Supporting Your Spouse After an Addiction Relapse

What Should You Do if Your Spouse Has An Addiction Relapse?

Your spouse was doing so well with recovery. Then without warning, they slipped into addiction relapse. The symptoms were there, but you didn’t realize what was happening. How do you cope with everything while helping your spouse turn things around? 

Addiction relapse can happen years after a person has been in recovery, damaging marriages and personal relationships. Whether this is the first time your spouse has relapsed, or you’ve been down this road before, it’s a shock to the system. It’s a challenging time for both of you, but you’re not alone. Addiction relapse occurs at least once for many people going through recovery. We’ll review why relapse can happen, how to support your spouse, and tips for taking care of yourself.

Why Relapse Can Happen After Addiction Relapse 

Relapse isn’t a failure and can happen with any chronic health condition. Long-term habits and behaviors can be difficult to maintain, especially for a condition that is managed but not cured. Relapse isn’t part of everyone’s recovery journey, but it does happen, and people find ways to get back on track.

Relapse can occur for many reasons, and your spouse’s triggers are unique to them. A person in addiction recovery may be more sensitive to specific stressors than someone who doesn’t misuse substances. Triggers don’t need to be big to have an impact.

People with addiction often use substances to cope with emotional pain. Substance use may be their brain’s go-to response, even when they’ve learned healthier methods. In many cases, relapse develops over many weeks or months before something noticeable occurs. Here are some common reasons relapse may happen:

  • Stress
  • Grief and loss
  • Something bad happening to a loved one
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Memories from previous trauma or difficult times
  • Exhaustion
  • Isolation
  • Physical pain or illness
  • Life changes (even positive ones)
  • Perceived pressure to “keep up” with recovery
  • Being around a place, person or object linked with previous substance use
  • Becoming overworked
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Unemployment
  • Intimacy issues
  • Overconfidence that they’ve “beaten” their addiction or can use substances despite having been to treatment
  • Not following through with aftercare and support plans

Acknowledge and feel your emotions about their addiction relapse 

Addiction is an emotional rollercoaster, and you may have gotten used to the chaos and emotional pain. You’ve probably pushed aside your needs and emotions to help your spouse. It’s common to feel a wide range of feelings when watching your spouse struggle with addiction.

  • You may feel broken, hurt and ignored. 
  • Feels of being invisible, powerless or unworthy of attention.
  • You may feel resentful for holding everything together behind the scenes.

If you’ve tried expressing your feelings, your words may fall on deaf ears. Your spouse may not have empathy or understand your side of the issue. They may acknowledge their addiction is hurting your marriage, but they may not know what to do with your emotional pain.  

You can’t control how your spouse behaves or feels, but you can adjust how you respond. Here are some ways to address your needs without hurting your spouse more.

  • Name your emotions, so you understand what you’re struggling with. 
  • Face the anger or resentment, then address what’s driving it.
  • Notice the temptation to get emotional revenge or use passive-aggressive methods. You may want to get back at your spouse, but being mean or hurtful won’t help you feel better or make things right. 
  • Release these emotions so that they don’t poison your mind and perspective. Those feelings will hurt you more than your spouse, so here are some ways to let go.
    • Journaling
    • Talking with others
    • Doing a physical release with a punching bag, deep breathing, running, weightlifting, etc.
    • Doing a ritual like writing things down on a sheet of paper and destroying it

Understand that your sacrifices and struggles may never be fully recognized by anyone other than you. It may not feel very good at first, but releasing toxic feelings can help you live with this reality. Maybe your spouse will acknowledge the impact on you during their recovery, but they may not. You can keep moving forward without getting bogged down by an unmet expectation. 

Try to come from a place of love

It may be hard to understand why your spouse relapsed, but there is likely an underlying reason. When you can come from a place of love, you may uncover the key to their recovery. 

