Addiction can be a difficult journey for anyone, and it can be heart wrenching to watch someone you love go through it. When that person is your partner, you may have a particularly difficult time watching them go through the trials and tribulations of their addiction up close. While you can’t magically fix everything for them, you can be there as a supportive presence to help them on their way to and through recovery.
Helping a significant other through their addiction is about creating a delicate balance of support, care, understanding and boundaries. Ultimately, this is their life, and nobody has the power to change their situation for them — not even you, no matter how much you love them. But every mental health professional will tell you that a support system is crucial in the recovery process. When you decide to fully be there for your partner and stand by them throughout their journey, it can mean the world.
Whether you’re just getting started in your understanding or you have past experiences with supporting someone through addiction, there are a few things to keep in mind to be the best partner you can be throughout this process. Here are a few ways you can help your partner through addiction:
1. Avoid Judging or Shaming
Unfortunately, there’s a stigma around addiction and those struggling with it. Perhaps you have been influenced by those opinions, or you might have past experiences that led you to see addiction in a shameful or negative way. Regardless of your past misconceptions, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease your partner suffers from, not a reason to blame, judge or shame them. Just like you wouldn’t blame someone for chronic pain or diabetes, addiction functions the same way.
2. Educate Yourself
If you don’t know much about addiction, your partner’s specific condition or the way it functions in their life, it can help to get educated on the subject. If your partner recommends any materials that represent their experiences well, you can start with those. If not, you can always read up on the basics so you can understand how addiction works a bit better than before. You won’t learn everything in one go, though — education is always an ongoing process.
3. Avoid Enabling
Enabling is often defined as engaging in behavior that directly or indirectly encourages or makes it possible for a person to continue using drugs. While this can take many forms, it can often result in doing things for your partner that they could do for themselves if they were sober.
While it’s important to have a degree of care and trust in the relationship, behaviors like denying they have a problem, bailing them out of trouble, enduring the addiction and thinking things will get better on their own are all examples of enabling.
4. Support Them in Their Treatment
Different people will need different treatments to help them recover from their addictions, and supporting your partner in their treatment journey is a great way to make sure you’re encouraging positive development. Sometimes, taking the steps toward treatment can be hard for the person who’s suffering. Offering to go with them to therapy, helping them find a program that works for them or searching for support groups together is a great way to lead them toward recovery.
5. Avoid Going It Alone
As their significant other, you might be your partner’s main supporter and confidant. Even if you find yourself in the central role of their support system, you shouldn’t take on all the responsibilities of being in their corner by yourself. Reach out to other friends, family members and loved ones who you know care deeply about your partner and encourage them to take an active role in their healing.
6. Listen to Them
Sometimes, those suffering from addiction can feel alone, unworthy or helpless. They can feel like life is happening all around them without much regard for their feelings or emotional state. That’s part of why listening attentively is crucial for helping your partner through addiction and for overall healthy relationship communication. Ask them how they are every day and truly listen to how they’re feeling. Engage with them about their struggles, thoughts and feelings. That way, they’ll feel heard, and you can understand them better.
7. Set Boundaries
While setting boundaries can be hard, it’s also necessary for any relationship — especially one where a partner is struggling with addiction. Even though you may find yourself in a more giving and supportive role through this process, remember that your needs, desires and comfort still matter.
Just as your partner’s struggles aren’t cause to blame or shame them, these issues don’t give them a pass to disrespect you, treat you poorly or lie to you either. Stand your ground and prioritize your needs, too. It will make for a much healthier relationship where you can keep supporting one another.
Sticking by Them
Addiction will never be easy, but with the help of a support network that includes a caring, loving and supportive partner like you, your significant other can move toward recovery feeling loved and seen.
Mia Barnes is a lifestyle writer with 2+ years of experience writing about healthy relationships. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind.