addict do? Is separation or divorce the only option?

Thankfully many marriages do make it through the difficult early years of recovery. But it will take quite a lot of patience from both parties.

You have to ask yourself if you can live with an addict. This is not the same as questioning if you want to live with an addict. If, for example, you and your spouse were both alcoholics and you have quit drinking but your spouse has not, you have to honestly determine if the presence of alcohol and an alcoholic in the home is going to jeopardize your sobriety. Try to differentiate between that which is truly threatening and that which is simply undesirable or inconvenient.

If, in your early recovery, you find that the presence of alcohol in the home is a threat, a period of short-term separation may be advisable. But as the Big Book reminds us, if we are in fit spiritual condition, the presence of alcohol or an alcoholic in our midst should not faze us or our sobriety.

As you well know, alcoholics are gravely ill. What your spouse needs more than anything is compassion. We cannot force anyone into recovery nor can we hasten the process. Certainly you had to find sobriety and embrace it in your own time. Your spouse needs the same space and grace to acknowledge his or her alcoholism and decide to pursue sobriety.

Can you be a good example of life in recovery? It is only by God’s power that we can effectively witness to the still suffering addict. If we go out of our way to try to be an example, we will come off as prideful and repellant. It is more important to seek to live your life to honor God and follow the principles of recovery. If that is effective in ministering to your spouse, it is God’s work. You need not be concerned with the outcome-just worry about you.

Now that you are in recovery and experiencing the freedom of living in sobriety, you want the same for the addicts around you who persist in bondage—especially the one you have chosen to love and honor. But despite these loving motives, it is important to take care with the addict spouse. A “baby step” approach is often wisest and most effective.

Though it may take years, continue to persist in hoping that you and your spouse can enjoy a life of solid sobriety together. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for dealing with a spouse who is an addict or in early recovery.

Simple Dos and Don’ts Of Living in Recovery with a Spouse Who Is an Addict:

  • Don’t shame. This simply never works.
  • Do invite your spouse to attend meetings with you. Celebrations and anniversaries are ideal occasions.
  • Don’t try to be a model example. Live your life and your Program for your own health and God’s honor.
  • Don’t use your Program to take your spouse’s inventory. Focus on working your program and fixing you.
  • Do pray for your spouse.
  • Don’t assume that your spouse is beyond hope or help.
  • Do let your spouse discover his/her problem. People need to see their addictions with their own eyes. No one ever recovers simply by taking someone else’s word for it.
  • Don’t tell him/her how to work their program. There is more than one way to work the 12 Steps. Let your spouse work it out with his or her sponsor.
  • Do let them make mistakes even if they are the same mistakes you’ve already made.
  • Don’t get prideful about your own success in recovery.
  • Do support your spouse in the same way you would want to be supported.