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Getting Sober in a Sick, Unhealthy Marriage 2 Jan 2018

Getting Sober in a Sick, Unhealthy Marriage

So many people feel trapped in unhealthy marriages, and there are a lot of reasons why this can often happen. It never seems like something that will happen, but as time goes on, reasons pile up, resentments never get resolved, and marriages can turn into a battlefield rather than a partnership.

But what happens when one person in that unhealthy marriage is an alcoholic or an addict? Is there change for someone to recover from addiction, get sober, and potentially rekindle that old flame, or even move on in the healthiest way possible?

How the Marriage Can Go Sour

To be honest, this can happen in so many ways and so many different scenarios can take place, but underneath it all, it really boils down to a few main reasons. People always ask what the key to a good relationship is, and the answers will often vary between trust, sex, honesty, loyalty, etc. However, all of these bigger issues boil down, ultimately, to these:

  • Communication
    • This is one of the hardest practices for people, married or not, to master. There are so many different styles of communication, and when two styles collide, and neither party wants to change, an unhealthy marriage can ensue.
    • A common theme for unhealthy communication is when a couple talks AT their partner, rather than speaking WITH them. Many people often feel that there needs to be a “winner” in conversations, which can lead to resentment, hurt feelings, bruised pride and egos, and explosive arguments.
    • A helpful tip to practice good communication is to be patient while the other person speaks, look them in the eyes, and take a moment to think about their own response. This will help ensure that the response won’t be reactive but will come from a place of active listening and comprehension.
  • Compassion
    • The longer we are around someone, the less and less we can often value who they are as a person, and what they are going through.
    • It can be easy to forget that, although we have known and been around them for so long, they are still processing and living life from THEIR OWN perspective.
    • As bumps in the road come up, and issues arise in the marriage, it is important to remember that there WILL be differences of opinion, and emotions will be processed differently.
    • A helpful hint on remembering to be compassionate to our partner can often be to take a few moments to try and separate our own perspective and emotions from the situation and try to entirely place ourselves in our partner’s shoes. Think about all of the factors that could be weighing into their opinion and emotions.
  • Dropping Control
    • It can be extremely challenging for many people to remember that they do not have to win at debating or one-up the other person.
    • Many people fall into the “keeping score” way of thinking, for example, I did the laundry week, you have to do it this week.
    • A successful partnership is built on teamwork. However, if there is one person who pulls more weight in more areas, that is something that should be discussed.

woman drinking alcohol
Now Add an Addict into the Mix

When one member of the marriage, or both even, suffers from the disease of addiction, this can throw a whole other wrench into the mix. When an addict or alcoholic is deep in their addiction, their entire moral compass can often be out of whack. Their priorities revolve entirely around their use, and the wellbeing of others is often put on the back burner.

For this reason, it can often be very difficult for couples who are in an unhealthy marriage, because one of them is completely not themselves due to their addiction.

So, if this person chooses to get sober, is it possible to do so, despite the current state of the unhealthy marriage? The answer is yes. The beautiful thing about recovery is that everyone who struggles with addiction can do it, as long as they are actually ready.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has multiple areas of text that revolve around unhealthy marriages and the ability to recover them. They mention an alcoholic that is married to a non-alcoholic, they discuss enabling and setting boundaries, and they discuss the possibility of saving the marriage.

So How Is It Done?

The only method to get sober in an unhealthy marriage, that has so far been absolutely proven to work, is when this addict or alcoholic WHOLEHEARTEDLY works a 12 step program. Not to be preachy, but this has worked since the 1930’s and continues to work today. The only two requirements are that the person stops using, and works the program.

This can often mean that the addict or alcoholic will need to take some time away and attend a treatment program to ensure that they stop using for a period of time. After that, the person will hopefully choose to work a 12 step program.

Now, for the marriage, assuming the partner is non-alcoholic or addict, they too will need to change. More often than not, the spouse of an addict has extreme tendencies towards enabling, lack of boundaries, codependency, victimization, and self-hatred. Working an Al-anon program can often help this person both learn how to live their own best life and learn to live a healthy life with their now recovering partner.

If on the other hand, the partner is an active addict himself, there is more than likely small chance for the unhealthy marriage to improve unless this person chooses to get sober themselves. This is because it will be very difficult for the recovering addict or alcoholic to be around their partner if they are still actively using and living with addict behaviors.

So, it IS Possible

Absolutely. It is possible for ANY addict or alcoholic in ANY situation to recover, so long as they actually wish to stop, and they actively work a program. It could definitely take some time for the marriage to recover, and in some cases, the better decision is for both partners to respectfully step away. However, if BOTH partners are ready to take a real look at themselves, their behaviors, and how they can improve, an unhealthy marriage can always be saved.

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