In the beginning of your relationship you didn’t even notice. It seemed like recreational use. Your partner’s use was “normal” and no different than those of your friends or so you thought. Now, you have noticed a shift and a bit more of a pattern. You recognize that there is a recurring problem with the use. It has taken the place of family, community events, fun times, and other important dates. Activities seem to always be accompanied with the substance first and you wish things would change. What do you do? How can you have a loving, productive conversation with your partner about the substance abuse?
There are ways, healthy ways, to speak lovingly and there are ways to talk that will come across as badgering or degrading your partner’s value. In this article you will find some of the healthiest ways to respond to your partners substance abuse and ways to protect yourself from being hurt.
#1 Check in with yourself. Check in with yourself and note your own behaviors. A defensive partner may automatically point to your own faults to avoid a legitimate healthy confrontation or intervention. Checking in with yourself is a great way to prepare for the conversation ahead as it will create a foundation of honesty from which the conversation can spring.
#2 See where you may be enabling and create ways to stop. Enabling is a passive act of approval. Enabling may be not saying anything at times where it is crucial to speak up. Enabling may also be found in the form of participation. For example: If you only use alcohol as recreational or “Friday night splurge” and decide that keeping some around in your house is okay with you, but notice your partner is drinking it all in one or two nights, this may be a form of enabling. Be prepared to support our partner by not keeping any in the house or make the decision to not drink around your partner.
#3 Make sure you are seeking counsel from support groups. Education on substance abuse is key. There are many support groups available to you as a loved one of someone who struggles with substance abuse. It is helpful and strengthening to hear stories of how others have coped and eventually become successful in their attempt to help a partner they love. There are groups from Al-Anon to Co-dependency groups that can offer the support you need to get strong and healthy first so that you can be the strength and encouragement for your spouse.
#4 Do not condemn or judge the person. Many partners bring unresolved frustration and anger into the conversations that ought to be supportive of the other. Be aware that many partners first come to talk to their partner because they are still co-dependent and need something from them. When you talk to your partner about their substance abuse make sure it isn’t about you “getting something from them.” Instead, allow your love for them and their well-being to be communicated.
#5 Choose an appropriate time to talk. When your partner is still drunk, it is not the best time. The day after your partner has just spent a night out with friends binge drinking still may not be the best time. The best time typically is when your relationship and moments throughout the day are natural and smooth. Choose very neutral times as well as try to plan it out ahead of time. Plan to have a date that includes wholesome interaction and topics that touch on a variety of areas in your relationship. Make sure you tell your partner how you feel and how their actions have affected you.
#6 Be direct. If the substance abuse is an “elephant in the room” sometimes the best way is to be direct. Directly communicating that you have witnessed them not once or twice but multiple times hurting themselves, yourself, and others may be a great way to mirror back to them the extent of the issue. Keep in mind that it may be helpful before hand to try to assess where your partner is in their substance abuse. Are they in denial? Do they openly admit they have a problem? Be ready with solutions and success stories that will encourage them to get the help they need.
#7 Set boundaries you can enforce. There are times when a partner’s substance abuse becomes extremely destructive and strong boundaries are necessary. Do not get discouraged. With excellent boundaries, great counseling, and loving commitment, many couples have been able to turn their relationship around for the better.
Life has seasons of many colors. Be hopeful that the substance abuse is only a season. There are incredible stories and testimonies of how a loving, committed partner stood by their loved one and the other responds in kind. Continued patience through your talks as well as counsel and support are paramount to beginning to resolve this sensitive issue in your lives.