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  • Addiction doesn’t just change the individual suffering with the disease, but their loved ones—especially their chosen life partner.
  • If your spouse is struggling with addiction, you must choose your actions carefully: it’s easy to confuse helpful and unhelpful interventions.
  • First, don’t try to “make things easier” on your spouse—this can quickly turn into your enabling their harmful behaviors.
  • Examples of enabling include covering up your spouse’s bad behavior, bailing them out of trouble, and taking on all domestic duties while your spouse engages in drug use.
  • Replace the aforementioned with actions that will actually help your spouse as well as yourself: draw boundaries, be open and honest about how you feel, and encourage them to get professional help.

Your role as a spouse is to support the person you love as you go through life together. The peaks and valleys of life seem easier to navigate when you have someone you love by your side. Having a shoulder to cry on and a helping hand when you need it are essential to getting through some of life’s toughest moments. All of these things tend to change when addiction is involved, especially with a spouse or partner, and it can be devastating.

If you are the spouse of someone who is dealing with substance use disorder, it’s important to reflect on your behaviors and relationship with your spouse carefully. There are certain behaviors that you may be exhibiting that feel as though they are helping your spouse, but they’re actually hurting them. Even people who have the best intentions in mind can find themselves in the position of an enabler, so it’s essential to look at the patterns in your relationship objectively.

What Does Enabling Mean?

When someone has an addiction, a spouse may feel compelled to make things easier for them because they care. Wanting to make people’s lives easier is a simple way of showing someone love and support, but addiction changes this simple gesture into something potentially harmful. Enabling behavior discourages those from dealing with their own problems and behaviors, especially when it comes to negative consequences. If their spouse is always fixing their problems, making up for their shortcomings, and cleaning up their messes, how will they ever face reality? Some examples of enabling behaviors include:

  • Covering up bad behavior in an attempt to ignore that a problem exists. This includes lying about theft, law-breaking, and possession of illicit drugs from authorities.
  • Deflecting blame for problems and accusing other people or situations for causing their spouse’s drug misuse.
  • Putting their spouse’s needs before their own, even if it severely worsens their quality of life.
  • “Keeping the peace” at all costs, even if it means putting other family members in danger or ignoring their needs because their spouse’s needs are more important.
  • Bailing their spouse out of problems and mishaps time and time again.
  • Rationalizing abuse or mistreatment while they are under the influence and allowing it to continue.
  • Continual financial support that they know will fully go towards obtaining and using more drugs.
  • Taking care of all domestic duties while their spouse is engaging in drugs or unable to physically take care of their home and family due to being intoxicated.

There are many signs of enabling behavior, but it’s important to understand that having to lie and assist someone who is constantly using means you are most likely enabling them and not helping.
Much of people’s enabling behavior is spurred by emotional manipulation that is used by those who are dealing with addiction. Your spouse may not be fully aware that their behavior is hurting you and your family because they are solely focused on feeding their addiction. Many pleas for help are followed by empty promises, only to be quickly followed up by behaviors that make it clear they have no real intention of ending their addiction cycle. They always know the right things to say and will pull at your heartstrings to help; it’s a difficult position to be in because you truly love your spouse and want them to get better.

On the flip side, there are times when sweet words and promises are followed up with horrible behaviors and dishonesty. This can cause deep resentment that will continue until your spouse seeks treatment and counseling. You may feel compelled to continue “helping” your spouse, but at what cost? Not allowing them to take full responsibility for their actions and misuse means they will never be faced with having to make real changes. Stopping enabling behavior and pushing forward with intervention, treatment, and counseling can help the future of your relationship.

How to Stop Enabling Behavior

If you’ve recognized that you are enabling your spouse who has an addiction, it’s time to make some changes. With consistency and strength, these behaviors can be stopped and positive changes can be made. The first step in this process is to understand that any further help you give your spouse will only prolong their addiction. They can no longer use you as a fixer of their problems; they will now have to face their reality. You will only help them so long as they decide to seek treatment and the only actions you take to provide any help for them is to help get them to treatment.

  • Stop cleaning up their messes: If they get sick and make a mess, leave it there. If they’re caught in a bind and need a ride to obtain drugs, do not help. If they are in jail or are caught in a legal problem, do not interfere with the process. If they have no money, do not give them any cash.
  • Protect yourself: Don’t allow them to put you in dangerous situations where you are around unsafe people or places helping them obtain or do drugs. You are no longer their unwilling partner in crime.
  • Stick to your bottom line: Don’t hold back your true thoughts and emotions. It’s time to stop accepting the role of the caretaker, especially because it’s harming both you and your partner. You will no longer help them in any way until they seek treatment. Don’t make it any easier for them to use drugs by taking responsibilities off their hands.

Stopping enabling behavior may be a new journey for you, but it’s a necessary one. Start putting yourself first and not your spouse’s addiction. This will be one of the first steps to take to actually help your spouse. With the end of enabling behavior, they will begin to see the reality of the force addiction has on their behavior and will hopefully begin to consider treatment to save themselves and the relationship.

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