Addiction does not affect just one person. It impacts everyone who has a relationship with that person – especially their partners. Couples therapy is an essential part of the treatment programme.

It doesn’t matter if the partner is not a substance or alcohol user themselves, if they’re teetotal or have never touched a drug in their life. If addiction has played a part in the relationship then both parties can benefit from couples therapy.

If both partners have an addiction and only one has undergone treatment, it is advised that the other also reaches out for help. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for one person to stay clean if their partner is not. Being in the presence of a person drinking or taking drugs will often lead to relapse.

What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy can also be called marriage counselling but you don’t have to be married to use it, you don’t even need to be living together. Any close partnership can benefit from couples therapy.

The aim of this therapy is to create healthy relationships in a safe place with a trained, non-judgmental therapist who can listen, advise and offer solutions in which to rebuild a partnership affected by addiction.

People are much more likely to remain clean, sober and drug-free if they are in a healthy supportive relationship.

Addiction will have led to a deviant pattern of behaviour, which may be relatively subtle (e.g. drinking ever night and being so hungover in the morning that the day always starts off with an argument). Both partners may be so used to this, they may not recognise it as a problem, but this struggle and stress is an example of a toxic relationship.

Couples therapy can identify negative elements in the relationship and develop strategies in order to promote a successful change in behaviour.

The Benefits of Couples Therapy in Addiction Recovery

You may think that you are being treated as an individual and your partner doesn’t need any therapy as they don’t have an addiction. Or, if you are the partner, you may feel embarrassed to be taking part in therapy because you believe you are being treated as a substance or alcohol user.

It’s perfectly natural to feel this way but addiction will have impacted on the relationship in a negative way and both partners receiving therapy will help to tackle this. The relationship between a couple plays a significant role in the recovery process.

A partner of an addicted person will also be experiencing stress, akin to trauma, due to worry, the burden of care placed upon them, conflict and family disharmony. Couples therapy is aimed at helping them too, not just the addicted person.

It may be that addiction has caused a breakdown of trust with the affected partner lying about their whereabouts, spending money secretly or cheating with other people.

Substance abuse may have impacted the addicted person’s health and they may have lost their job, which has put a strain on the family finances. Whatever damage addiction has had on the relationship, couples therapy will help rebuild this in a positive way.

There may be aggression and even violence in the relationship and it could be that both parties realise walking away is for the best. Couples therapy can help both partners navigate ending their ties the best way, especially if finances are intertwined and children are involved.

Couples therapy in addiction is especially important if there are children. No matter how well you believe an addiction has been hidden from youngsters in the family, they are always affected. Couples therapy will help improve relationships between every member of the family, as well as your parenting skills.

Recognising Signs of Enabling

Enabling is behaviour that allows a loved one to continue with their addiction. However, it doesn’t just mean buying them drugs or alcohol, it can be doing more around the house or taking on more of the childcare as the addicted partner is ‘too unwell’ to do it.

It can be making excuses for an addicted person who fails to attend a family event as they’re too wasted to go, calling in sick for them when they’re too hungover to get to work, or simply denying they have a problem in the first place.

When one or both partners have an addiction, a relationship can be rocky and partners can often move between confronting and enabling. However, as the former may cause arguments, enabling is often a way of ‘keeping the peace’.

Many people don’t realise they are enabling. Couples therapy can help identify this behaviour and show partners how to move from enabling to helping in a supportive way. This can be setting boundaries – and sticking to them – and ensuring the addicted person is responsible for their own behaviour and its consequences.

How Does Couples Therapy Work?

Couples therapy uses strategies to improve relationship satisfaction and resolve conflict. It allows both partners to get things off their chest in a controlled environment, without the fear of an argument starting or one person blazing out.

Couples therapy arms you with the tools to recognise toxic behaviour, such as shirking responsibility and dishonesty, and provides solutions to prevent you falling back into this pattern. It also helps you identify what triggers the addiction and navigate these obstacles together.

For example, what do you do when there is an argument that would normally result in one of you storming off down the pub? How do you spend your weekends now you’re no longer getting high? Moving from addiction to recovery will change almost every aspect of a relationship from how you spend your time together, how you spend your money and how you treat each other.

