Addiction can strain your relationship with your spouse or partner, and efforts to hide addictive behaviors can lead to dishonesty and mistrust. In some cases, you may develop a relationship of codependence as one partner tries to meet the other’s drug or alcohol needs.
Research suggests that couples where one partner is abusing drugs or alcohol usually have extensive relationship problems, often with instability, dissatisfaction, and verbal aggression. This instability, in turn, can cause the stress and mental health issues that drive addictive behaviors.
Couples therapy is a chance to repair some of the damage caused by addiction and rebuild a relationship of trust, care, and mutual support. At the same time, you learn how to help one another through the recovery process and move forwards together towards a healthy, sober life.
What Is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy, or couples counseling, is a type of psychotherapy that helps you identify and resolve conflict between you and your partner. In therapy sessions, you work with a couples therapist to create a safe and non-judgemental space where you can discuss issues without escalation and arguments.
As part of a substance disorder treatment program, the therapist may provide you with exercises to practice to help you develop the skills required to maintain healthy and supportive relationships in the long term. These may aim to:
- Improve your problem-solving skills.
- Improve communication and build trust.
- Help you develop caring attitudes and behaviors towards one another.
Addiction often leaves one partner feeling ashamed of past actions or unable to accept previous events. This can create tensions in the relationship that resurface during disagreements or other periods of stress.
Long-term recovery from addiction helps ensure that harmful behaviors and interactions do not resurface in your relationship as a result of drugs and alcohol. Couples therapy can help you take responsibility for your actions and learn to forgive one another.
Couples Therapy and the Recovery Process
Alcohol or drug addiction can often break down trust in a relationship, as one partner tries to hide their addictive behaviors from the other, which can lead to lying, secrecy, and miscommunications. Learning to communicate honestly and rebuild trust is a key part of repairing this damage.
Your couples therapist may draw up a recovery contract that defines certain obligations and responsibilities for you and your partner. These may include:
- Engaging in a daily abstinence discussion where one partner expresses their desire to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and the other expresses their support.
- Both partners attend regular self-help sessions and support group meetings like Alcohol Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon.
- Agreeing to focus on the past and future in between therapy sessions and not to revisit the past. Discussions of past events can take place with the guidance of the therapist.
- Recording the completion of these tasks each day.
Can Couples Therapy Repair the Damage of Addiction?
Couples therapy may not be appropriate for everyone, and by itself, it is unlikely to repair all the damage of addiction. In its principles of effective treatment, The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that addiction is a complex disease where no single treatment is appropriate for everyone.
Effective treatment should offer a range of different treatment approaches tailored to each individual’s needs. You may need individual therapy to treat mental health issues underlying your addiction and relationship problems, behavioral therapies to help you change harmful thought patterns and addictive behaviors, or family therapy to help heal relationships with other family members.
However, participating in couples therapy alongside other addiction treatment approaches can be valuable in the recovery process. Research suggests that people who participate in couples therapy in addition to individual therapy have higher levels of relationship satisfaction, lower levels of substance abuse, and greater improvements in other areas of family life. It can be a powerful tool for repairing the damage caused by addiction.