When Should I Divorce my Addicted Spouse

photo of a wife removed her wedding ring thinking about divorce

Most of us get into marriage as a lifelong commitment. But, there comes a point when the person you married is no longer the person you married. Watching someone succumb to addiction can be incredibly painful, it can mean watching someone you care about literally destroying themselves bit by bit. And, you largely have to manage that while watching your loved one withdraw, become manipulative, and often become abusive – whether emotionally, mentally, or physically.

A substance use disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder. People lose their sense of self. Their priorities change. And, they can cause significant trauma to the people living with them. Staying with your spouse might be the right thing to do. It might make you feel emotionally good about yourself. But, it might also be incredibly bad for you or for other members of your family.

Taking a step back to assess your and their situation, to review what you’ve tried, and to take steps for your future is important.

When They Aren’t Willing to Get Treatment

If your loved one isn’t willing to talk about or consider drug rehab or alcohol rehab, they aren’t willing to try to move forward. 18.5 million Americans have a substance use disorder. There’s no shame in it. No one chooses a substance use disorder any more than they choose to have depression or anxiety. But, avoiding getting help means they are actively avoiding acknowledging there’s something wrong. Managing that in any meaningful fashion is difficult in the extreme. For example, if your loved one refuses to acknowledge that they have a problem they likely blame those problems on others. Whether that’s their boss, commute, friends, or even you matters somewhat – but it’s stressful and toxic for you.

Eventually, you cannot make someone get treatment. You can offer it. You can also make sure that you stay in touch with them, that you leave the door open to get help, and that you offer them non-judgmental support until they are ready.

If they are willing to get treatment, it’s not necessarily a reason to stay with them. That depends entirely on you, your situation, and how you feel about the relationship. Rehab won’t get you your loved one back. It will allow them to recover and to build a new life – which you may want to be part of. However, that will never be exactly the same as you had before.

When It’s the Best Choice For You

There are plenty of ways to step back and to invest less in a relationship when your spouse is addicted. Tactics like “Detaching with love” are extremely popular. It’s understandable that you care about and what to be with your spouse. But you cannot reasonably put your mental health at stake by constantly exposing yourself to stress, uncertainty, and disappointment.

Detaching with love is the process of stepping back, reducing how much you invest, and being there in other ways. For example, you might move out. You might set strict boundaries. You might make arrangements to live a full life around them – with no reliance on them for anything.

That isn’t always practical or possible. People get angry. Addicts can be impossible to live with safely. And, you might not feel safe with your spouse anymore. No matter what the reasons, you are valid in wanting to be out of that. If you want to divorce your spouse, it’s always the right choice. If you don’t feel safe with your spouse, it’s the right thing to do. And, if you can’t trust your spouse, it’s probably something you should think about a lot – because it’s hard to have a meaningful relationship with someone you do not trust.

Eventually, your mental and physical safety, and that of any children you might have, should always come first?

When Codependency and Enabling Are Issues

photo of a husband and wife having marriage issues

Most of us enable our loved ones in some way. Most of us would never purposely enable our loved ones to use, most of us do so in a hundred tiny ways every day. Every time you cover for their chores. If you lie to their boss. If you lie to their family. If you pick up extra work to cover the rent. If you pay for their legal bills. If you pick them up late at night. If you let them use in the house. All your efforts to provide for your family enable them to continue using. That can be a harsh truth, but it is the truth. The more you take care of them, the more they can continue to use.

Of course, the concept of hitting “rock bottom” to recover is a bad one. Most people recover because they see a way out. Because people offer support and care and they find motivation to go into treatment. You shouldn’t have to abandon your loved one to get them to recover. But, you shouldn’t be subsidizing their habit by taking care of everything for them in the meantime either. That’s a tricky path with a lot of difficult choices, but they must be made.

That also means paying attention to codependent behavior. Codependence is the act of being dependent on taking care of that person. It means acknowledging that their addiction is more important to them and acknowledging that taking care of them gives you meaning. Getting to take care of your partner is important for anyone. When they’re sick, even more so. But, it can become a pathological habit that exceeds rationality. If you’re relying on taking care of your partner for any reason, you likely want to get out.

Taking care of someone can be its own form of addiction. Make sure you’re not staying with someone because they need you. You might go through intense cycles of guilt and be pressured into supporting them or doing something for them just one more time, but breaking that cycle will allow you to get back to your life.

When You’re Staying Just For Them

Many of us stay in negative relationships long after we know they are over. Often, that’s about the other person. You still care about them. But, stepping away and asking for a divorce could cause them to spiral. They might founder on their own. Without your support, how will they be living? If your reasons to stay with your partner are all about them, you might want to seriously consider a divorce.

As much as you want to be, you cannot ever be responsible for their mental or physical well-being. Every individual makes their own choices, their own mistakes, and picks themselves back up. They are the only person who can make that choice. Taking care of yourself, even if that means letting go of a relationship that’s no longer adding to your life, is important.

If that’s not the case and you’re very much still in love with who they are, you might want to consider other options than divorce. Separating physically can help you to weather the ups and downs of addiction without putting yourself at risk.

Getting Help

Whether you stay with your spouse, divorce, or move into a separate house but stay married, it’s important to get help. That should, ideally extend to you, your spouse, and to any children you have. If your spouse isn’t ready or willing, you should still get help yourself. Therapy and family therapy are a good start. These can help you to cope with and move past trauma and prevent problems like co-dependency, help you to acknowledge emotions and guilt, and can help you to avoid PTSD.

You can also look for help in the form of self-help groups. For example, Al-Anon and Codependents Anonymous are both self-help groups set up to support the family members of addicts. Alateen is available if you have older children who might need support from their peers. These groups can give you insight into how other people navigate similar circumstances. They can also help you to process and share your grief and trauma by introducing you to peers, putting you in situations where you can help others, and in the simple acknowledgement that you are not alone.

Divorcing your spouse is a huge step and it can be incredibly painful. However, it isn’t always the wrong choice. It may be the perfect choice for you right now. Unfortunately, you’re the only person with the lens to see that. Reviewing your situation, asking for help from a therapist, and making a decision that best benefits you and your family will be difficult, but eventually, it will help you to move towards where you need to be.

If you have any questions about helping your addicted spouse get into addiction treatment, please contact us today. We are here to help and our experienced addiction advisors are standing by to answer any questions.

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