Couples therapy supports both partners as they adjust to these changes and advises them on how to manage the relationship in a positive way, with confidence and communication rather than conflict and contempt.

Couples therapy has an excellent success rate but honesty is key. Both partners must want to improve their relationship for this type of therapy to work. If they don’t, it won’t work.

What Is Behavioural Couples Therapy?

Behavioural couples therapy is based on the 12-step programme made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous and is regarded as the best type of therapy for couples in which one partner has an addiction.

It promotes abstinence from drink or drugs with a daily ‘recovery contract’, in which the person with the addiction pledges not to return to drink and drugs and their partner ‘rewards’ this behaviour by expressing their support.

This daily routine, which focuses on openness, honesty and positivity, helps eliminate negativity and secrecy from the relationship, rebuilds trust and improves communication between both partners.

How Does Co-dependency Affect Couples?

Co-dependency is a dysfunctional relationship in which one person has extreme needs and their partner spends most of their time responding to these needs – often to the detriment of their own wellbeing.

It is common in relationships affected by addiction. It can result in continuing to feed a partner’s addiction to keep them happy, or turning to drink and drugs in order to feel more connected to them. In some cases, an individual doesn’t want their partner to stop abusing substances as they fear that if they do, they’ll no longer need them and they’ll leave.

Co-dependency  can be difficult to identify with this habit of people pleasing being mistaken for simply loving and caring for a partner. However, like enabling, co-dependency is an unhealthy aspect of a relationship which often supports and fuels an addiction. Couples therapy can identify co-dependency and work towards changing this behaviour.

With couples therapy the imbalance of co-dependency can be adjusted so both partners are on an equal footing, supporting one another, with boundaries in place, and working towards building a healthy relationship.

Couples Therapy at Catch Recovery

If you or your partner is recovering from addiction and would like to talk about couples therapy to one of CATCH Recovery’s high-quality and friendly therapists please contact us on 0203 468 6602.

Couples therapy is available in blocks of 10 sessions and can be conducted either face to face or via Zoom.

The total cost for 10 sessions is £1,500 and if you would like to discuss how to fund this care, contact us for no-obligation advice. We look forward to hearing from you.

References:

  1. Menon J, Kandasamy A, (2018), Relapse Prevention, Indian Journal of Psychiatry: 60 (Suppl 4), S473-S478
  2. Pettersen H, Landheim A, Skeie I, et al, (2019), How Social Relationships Influence Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Collaborative Narrative Study, Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment: Vol 13
  3. Powers K I, Anglin M D, (1996), Couples’ Reciprocal Patterns in Narcotics Addiction: a Recommendation on Treatment Strategy’, Psychology & Marketing: 13 (8) 769-783
  4. Navarra R, (2008), Family Response to Adults and Alcohol, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 25, (1-2)
  5. McGovern R, Smart D, Alderson H, et al, (2021), Psychosocial Interventions to Improve Psychological, Social and Physical Wellbeing in Family Members Affected by an Adult Relative’s Substance Abuse: A Systemic Search and Review of the Evidence, Int J Enviro
  6. Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M, (2013), The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice, Soc Work Public Health: 28 (0), 194-205
  7. Harway M (ed), (2005), Handbook of Couples Therapy, John Wiley and Sons p 314
  8. Whiting J B, (2017), When Your Spouse is Addicted: How to Avoid Enabling and Get to Reality: BYU Scholars Archive Faculty Publications 2709
  9. Schofield M, Mumford N, Jurkovic D, et al, (2012), Short and Long-term Effectiveness of Couple Counselling: a Study Protocol, BMC Public Health: 12, 735
  10. Fals-Stewart W, Lam W K K , Kelley M L, (2009), Learning Sobriety Together: Behavioural Couples Therapy for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Journal of Family Therapy: 31 (2) 115-125
  11. O’Farrell T J, Schein A Z, (2011), Behavioral Couples Therapy for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, J Subst Abuse Treat: 18 (1) 51-54
  12. Panaghi L, Ahmadabadi Z, Khosravi N, et al, (2016), Living with Addicted Men: the Moderating Effect of Personality Traits, Addiction & Health: 8 (2) 98-106
  13. Bacon I, McKay E, Reynolds F, et al, (2018), The Lived Experience of Codependency: an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction: 18 754-771