To help your addicted loved one, help their partner, friend or spouse. In many cases that may be the only way to help change an addict’s behavior. “Could you get my husband to stop drinking,” a young woman wanted to know, “for my sake and for the sake of our children?” A member of my congregation, she expressed concern to me, her pastor, about her drinking husband. Her appeal for her children tugged at my heart. But I needed to help this partner help her addict.
In a recent blog, I discussed one reason addicted people drop out of church (See https://www.gordongrose.com/signal-addiction/). Here I want to explore how to draw an addict in. Usually it’s a wife who comes to their pastor to complain about a husband’s excessive drinking. Then there’s the request, stated or implied, that you do something about it. You can reach out, talk to them, or take them to an AA meeting. Life for them has become unbearable. You suspect, however, that, on the one hand, the risk of alienating is much greater than the probability of receptivity. On the other hand, however, if you turn her down flat, you risk alienating her. What do you do?
Helping The Spouse
Help partner help their addict. Because active addicts tend to blame others for their decisions, living with them is fraught with conflict. Some experience it as hell on earth. Addicts need a way to avoid dealing with how badly they are addicted, and how unable they are to take charge of their life. They, therefore, deflect criticism to others and from their own guilt within. They will argue, blame, excuse themselves, and otherwise make getting along with them all but impossible. Only by succumbing to the temptation to placate their wrath by giving in to their every whim: buy my alcohol, call my boss and say I’m sick, you should have known better, etc.
Jesus challenges us to live as a child of God in whatever situation we find ourselves. Because it runs counter to our human nature to love our enemy, in the case of an addicted loved-one who declares war, we’ll need help to do it. We’ll also need time to practice love.
What To Expect
To help your addict, you will need help. To You can’t do it alone. You’ll need coaching support in your battle to love your addicted husband, wife, or child. Here is what you can expect of the coaching process: At first, failure; then, insight after the fight; eventually, insight beforehand almost averts the fight; finally, you stand firm with kindness, with no fight (at least from you). To learn to live as a gracious child of God in such a relationship will require a lot of support. We also need Jesus’ love. Pastor, you can coach others to practice Christian love and to help them place responsibility for the addict’s behavior where it belongs. Al-Anon and Celebrate Recovery also provide invaluable support. Check out www.celebraterecovery.com
In my case, I was this woman’s pastor. Sometimes a woman will approach a friend or relative of her husband in order to elicit help with her husband’s drinking. In general, when a person seeks you out for help, it is they who have the problem. That is never more true that with the spouse of someone addicted. Because they are aware of their need for help, your challenge is to enlist them in the process of change. Of course Al-Anon and Celebrate Recovery will help them, but what can you do to help them?
Help Partner Help Addict
When that young wife came to see me, I proposed a series of meetings with her about how she could handle herself. I had recently read a paper that outlined a strategy for dealing with people with alcohol addiction, so I applied those lessons to help her.
Lesson 1. Stop your persecution. That means, stop your angry, snide comments. Don’t throw away the substance. Don’t give any excuse to blame you (the spouse) for the addict’s behavior. “My wife’s a b—-! I’m going for a drink.” Instead you consistently demonstrate love, concern, and care for your spouse. All the while expressing your desire they stop using. “I love you, but I don’t want you to _________.
Lesson 2. Stop allowing yourself to be used as a patsy. Just as harassing can provide the excuse your spouse needs to use, so does its opposite. You enable their continued using through your involvement in the addicted’s behavior: buying it for them, doing it with them, or making excuses for them. When the boss calls, put them on the phone. Stay out of it.
Lesson 3. Be kind, but always straghtforward, truthful, and honest. “I care about our marriage and our family,” you say. “Your (addiction) is your decision. I would like you to find help, but it’s up to you.”
Over a period of weeks, that approach with the wife who came to me finally got to her husband.”He stomped his feet,” she reported, and yelled, ‘Why do you keep saying it’s up to me?’” He fumed, but the changed relationship put enormous pressure on him to change. As a result, he eventually began coming to church with her! This wife needed coaching over and over to keep her on target, but her tough love for her husband broke his addiction and drew him to Christ.
Who Needs Your Tough Love?
Do you live with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol? Gambling? Internet porn? Your life is not easy, but it will be much better if you maintain your love, while holding your loved-one responsible for their own behavior.
[Photo: alcoholtreatment.net No copyright infringement intended. For additional resources consult: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/spouse and https://www.alcohol.org/helping-an-alcoholic/husband/ Click here for a free ebook: https://docs.google.com/file/d/1rIGOglYpMYKAAL-IR7H6D65sts_WQkfKEVyTrdyz4nI/edit]
Gordon, I think that the strategies you are suggesting as a way for a partner to help an addicted loved one are excellent, and they can be profoundly helpful. I have seen this in my own life experience. The enabling behaviors, on the other hand, are unfortunately too common. “Maintaining your love while holding your loved one responsible for their own behavior” often seems too challenging unless there is the consistent support of a church family, support group, or friends.
Thank you for sharing your experience and research into this complex issue of addiction in relationships.
Thanks, Shirley, for your comments on my recent blog on supporting an addicted loved-one. Your reply registered with me, but is not available for others to see at the present. I will work on this.