Loving someone in the grip of addiction isn’t easy. It’s hard to make a relationship work when your partner is emotionally unavailable and behaviourally unstable. On top of that, seeing your partner ruin his/her personal, social, and material well-being on an almost daily basis can be incredibly demoralising. In other words, you feel entirely powerless; a mere spectator to a tragic story that can only end in suffering and despair for both of you.
But there are times when the consequences of your partner’s addiction can interfere with your life as well. From financial instability and constant quarrels to the stigma associated with being in love with an addict, the problems that may arise in the relationship can cause you a lot of unhealthy stress.
Considering these challenges, there’s one crucial question we need to ask ourselves – Is it possible to love someone in the grip of addiction?
A clinical perspective on addiction
Aside from the genetic and biological factors that play a role in the onset of addictive behaviours and substance use disorders, most clinicians consider the emotional and psychological aspects as well.
In other words, addictions are in general the result of unfulfilled emotional needs. When basic needs such as affection, safety, love, or understanding are unmet, we seek to fill that emotional void with all sorts of unhealthy ‘replacers’ such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, eating, and so on.
Furthermore, addictive behaviours can also serve as dysfunctional coping mechanisms. When we cannot cope with less pleasant emotions, we seek refuge in behaviours that generate a sense of pleasure and relief. In other words, we deal with our issues by drinking, gambling, doing drugs, binge-watching sitcoms, and many other addictive behaviours.
Aside from standard intervention plans and treatment protocols, one crucial aspect that can help people overcome addictions is emotional support – especially the kind of support they receive from someone who loves them unconditionally.
The challenges of loving someone who’s dealing with addiction
As you can imagine, loving someone in the grip of addiction can be quite challenging. The constant arguing; the implacable stonewalling; the painful moments when you’re forced to see your partner make one bad decision to another, all these factors (and more) can easily overshadow the love and respect that brought you together once.
When one partner is struggling with addiction, the other will inevitably have to carry part of the burden. And it’s hard to convince yourself that carrying this burden is worth the effort and sacrifices when part of yourself knows you have all the reasons to “abandon ship.”
But no matter how severe and debilitating your partner’s addiction might be, there’s always something unique and special about him/her; something that makes him/her lovable in your eyes.
And that’s the spark of hope you need to keep on fighting and help your partner free himself/herself from the tight grip of addiction. Here’s how you can be there for him/her.
Five tips to loving someone who’s dealing with addiction:
#1 Be patient
Patience is everything. When your partner is dealing with personal problems, there’s no telling when he/she will be able to make significant changes. It’s one of those things that you simply can’t rush.
However, patience doesn’t come that easily, especially when you’re forced to see your partner make one bad decision after another.
To avoid ‘burning out’ make sure to remind yourself why it’s worth it. Remember why you decided to be together in the first place and seek to rediscover the person you once fell in love with.
#2 Be supportive
Whether your partner is dealing with addiction, substance use disorder or any other psychological issue, emotional support plays a crucial role in his/her recovery.
Refrain from any form of criticism and seek to understand what your partner is going through. Listen and try to zero in on his/her emotional pain.
Create a safe space where your partner feels comfortable enough to talk about his/her problems.
Since providing support to a partner who’s struggling with addiction can be quite nerve-racking, experts suggest you should seek emotional support as well. As one recent paper concluded, good quality social support, in the form of emotional support, good information and material help, is an invaluable resource for affected family members, supporting their coping efforts and contributing positively to their health.
#3 Be an active listener
Active listening is one of the best strategies you can use to nurture a warm and supportive relationship. It means to put aside any personal opinions that may create friction and simply listen to what your partner has to say.
In fact, active listening is what counsellors and therapists use to make their clients feel comfortable enough to ‘unburden their soul.’ In a way, we could argue that the mere act of creating an environment where a person feels listened and understood is a therapeutic gesture.
You might not like what you hear, and you might not agree to everything your partner says. But the critical aspect here is to listen.
All and all, active listening helps us become effective communicators both at home and work.
#4 Be the voice of reason
When your partner is dealing with addiction, most of his/her actions and decisions will seem irrational and dysfunctional. Who in the world would want to waste their health, finances, and relationships on something that brings nothing but pain and suffering? But that’s not how they see it.
And since their life is pretty much dominated by their addictive behaviours, it’s up to you to be the voice of reason. That means helping your partner understand the irrational nature of his/her decisions while being supportive at the same time.
#5 Be inspiring
In the end, the best way to address addiction and substance use disorders is by consulting a mental health professional. No matter how patients, supportive, empathetic you are, you can never replace professional help.
But what you can do is encourage your partner to make this decision and free himself/herself from the grip of addiction.
Be the inspiration he/she needs and help him/her find the courage to seek help.