Drugs, alcohol, porn, food, gambling—addictions run the gamut. And unless you suffer from one, it can be difficult to know what you’re up against.
Use these five strategies to help your partner get their life back on track:
1. Acknowledge the Problem and Encourage Them to Get Help
Many people are nervous to broach the subject of addiction with their loved ones, but it’s important to remember that you could very well be saving their life. When you do talk to your partner, make sure you’re coming from a loving place of concern, not a place of judgment.
The first step in treating an addiction is identifying it. Early detection can make it easier to stop unhealthy behaviors before the addiction takes control. At the first sign of a problem, mention your concern to your partner.
Communicating about what you see them doing can help both of you determine if their addictive behavior is their way of coping with a temporary problem you’re not aware of; or help them realize that they’re in danger of becoming an addict, or it can help them admit that they are in fact addicted.
Remember, any step you take towards early detection is never a waste of time. Even if you’re wrong, you’re demonstrating to your partner how much you care about them and it’s unlikely that your partner will be angry.
Before talking with your partner, it will be very helpful if you learn about addition treatment facilities and therapists who specialize in treating addiction in your area. Your partner will probably already feel scared and alone in their struggle so it will be helpful if you have a strategy in mind when you first talk with them.
Don’t be discouraged if you learn that your partner has struggled with their addiction for longer than you thought – it’s never too late to begin helping somebody.
2. Be Understanding
Each of us has our own flaws, problems, and struggles. Nobody is perfect. But unfortunately, this is the battle that your partner has to fight, alone.
Research your partner’s addiction so you know what you’ll both be up against. The more you know, the more you’ll be prepared to support them in their fight for their recovery. But be careful not to get too involved. (See #5 below.)
Remember that addictions are mental illnesses; they are not a choice. Try to exhibit patience without placing blame on them.
Of course, being empathetic and understanding does not mean you’re condoning their behavior. It proves that you will be there to help them along the way.
3. Be Their Support System
Addiction can feel isolating—to both the addict and their loved ones. Make sure your partner knows that they can come to you for emotional support. Open the lines of communication in your relationship and encourage them to open up to you. They may be resistant at first, so be prepared for this and ask what they need from you.
Even though you may have done your own research into your partner’s addiction, each addict’s experience is unique. If you can, learn about what triggers your partner’s addictive behavior and talk with them about how you can help them cope with these situations.
Provide your partner with encouragement and positive reinforcement when they are doing well and when you can, be there to offer your emotional support when they’re not doing well. It’s a hard battle to fight, so your support will go a long way.
4. Reduce Temptation
Temptations are inevitable. Since computers and cell phones are everywhere you cannot prevent your partner’s online access if that’s part of their addictive behavior. But you can help your partner by removing obvious triggers from the immediate environment. For example, if you live together and your partner is an alcoholic, remove all alcohol from the house.
If they have a problem with online gambling or porn, agree that you alone have the computer password. Consider keeping the computer and cell phones in a location that you both frequent, like the bedroom. Agree to limit computer usage to the times that you’re home, or consider installing filters or other safeguards.
It’s also important that you’re aware of any part you might inadvertently play in the temptations. When you’re out having dinner together, model abstinence and order a non-alcoholic beverage. Don’t come home drunk after a night out.
You cannot remove all of the triggers to your partner’s addictive behavior, and the fact is you are not responsible for doing this. Eventually, your partner must learn how to deal with their triggers and temptations by themselves
5. Set Personal Boundaries
Set firm boundaries around your supportive role, and do not make your partner’s recovery a project of your own. You are also not responsible for their recovery and if you get over-involved you can make matters worse.
Your partner must commit to doing the hard work of recovery by themselves. Your primary role should be one of emotional support and encouragement. Plus, demonstrating firm boundaries to an addict can help in their recovery.
6. Get Help for Yourself
You cannot adequately help somebody else until you’ve helped yourself. Nor can you help if you’re unaware of the active role you may be playing in your partner’s addictive behaviors. For example, if you’ve been fighting, your partner may be turning to porn or gambling or alcohol or other high-risk behavior to numb the pain they feel about the conflict. The best way you can be a support system for your partner is if you feel properly supported and are aware of how your actions affect the relationship and their behavior.
This may be a new and challenging territory for both of you and you may need individual help navigating it. Support groups for an addict’s loved ones provide ongoing support in or near your community. These include ‘Al-Anon’ and ‘Alateen’ for family members and friends of alcoholics; ‘ACA’ for adult children of alcoholics, and ‘Gam-Anon’ for a gambler’s family and friends.
An online search will provide you with meeting locations and schedules in your area. For example, if you live in Los Angeles CA, search for ‘Al-Anon Meetings Los Angeles CA’. All such support groups operate anonymously and on a ‘first name only’ basis.
There is no need for you to go through this alone and discussing your partner’s addiction with friends and family isn’t always advisable. If you’d rather not attend a support group and you’re struggling with your partner’s recovery or the possibility that you’re enabling it, consider meeting with a professional therapist for confidential supportive counseling.
Addictions are life-threatening illnesses that require professional treatment. If your partner is struggling, contact a professional at the very first sign of a problem.
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