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Should I Get a Divorce if I’m Married to an Addict?

Seeing as over 20 million Americans suffer from substance use disorder, it should be no surprise that substance abuse and addiction is a leading cause of divorce in the United States today. If you are married to an addict, you probably ask yourself all the time if you should stay with your spouse or leave them. Can a marriage survive drug addiction? Before you can decide if divorcing an addict is the best choice for you and your family, read on to learn more about divorce and addiction, questions you should ask yourself before deciding to end your marriage, factors that make it necessary to get a divorce, and how to help your spouse get addiction treatment.

Is Addiction Grounds for Divorce?

married to an addict

Treatment can save your spouse and your marriage!

Being married to an addict inevitably leads to pain. It’s painful to watch someone you love suffer, and it is painful to deal with the destruction that addiction causes in the life you share together. For someone without a substance use disorder, it is also incredibly frustrating to know that even though your spouse loves you as much as you love them, they can’t or won’t stop using or drinking, even as their behavior wears away at the once-tight bond between you. How can a marriage survive drug addiction when addiction not only causes an enormous amount of emotional pain, but also causes difficult practical problems, such as arrests, DUIs, and lost employment? After all, any problems your spouse creates are equally yours to deal with, because your life is legally bound to theirs.

Divorcing an addict may seem inevitable when you consider the often-repeated fact that half of all marriages end in divorce—but wait, this “fact” actually isn’t true at all. In 1980, divorce rates peaked at 40%, but they have been falling ever since, reaching a 40-year low in 2015. Today, more and more marriages are lasting. Nevertheless, no matter what the national trends may be, deciding whether or not to end your marriage is an intensely personal choice, and needs to be based on what is right for your own unique situation.

When it comes down to it, addiction is a disease, and your spouse is not responsible for developing the disease. They are, however, responsible for dealing with the consequences of that disease and for getting the professional addiction treatment they need to manage it.

Should I Get a Divorce if I’m Married to an Addict?

Before you can decide whether or not to end your marriage to someone with a substance use disorder, you should ask yourself the following questions:

Have you tried to get your spouse into addiction treatment?

Telling someone you love that they need help is rarely enough to make a difference, and even a sensitive, in-depth conversation about addiction may need to take place more than once before your spouse really hears what you are trying to say.

To give yourself the best chance of successfully persuading your spouse into drug or alcohol rehab, start by learning about the disease of addiction, treatment options for your spouse’s primary substance of use, and what is needed for a successful recovery. This will allow you to communicate with them from a place of knowledge, while also preparing you for the kinds of changes you’ll need to make in order to be supportive of your spouse’s drug and alcohol-free life. Understanding addiction will also help you to deal with the anger and blame you may be feeling towards your spouse, so that you can speak to them without hostility or judgement. You should think carefully about the things you want to say in advance, so you can communicate clearly and calmly when the time comes. You may even want to practice saying these things out loud, as well as how you will respond to the things your spouse is likely to say when confronted with their addiction.

When you’re ready to have the big talk, try to pick a time when your spouse will not be high or drunk, and the two of you will be unlikely to be interrupted. If you feel unsafe when you think about this discussion, you may want to include a few other people who love your spouse and whom your spouse respects, so you can hold a formal intervention. Either way, go into the discussion prepared with a list of treatment centers to choose from, as well as information about insurance coverage, payment plans, sliding scale fees, or anything else that will make treatment practical and affordable for your family. You don’t want to give your spouse any easy excuses to delay or avoid seeking treatment.

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Are you enabling their addiction?

When you are married to an addict, you are married to someone who is always in trouble, and it’s natural to want to help them out of that trouble. However, sometimes helping an addict can be hurtful, and that’s what we call enabling. You are enabling your spouse’s addiction when you protect them from the consequences of their actions, ignore or deny their problem, or “help” in any way that actually makes it easier for them to keep using or drinking.

Of course, there is a fine line between helping and enabling when you are married to an addict. While an addict is more likely to see the need for addiction treatment if you sit back and let them lose their job after they cause a scene at a work function, making excuses and smoothing things over with the boss right away so that your spouse stays employed may be the best thing for your family. Cleaning up your spouse’s messes for the sake of your children is understandable, but cleaning up messes to “protect” your spouse from confronting their own addiction is hurtful. When you do find yourself in these complicated situations, communicate with your spouse to make sure that they are aware that their addiction directly led to the current mess, and push them to take on as much of the responsibility for clean-up as possible.

