Many individuals seek therapy to help break an addiction. However, addictions can extend beyond an individual and impact his or her significant other as well. Couples may seek counseling to address an addiction and the consequences that affect the relationship or marriage. On the other hand, it is possible that a person feels that issues in the relationship or marriage are contributing towards fueling the addiction. Identifying these issues is a step forward towards recovery. For those who are unclear about the nature of addressing addiction in couples counseling, Urban Balance therapist, Kiya Immergluck, Ph.D., LCPC has answered some questions below:
What are common addiction problems among most couples that seek counseling?
A common problem is denial. The addict may continue to deny that there is any real problem. Then the partner is often accused of being a “nag.” Another common problem is often that the partner takes the addictive behavior very personally. The non-using partner might say: “You know I hate it when you drink! If you really loved me, you would stop!”
When addressing addiction in a couple counseling session, is the focus on breaking the addiction itself or the relationship problems that are linked to the addiction?
As a counselor, I believe that it is up to the addict to claim their own problem, so my emphasis with the couple always begins with relationship issues connected with the using behavior (which may or may not be an addiction).
What relationship problems fuel a partner’s (or both partners’) addiction and how can those problems be identified and resolved?
I usually encourage couples to avoid the “blame game” when it comes to addictive behavior. It can be easy to say: “It’s all your fault! If you didn’t nag me, yell at me, belittle me, etc., then I wouldn’t have to drink!”
I discuss “choices” with my clients. “Yes, your partner’s behavior may be annoying or hurtful—but you need to take the responsibility that you CHOSE to numb your pain with alcohol or drugs.” Then we can discuss alternative choices for the future.
How can you help someone that unintentionally enables his or her partner’s addiction (or couple that enables each other)?
Again, I encourage each partner to take full responsibility for their own behavior. Without labeling one partner as the “addict,” I suggest that the couple deal with the addictive process as a “family issue.”
Recently, a wife was very concerned about going on vacation with her husband to a remote cabin in the woods. “What if he gets drunk? I’ll be trapped there with no escape!” I suggested that they come up with a plan that would work for both of them. She said that she hates when he drinks, but hates even more when he lies about it. Their compromise was that he would try not to drink at all, but if he felt the need to have a drink, he would tell her: “I’m driving to the store to get a 6 pack. I won’t bring it in the cabin. I will sit outside and have a couple of beers. I won’t get drunk and I won’t drive the car.”
What tools can counseling provide to aid in the recovery process?
I encourage both people to educate themselves about addictions and try to support one another without judgment.