Research supported by the Gottman Institute (2018) indicates that couples counseling
exceeds individual when identifying addictions and supporting recovery. Yet couples may rarely talk about this difficult subject.
Ignoring your concerns and that little nagging feeling that something is not quite right may feel like “support” for you partner and may seem like the best plan for your relationship. Yet talking to your partner about your concerns regarding his or her drinking or use can be far more helpful in the long term and have a powerful impact on your relationship.
Taking this first step can not only help you to make progress towards what you might like to see but can also support your partner in working towards or continue his or her progress in recovery. Whether this is a brand-new concern or a long-term struggle, it can be a hard conversation to have. You may find yourself wondering how you start.
Here are a few things you can do today to successfully talk to you partner about this tough topic.
Make a time and space
Finding time can be hard with life happening all around you. Be intentional about setting a time and sticking too it. Try to eliminate as many distractions as you can – think after kids’ bedtime, phones and electronics off, and an hour to talk.
Space can also be challenging in today’s world. Be mindful about having a space to talk – perhaps across the table from each other or sitting next to each other on the couch depending on what’s comfortable. Pay careful attention to your body language and maintaining a posture that is not threatening.
Sit down and uncross your arms. Your partner may already feel defensive with the topic and maintaining a neutral posture will help to communicate safety and concerns rather than an attack.
Once you have a time and space in mind you can think about exactly what you want to say. It’s ok to write down some notes! It can be easy to forget exactly what you meant to say when you’re nervous and scared. Let your partner know what concerns you have, and be sure to let him or her know what you hope to accomplish with this conversation.
Be honest about the impact on you
Be sure to share with your partner how you are feeling about his or her drinking or use and how it may be impacting you. It can be easy to get sucked in to a conversation about the facts and you and your partner may have very different views about what has really happened to lead up to this point. Avoiding a logistical argument can help you to stay focused on the purpose of the conversation.
With honesty will come the biggest gains. When thinking about what you want your partner to hear focus on your concerns and coming from a place of support rather than a place of blame. Use “I” statements such as “I feel scared” when referring to your partner’s behaviors and choices. Making assumptions about what your partner is feeling or their reasons for drinking or using might contribute to frustration or anger. State your concerns, allow your partner to respond, and request what changes you would like to see.
Confronting a loved one’s addiction is hard and can be very scary. Although scary, when something is impacting you partner’s and family’s health and well-being, it is important to address it and work towards change. There are several groups that can provide support for your partner as well as for you! 12 step groups can provide anonymous support with others and an addictions counselor can help you with this initial conversation as well as provide continued support and treatment through the next steps in recovery.
This may be one of the hardest conversations of your life. But getting on the same page and working together as partners in this area will not only support your partner’s health but challenge your partnership to be stronger than it has ever been.
Amanda Turecek is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and a Licensed Addictions Counselor. If you or your partner feel drug or alcohol use is interfering with your relationship, please call Align Counseling Center, PC at 303-475-2757 to set up a 20 minute no charge phone consultation with Amanda, or schedule an initial appointment directly on Amanda’s calendar.