Addiction comes between couples, pushing them so far apart they lose sight of each other; all they can see is addiction. Long after the addict recovers, their partner still suffers. The pain of betrayal, the shock of their addicted partner’s reckless, destructive behavior cuts deep. Their biggest fear of all is that it will happen all over again. How can they ever regain trust?
What partners would understandably like is absolute assurances, which of course are impossible to give. Even with the best of intentions and strongest recovery, realistically relapse occurs, and that is a big part of the problem. Partners often have been handed a hundred promises of change from their addicted partner when they hit crisis, only to have those same promises smashed into a million pieces by their partner’s cravings for their drug of choice. They feel their partner has chosen their addiction over their relationship, love and loyalty. They are left feeling deeply hurt, disposable, unloved, and hyper vigilant to the next betrayal.
An issue for the addict in recovery is frustration. For their partner, the issue is fear.
Quote from a recovering addict: “I’ve had enough. No matter what I do she never believes that I’ve stopped. She watches every move I make, questions me all the time. I might as well be addicted again, if I’m going to be accused of it anyway!”
Quote from a partner of recovering addict: “He just says what he thinks I want to hear. I’ve heard it all before. If I trust him, I’m just leaving myself vulnerable and next time, and there will be a next time, there always is. I will be hurt all over again.”
The more hidden the addiction and the longer it continues before discovery, the more fearful the partner that it will start again, and that they will never know until they find devastating evidence. Gambling addiction, known as the hidden addiction, is a prime source of fear of secret relapse. Its lack of physical symptoms mean that the addicted partner might have been in action for years before it was discovered. The partner then has to deal with both the shock of discovering the addiction and that the person they loved, the life they lived, were to some extent a lie. We might add to the list of hidden addictions online addiction and addiction to gaming. ‘Binge addictions,’ where the addicted partner may be clean for months, then go AWOL for days, losing themselves in their drug of choice also leave partners feeling a need to always be on guard.
Partners often respond to the threat of invisible relapse by keeping the addict in recovery highly visible at all times. Hoping controlling their partner’s every move controls the relapse risk.
For the fearful partner, controlling the addicted partner in recovery can be a self fulfilling prophecy. For the person in recovery, frustration of not being trusted out of sight, being questioned constantly and given no room to build the rewarding and fulfilling life essential to recovery causes stress, anger and resentment at having little reward for the genuinely hard recovery work. These feelings can then drive the feared relapse.
Just as the person in recovery may distance themselves from the relationship problems by running back into their addiction, their partner may defend themselves against feared relapse by withdrawing physically and emotionally from the relationship. Addiction may be long gone, but its memories and imagined return build a wall of fear and frustration keeping the couple apart.
Taking down the wall that divides couples in recovery takes time, because it requires rebuilding trust.
Person in Recovery:
- Be patient. You know this really is it this time. You feel and think differently about recovery. It is frustrating that your partner is not moving at your pace. But remember they cannot read your thoughts or feel your feelings. If you have broken recovery promises previously, it will take them time to believe this really is different.
- Give them plenty of reasons to trust you. Behavior is hard evidence. Do what you say you will, when you say you will. Stay in a reasonable amount of contact when you are not together.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. You might be worried your partner will be scared you will relapse if you say you are having a hard day, but they may be reassured by your transparency. Remember secrecy is scary. Try to help your partner to understand what drove your addiction and how they can really help you stay in recovery.
Partner of Recovering Addict:
- Be patient. It will take time to trust again. Do not beat yourself up that you cannot just decide to feel trusting. To make a decision that you will try behave in a trusting way it is enough at first.
- Give you partner plenty of chances to prove they are now trustworthy. Step by step hand back some control for day to day responsibilities and responsibilities for your relationship. Each time your partner does not let you down you will feel a little more relaxed. Together you begin to build a new, strong foundation of trust in your relationship.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. It is okay to feel upset or angry; your partner’s addiction happened to you too. Many partners of addicted people get used to burying their own feelings so they can carry the burden of responsibility that their partner’s behavior hands them. Try to express your feelings in a way that your partner can understand and let them know how they can help you feel better. Try not to get too angry if your partner has a bad day; your support can mean they stay in sound recovery.
Being truly close means being together here and now, not living in fears from the past, or for the future. Remember you both have the same aim; the healthy recovery of your relationship.
Responding to the need for treatment to meet the needs of women who gamble, Liz established the first UK women's groups for problem gambling in 2006. These highly successful groups still run through Liz's independent practice, Level Ground.
With a great reputation for making sense of addiction in an approachable, plain English style, Liz has appeared in numerous national & international TV, radio & newsprint interviews including Al Jazeera America, BBC Breakfast News, BBC Radio & Sky News.
Along with many papers and articles, Liz is author of two books 'Women and Problem Gambling: therapeutic insights into understanding addiction and treatment' and 'Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling: treating gambling addiction through relationship'.
Latest posts by Liz Karter (see all)
- Woman Relapsed to Gambling Addiction More than 20 Times. This is her Path to Recovery. - March 23, 2017
- Regaining Trust in Relationship After Addiction - August 11, 2016