“In sickness and in health.” Those words are a familiar part of a marriage vow, when a couple commits to staying together no matter what. However, one of the hardest trials a couple can experience is addiction and its consequences—and that trial doesn’t end when sobriety begins. Spouses will likely experience moments that will have them wondering how their marriage can survive sobriety. There are still challenges ahead, but understanding the potential pitfalls can help spouses work together to overcome them.
Marriage and Sobriety: The First Stages
The decision to pursue sobriety is major and life-changing, both for the addict and for the spouse. It can take a toll physically, as the person in recovery is going through withdrawal symptoms that can be very intense. It may be impossible for a spouse to care for a partner who is experiencing nausea and vomiting, fatigue, lethargy, lack of appetite, and excessive sweating and bodily shaking. It can also be draining emotionally as well, with moods that can swing from depression to irritability to paranoia that both the recovering addict and the spouse will have to cope with during this difficult time.
Once the withdrawal stage is over, there is still much more hard work to do in the initial stages of sobriety. The person who was abusing substances may be processing a variety of emotions: doubt, guilt, anxiety, worry, helplessness, and more. If the person is in therapy, this can be a time when the underlying issues of the addiction are addressed. That can bring up negative feelings and emotions as well. For all of the above reasons, it can be a valuable decision to seek treatment for substance addiction with a highly qualified rehabilitation treatment program such as Casa Palmera. An inpatient program provides experienced and compassionate care during the withdrawal phase and can lay a foundation for recovery, while an outpatient program serves as a resource to continue the progress made during the inpatient phase.
An outpatient program can be especially helpful as couples navigate their relationship during this newfound phase of sobriety. The patterns and interactions that were established during addiction are basically obliterated. A husband who used to stay out late drinking will now be spending much more time at home. A wife previously addicted to painkillers to numb difficult emotions or situations will now have to deal with them head-on, without the aid of substances. Codependent behaviors that used to be the norm are disrupted as couples stop playing the roles of addict and enabler and have to find their way back to the roles of spouses. Finally, trust between couples may have been broken during addiction if a partner lied about substance abuse and the process to rebuild it may not always be smooth. With all the changes that come to relationships with sobriety, there can be feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, shame, and more.
When asking whether marriage can survive sobriety, the answer can be yes—if a couple takes a healthy approach to managing their problems and discussing their feelings. It will take time to rebuild trust so it’s important to not put pressure on each other and instead take it one day at a time. In some ways, re-establishing a marriage in the wake of addiction is like dating and getting to know someone new, so it can be helpful to connect on specific date nights. It is vital for couples to have outside support during this time. Couples counseling can create a safe space to air out feelings and emotions and set concrete relationship goals to move forward. Each spouse should also be attending 12-step support groups. The sober partner will have the accountability and encouragement to continue on their path, while their spouse will be able to gain insight and support from groups especially focused on the partners of former addicts, such as Al-Anon. Each partner in a couple has to work on being the healthiest version of themselves, so that can mean individual counseling, taking up a pastime that brings fulfillment, or even taking care of themselves physically by eating well and exercising.
It won’t always be easy, but with a commitment to each other and a focus on truth, honesty, and acceptance, couples can emerge from the early stages of sobriety with their marriage intact and on the way to restoration.
Can Marriage Survive Sobriety—What It Looks Like in the Long Term
Fast forward 10 years. If a couple has used the tools to grow a healthy relationship, they could find themselves in a thriving marriage. They have grown together, and together they have grown stronger. The marriage won’t look the same as it used to, back in the days of addiction, but that can be a good thing.
The clear lines of communication spouses established during those early years of sobriety have borne fruit. When conflict comes up, both partners are able to express themselves clearly and concisely and come to a resolution. Trust has been reestablished. Because drugs or alcohol aren’t an all-consuming addiction anymore, spouses can fully be present and enjoy each other’s company—and that can lead to a renewed appreciation of each other. There is also a greater understanding of a partner’s trigger situations, and couples know how to avoid them. Couples may also be taking the necessary steps to make sure their marriage stays healthy. That could include individual or couples counseling when necessary for relationship tune-ups, or checking in regularly with their support groups.
With sobriety comes clarity about life—it can be lived to the fullest, and that means couples can enjoy their relationships to the fullest, too. Marriages can survive sobriety—and not just survive, but thrive.
Is your partner grappling with addiction? Is your spouse ready to go into recovery but doesn’t know where to begin? Contact Casa Palmera today, where our compassionate and experienced team can help you and your partner get the help you—and your marriage—need.