Healthy marriages are built on relationship priorities: (1) Our marriage is more important than either of us; and (2) my spouse is more important than me.
Addictions turn these priorities upside-down, so they become: (1) the object of the addiction (alcohol; drugs; gambling) is the most important thing; (2) meeting my craving for the addiction is next; (3) your needs are important, but only if I have time and money left over; and (4) our marriage can always wait.
Addictions typically seem innocent at first: There's nothing “wrong” with “a beer or two.” Lots of people buy lottery tickets or go to the casinos for a little fun. If there was anything wrong with prescriptive drugs, they would be illegal. Moreover, most people who drink beer, buy lottery tickets or take prescriptive drugs suffer no problems.
What seems like fun, however, becomes an addiction when behaviors change from something a spouse enjoys to something he or she needs, then to something the spouse craves, then to something that becomes the central focus of the person's life.
There are a number of tell-tale signs:
•The behavior is taking more and more time away from your marriage and your family.
•More money is being spent at the bar or at the casino than anticipated, causing a money drain you can't afford.
•The addicted spouse is rationalizing the problem: My friends drink more than I do, and, besides, it's only beer.
•Moreover, if your spouse begins hiding things (the whiskey bottle or gambling losses), blaming you for the problem (“It's your fault that I drink!”), blaming others (the stressful job; problems with in-laws) or claiming that the only reason there's a problem is “bad luck” (that's why they were caught for drunk driving or that they have been losing so much money recently), there's a good chance that there is an addiction.
Addictions don't disappear on their own; they only get worse. Thus, the first step in addressing addictions is honestly admitting that an addiction exists. The first person to take this step is usually the non-addicted spouse.
This takes courage and requires a willingness to be assertive and to clearly communicate to your spouse that there's a problem. It may also involve your learning about the addictive process and how one begins the recovery process.
The addict rarely sees a problem and, in fact, often denies a problem exists, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Breaking through this denial can be extremely difficult. It may require the non-addicted spouse meeting with a professional counselor to develop a plan. Groups such as AA, NA, or Gamblers Anonymous can also provide useful information.
Once the denial is dealt with, dealing with the addiction will also require planning and a great deal of effort. The thought processes of the addict have been changed by the addiction, and just starting the process of getting the mind to function in a rational way will take three to six months.
Since the marriage is affected, it's also essential that couple therapy get started. There will be issues of forgiveness and reconnection that need to be addressed.
Addictions can destroy a marriage, but with hard work and honest support, couples can heal the hurt and rebuild their marriage into the healthy relationship they hoped for when they first fell in love.