Being married to someone with an addiction can be a very traumatic and heartbreaking experience.

Addiction can take over a person’s ability to function as an active part of a relationship. It can turn the person you love into someone you no longer recognize. It becomes exponentially worse if they refuse to seek treatment and their addiction spirals, especially for a prolonged period. Their behavior can quickly become out of control and can put a heavy strain on you and your family.

Many couples in which one is spouse dealing with addiction come to a crossroads — and if the relationship reaches a breaking point, the topic of divorce often comes up. Suddenly, wedding vows and the future a couple had planned together are clouded by the behaviors and troubles addiction tends to bring into people’s lives.

So how long can someone attempt to support their spouse until they have to leave the relationship for their own health? When is divorce the best option? The answers are different for everyone, but it’s important to consider certain factors before making any final decisions.

How Addiction Affects Marriage

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 24.6 million Americans are in marriages where one spouse has a substance use disorder. This number is alarmingly high, but it’s also indicative of just how common addiction has become in our country. It affects people from all walks of life, and many are faced with the decision of whether to stick by their spouse or get out of the relationship to save themselves and potentially their partner, too.

Addiction can bring many negative and potentially dangerous behaviors into a relationship, namely violence, trouble with the law, criminal activity, cheating, and lying, among other things. When a member of the family is dealing with an addiction, their spouse and children experience the pitfalls of their behavior. After some time, when they have fully become immersed in their addiction and care about nothing else, some partners choose to end their marriage for the sake of the family.

However, many people struggle with this decision, feeling as though they are abandoning a loved one who needs help. This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, resentment, and confliction. Especially when a spouse has fallen into the role of an enabler, the decision to leave can become an even more difficult one. The partner with a substance use disorder may have become accustomed to their spouse cleaning up their messes, lying for them, and being the scapegoat for their struggles.

Choosing to Stay

If you choose to stay in your marriage and support your spouse who is dealing with addiction, it’s crucial to ensure that you are not enabling them.

If your relationship has remained somewhat intact and enabling behavior isn’t present, it may be time to consider staging an intervention to encourage your spouse to get treatment. There are many ways in which you approach this issue, but it’s necessary for the future of your marriage to address the addiction — even if your spouse is considered “functional” while still being fully addicted to a substance.

At this stage of addiction, with the help of treatment and counseling, there is still a good chance a relationship can be saved. Once your spouse has entered treatment, there will likely be many changes that will occur when embracing a sober lifestyle.

While treatment will bring much relief to the relationship, it will also bring about a new set of challenges. Recovery is a long road, and it only begins with the decision to seek treatment. This is something that will have to be managed over a lifetime, and your marriage will have to adjust to these changes. If you are willing to stick by your spouse and see them through treatment, it’s still not a guarantee that the marriage will survive once they are sober, but you will have given it your best effort.

There are many steps in between that can be aided with the help of a professional counselor to teach both you and your spouse the tools you will need to put your relationship back together. 

Choosing to Leave

If you have been the victim of abuse, cheating, and other manipulations that are drug-use related and you have found yourself in the role of an unwilling enabler, all signs may be pointing you towards divorce.

This is a hard decision to finalize but at no point should anyone tolerate physical, mental, emotional, or verbal abuse in a marriage. While addiction is likely what is fueling your spouse’s behavior, if they have been resistant to receiving treatment or have not followed through with staged interventions, it’s time to consider leaving the relationship.

Especially when there are children involved, it’s important to lessen their exposure to abusive behaviors that may occur as a result of an addiction. Some theories assert that the spouse leaving a marriage could be a factor to push the spouse with addiction into receiving treatment. This is what some consider to be “rock bottom.” It’s not always the route to go, but if you and your children are in danger, it is the best step to take to ensure everyone’s safety.

Seeking out a divorce attorney may fill you with dread, but once court orders are mandated, it’s important to ensure that the spouse has no contact with you or any children unless they are presently enrolled in treatment. This isn’t done to punish the person with the addiction, but rather as a safety precaution that is delegated by the court.

Deciding to stay or leave your spouse who is dealing with addiction can be one of the hardest decisions to make in your lifetime, but a very important one. Place your needs and the needs of your family before your spouse’s addiction. If you feel you are in danger or if there is violence in the home, it’s imperative to leave the situation as soon as possible.

About the AuthorHolly Holloway is the Digital Content Coordinator for MedMark Treatment Centers. She works to help spread awareness and end the stigma of addiction.