Having a spouse who is battling addiction or alcoholism can take a brutal toll on a marriage. Sometimes, the only way to end that fight is with divorce.
Many people don’t realize their partner is an addict when they say their wedding vows. Other times, the addiction is something that develops later on in the marriage. But this is an issue millions of couples face.
According to a 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 24.6 million people are in a marriage where one spouse is an addict or alcoholic, and research demonstrates that people who suffer from addictive behaviors like alcohol abuse and gambling face a higher risk of divorce.
If you’re still married to a person suffering from addiction, then you’re likely stuck in a heartbreakingly difficult predicament. For all their flaws, you probably still love your spouse even as they are engaging in destructive and dangerous behaviors. Should you stand by their side and do whatever you can to help them defeat their demons?
On the other hand, there is a point where self-preservation must kick in. Addiction is progressive and will only get worse if your spouse doesn’t seek serious help. There are plenty of rehabilitation and 12-step programs, but at the end of the day the addict must truly want help in order to win this fight.
Unfortunately, admitting there is a problem is one of the most difficult ones for addicts to take. It might take reaching rock bottom for them to make the life changes they need and that might mean losing their marriage and possibly custody of their kids.
At some point, you might have to make the decision that you are better off moving on with your life. If you have children, you also must consider what’s best for them. Exposing them to someone living with addiction can have long-term negative effects.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are contemplating divorcing someone battling addiction.
Be ready to follow through
Don’t threaten divorce unless you are ready to follow through with it.
The sad reality is that threat is unlikely to force the change your spouse needs. Their refusal/inability to seek help isn’t so much an indication of their love (or lack thereof) for you, but rather of how deep their addiction runs.
It might seem as though you are abandoning your loved one in their time of greatest need, but there is only so much you can do before the impetus is on them to find the support needed to get their life back on track.
Obtain legal counsel
You’ll want to enlist the help of a licensed family law attorney as soon as possible to figure out the best way to proceed with the divorce process.
An addiction is sure to factor into the child custody ruling. To ensure your children are protected, your attorney might advise you to contact Social Services to help you take physical custody. If your spouse is refusing help, then it is probably not safe for them to be around your children.
Eventually, the court might grant your spouse supervised visitation with the kids and/or require them to undergo drug and alcohol testing before they’re allowed around them.
If they get help and remain sober, the court might eventually grant unsupervised visitation in increasing blocks of time.
It’s also a good idea to record and document all behavior related to your spouse’s addiction. Keep track of anything that substantiates your claims as this can help your attorney tremendously during your case.
Protect your assets
Your attorney can tell you the best way to go about this, but it is critically important that you take steps to protect your assets when dealing with an addicted spouse.
Addicts can quickly dry up their funds whether they are spending money on drugs or alcohol, rehab facilities or court fees.
A good place to start is by placing your money in separate accounts. You’ll also want to remove your spouse as an authorized user on any credit cards that you have so they are not able to run up charges and potentially leave you with debt.
It is often those around the addict who end up suffering the most. You’ve been betrayed, lied to, manipulated, and taken through the ringer emotionally. You’ve focused so much time and energy on trying to help your spouse that you’ve probably neglected some of your own mental and physical health needs.
Reach out to your friends and loved ones and let them know you need their support. You don’t have to go into all the details about what you and your spouse have gone through, but it can help to know you have people willing to listen.
You might find it beneficial to see a therapist as you work through all of this. (It might also be a good idea for your kids to attend counseling sessions.)
As much hurt as they’ve caused, remain compassionate toward your spouse. Give them a list of professional services that offer help. If you’re comfortable doing so, you can also reach out to their loved ones and let them know that they could use as much support as possible.
Many people who witness a loved one suffer from addiction wonder if they could have done more to help. Don’t fall into that cycle of self-blame. You didn’t cause your spouse’s addiction and you’re not the reason they can’t seem to beat it.
Show yourself compassion by letting yourself move on with your life in a healthier and more stable environment.