There is no fine line when it comes to some forms of enabling, however. Buying drugs or alcohol for your spouse, or drinking or using with them, are damaging actions no matter what the motivations may be.

Are there other reasons you want a divorce?

Sometimes addiction is just one of many problems in a marriage. While addiction is a disease, cheating is not. Neither is abuse. It can be easy to blame addiction for everything bad that is in your marriage, and many problems may indeed fade away if your spouse gets treatment and stays sober. You therefore need to figure out what issues between you are a byproduct of the addiction, and which issues may have always been there and will always be there, sobriety or no sobriety. You need to figure out what kind of mistakes you are willing to live with, and what kind you feel are unforgivable. You also need to recognize that there are situations in which a divorce is always the best choice to make. Read on to find out when a divorce is automatically necessary.

When Is It Necessary to Get a Divorce?

Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse: If your spouse is abusing you with verbal cruelty, controlling behavior, violence, and/or sexual activity without your consent, you need to get out. If you aren’t ready to get divorced, you at least need to separate from your spouse and find them or you a new place to live. After you are separated and safe, and your spouse is in treatment, you can work with professionals to determine if it’s possible for you to build a healthy marriage together, or if you need to make a clean break and build a life that remains separate from your ex.

Your children are in danger: If your children are being threatened or abused by your spouse, get out now, get divorced, and take steps to legally protect the children from further abuse. Do the same if your spouse puts your children in danger by driving them around while intoxicated, leaving drugs out where they can be easily found, carelessly smoking in ways that could cause a fire, or any other action that puts your children in danger of physical, emotional, or psychological harm. You need to put the wellbeing of your children before everything else. Children are helpless to change their own living situations; they rely on you to keep them safe and healthy.

Extreme financial issues: Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to unemployment, as well as many expensive problems such as legal trouble. In addition, supporting an active addiction costs money—possibly money your spouse doesn’t actually have. Being married to someone means being legally tied to their finances. If being married to an addict is threatening to empty your bank accounts or get you deep into debt, you need to use divorce to protect you from the kinds of financial problems that could take decades to fix.

Your spouse is unwilling to seek treatment: If you have stopped enabling your spouse, you’ve tried to persuade them to seek treatment, and you’ve even provided them with practical treatment options, but they still refuse to get the help they need, then there is no room for your marriage to improve. Divorce can set you free to find your own health, healing, and happiness, and may also be the catalyst that finally causes your spouse to recognize the severity of their problem.

Saving Your Marriage with Treatment

If you are married to an addict, the only real hope for saving your marriage is addiction treatment for your spouse—and for you, because the recovery process should always involve the addict’s loved ones. There are many ways to support your spouse through drug and alcohol rehab, many of which will help you as well. Attending couples counseling can help you heal wounds, resolve conflicts, improve communication, and figure out practical steps you can both take to create a healthy marriage that supports addiction recovery and your mutual wellbeing.

Addiction treatment begins with detox, then continues with a variety of therapies and individual, group, and family counseling sessions to work on the root causes of addiction, and to help your spouse make the necessary changes to address the mental, emotional, social, and behavioral sides of their addiction behavior. As addiction impacts every aspect of your life, addiction treatment needs to touch on every aspect of your life.

Seeking out support groups for the families of addicts, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, is always a good idea. These meetings are a safe place where you can openly discuss your feelings, receive insight and advice from people who intimately understand the experience of loving an addict, and connect with a community of people who can ensure that you never feel alone in your struggle.

Preparing for the Future

Before your spouse finishes treatment and returns home, you need to prepare yourself. Counseling sessions are an ideal place to work through the changes you’ll need to make, and to carefully plan for your spouse’s return. Your home environment needs to be safe for the both of you, stable, and supportive of recovery. You should not keep drugs or alcohol in the home, and you should make sure to keep openly communicating with each other.

As your spouse continues to heal and to find new purpose in their life, they will need to spend time away from you at counseling, vocational training, work, 12-step meetings, and more. Don’t feel threatened by this—especially since you and your marriage are a large part of why your spouse chose to transform their life in this way. You can use this time to work on your own wellbeing, so that the two of you can be strong both together and apart.

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