Encourage your spouse to talk

Sometimes relapse just happens, and it may not make sense to you or your spouse right away. Addiction is closely tied with painful emotions, which are irrational in nature. They can direct a person’s actions even when logic would suggest otherwise. Listen anyway. Listen to hear what they say because it may be the best they can do. And they may have some practical or clear-cut issues you can address as a couple. They may identify triggers or weak spots in their recovery plan, clues that can help you plan better for the future.

Encourage them to seek help

Encourage your spouse to get help, even if you don’t understand why they relapsed. Introduce the topic and either consider a previous treatment option or something new. Don’t get bogged down trying to figure out the perfect solution. Just help them open up to the idea of recovery and remind them you’ll be there for support. 

Avoid enabling their behavior

Your spouse may try to bargain or convince you to let them use substances. They may not be entirely on board with treatment, or they may try to use just one more time before going. Do your best to resist this. 

Stay firm and lean on your knowledge of addiction recovery to help you get through those moments. Enabling their behavior may delay their ability to get help. Relapse can quickly devolve into heavy or harmful use, so stay firm and move quickly toward treatment.

Set firm boundaries

Loving a person doesn’t mean making them happy all the time. One of the most loving things you may do for another person is to set boundaries. You understand what’s unsafe for your spouse, even if they see the situation differently. Show emotional support, but be clear that they are responsible for their recovery. Excuses won’t help, and abusive or dismissive behavior isn’t acceptable. Holding the line can be difficult, but accountability is vital for recovery.

If your spouse seeks treatment after relapse, support their efforts 

Encourage your spouse to start treatment after their addiction relapse. Go with them or involve trusted loved ones to help them get started. Learn about treatment options in your area, and consider other choices based on the current situation. If your spouse made a relapse prevention plan, check that to get some direction. 

Attend family therapy with them 

Family sessions are a vital part of treatment. One study showed a 6% improvement in reduced substance use with alcohol. It may not sound like much, but 6% equaled two fewer drinking days per month and three fewer drinking weeks per year. 

Family therapy is not easy, yet it’s an unmistakably valuable part of a person’s recovery. Talking about difficult family issues may be the last thing you or your spouse want to do, especially when airing dirty laundry about family problems may trigger feelings of shame or low self-worth. But other families understand because they’ve gone through similar struggles. Families get support and learn strategies for coping with the ups and downs of recovery. And as your family and marriage relationship strengthens, your spouse’s chances of recovery improve as well.

Advocate for yourself 

Your spouse may be the one with the addiction, but you’ve been through a lot, too. Here are some ways to care for and advocate for your needs. 

Seek professional help or peer support

You may have given up a lot to help your spouse and felt ignored along the way. Your mental wellness matters as much as your spouse’s does. Addiction is a significant issue, one you don’t have to face alone. Seeing a counselor or joining a peer support group can help you understand your emotions, learn to cope and address your mindset.

Learn more about relapse and addiction

Addiction is a complex disorder, and relapse may help you see recovery from a new angle. If this is your spouse’s first relapse, lean on others for guidance. Find someone who’s been in your shoes as a spouse of someone in recovery. You may find a support group like AlAnon helpful for this kind of support. 

Refill your cup

Supporting a spouse through addiction recovery can be emotionally and physically draining. You need to rest and restore your mind, body, and spirit. Otherwise, you may grind yourself into the ground, leaving yourself open to chronic stress, depression or anxiety.

Take time to explore how your spouse’s addiction and recovery have changed you. You may have lost touch with your interests and needs, so prioritize some personal reflection. You can’t help others if you’re pouring from an empty cup. 

Finding a way forward after an addiction relapse 

Addiction relapse can seem like a surprise. But for many people who experience it, symptoms gradually build for weeks or months. Facing a relapse after a successful period of recovery can be disheartening at first. With patience, you and your spouse can find a way forward with recovery again. To learn how to support someone who’s relapsed, contact the P.A.T.H. facility today at 1-888-622-7809.

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