When one partner is an active addict, a healthy marriage or relationship is virtually impossible. Addiction shatters some of the most important components of a strong marriage, including trust, intimacy, and communication. Living with an alcoholic or drug addict also means the addiction will come first for your spouse, even before the marriage.
After the addict has recovered, however, repairing the relationship is possible. Although rebuilding trust and intimacy will be difficult, you can put your marriage back together using the tips below.
Treat the Marriage as a New Relationship
Keep your expectations reasonable: The marriage will never completely go back to the way it was before addiction damaged it. There will be lingering hurt, anger, and resentment over what happened.
Instead, it’s best to treat the marriage as a new relationship. Get to know the “new” version of your spouse (or help your spouse become acquainted with the “new” you). Patiently work on rebuilding communication, trust, support, respect, and intimacy.
As you develop this new relationship, take time to date one another. At least once a month, go out to dinner or participate in a fun activity together. Talk, enjoy each other’s company, and try to rekindle feelings of romance and joy.
Seek Professional Help
Working through the trauma of addiction will most likely require help from a professional. Seek couples counseling to learn communication strategies, address underlying issues in the relationship, and begin to heal your marriage.
You can also attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings together or go to Al- Anon. It’s important for the recovering addict that his or her spouse be involved in the recovery process. Attending support groups like these can help build an understanding of what addiction is and how to deal with an alcoholic or other recovering addict in a healthy and supportive manner.
Being patient will be key in getting your marriage back on track, whether you’re living with an alcoholic/drug addict in recovery or you are an alcoholic/drug addict in recovery.
The recovering addict needs to focus on sobriety and may not always be able to prioritize the relationship, and his or her spouse must understand this. Of course, the addict’s ability to maintain sobriety will be essential to your ability to maintain the marriage as well.
Remember, too, that the recovering addict is also recovering from the trauma of addiction, including feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy, and be patient as he or she works through these feelings.
The recovering addict must also be patient as his or her spouse works to rebuild trust. Trust is linked with intimacy, so understand that your spouse may need time to rebuild the sexual part of your marriage as well.
After addiction, broken trust is likely to be the biggest obstacle to overcome in your marriage. For the recovering addict, this means absolute honesty is essential. If you continue to lie to or mislead your spouse, trust can never be regained.
You may want to agree to a system that will help you rebuild trust, like promising to always call your spouse if you’ll be home late. Once you agree to a system, be sure to consistently honor it. Otherwise, trust will continue to be damaged instead of repaired.
Put Your Feelings in Writing
While you may harbor resentment or anger toward your spouse, it’s often counterproductive or damaging to constantly rehash these feelings. Instead, you can vent and navigate your emotions in a personal journal. Journaling can help you process your emotions without hurting your spouse or causing an unnecessary argument.
You can also write letters to one another as you learn to communicate openly, honestly, and lovingly again. Some tough subjects may be difficult for you to talk about or may result in constant interruption and arguments. As you express yourself through writing, it’ll gradually become easier to express yourself verbally as well.
Getting your marriage back on track after sobriety won’t be easy, but it can be done with hard work, patience, and communication. Professional help may also be necessary as you work to rebuild your relationship.
Go on dates, be completely honest with one another, and try to treat the marriage as a new relationship. Understand that rebuilding your marriage will be a long and challenging process, and keep your expectations reasonable.
At the same time, don’t give up hope—if both of you are truly committed to saving your marriage, building a new and healthy relationship is possible.