How To Stop Enabling Your Addicted Spouse

Posted on April 10th, 2013

Stop enabling your spouseAcknowledge your role as an enabler.

Staying on the path you are on now will only perpetuate the problem and reduce the likeliness that your loved one will ever get the help he or she needs.

Find help.

Living with an addicted spouse causes tremendous stress. You may be dealing with a loved one who is constantly high on prescription drugs while you manage a job and care for the rest of the family. Tend to your own emotional well-being by reaching out for help. Working with a therapist will provide a safe outlet for you to express feelings, such as anger, frustration, sadness, or guilt. A professional will also help you develop strategies to cope with those powerful emotions in a healthy way.

You’ll also find help in alcoholism or drug abuse support networks, such as Al-Anon. These networks act as mutual support groups, allowing members to share their experiences, frustrations, advice and more. Regular attendance will provide insight into your spouse’s addictive behavior, understanding from others who are in the same position, and, just as importantly, a room full of shoulders to lean on. Support groups let you know that you are not alone.

Set boundaries.

Tough love is one of the cornerstones to helping your loved one on the road to sobriety. It’s natural for you to want to help the spouse you love, even if their addictive behaviors have hurt you. However, it’s essential to set guidelines regarding their behavior around you, and if applicable, your children. Every situation is different, so talk with a professional about which boundaries are appropriate for your family. Some guidelines to consider include:

  • No direct financial aid. For example, if your spouse needs to put gas in the car, give him or her a gas card instead of cash or a credit card.
  • No money for bail or fines. Your addicted spouse needs to experience the consequences of and take responsibility for his or her own actions.
  • No tolerance for using in the home. You and other family members deserve a safe environment. If your spouse cannot abide by this boundary, you may need to ask him or her to leave the house to use or drink.
  • Assume legal custody of children. All children deserve to grow up in an addiction–free home.  Studies consistently show that growing up in an addicted household has a direct impact on a child’s physical and emotional well-being. This may sound like an extreme step, but it may be necessary to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Learning to say “no” to an addicted spouse is never easy.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has not been in your shoes.  A therapist or addiction specialist can help you develop strategies for saying “no” to protect the boundaries that safeguard you and others. As difficult as it might seem, you may find that setting clear boundaries provides the incentive your loved one needs to enter treatment.

Enabling your spouse will not make the addiction better. It might feel as though you are handling the problem, but in reality it’s setting the stage for continued alcoholism or drug abuse. It will not be easy to stop enabling. Sometimes, it will even feel like the tough love approach hurts far more than it helps. Addiction recovery is a process, and by discontinuing your enabling behaviors you are taking a very important step towards your spouse’s healing and recovery.

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