Addiction and Intimacy
Addiction affects out ability to communicate clearly because of the way in which it distracts us from our relationships.
Research estimates that over half of the people who visit a therapist are affected by addiction in some way. They may have a parent who is a recovering alcoholic, a friend who has a gambling problem, or their partner may be an addict.
It seems that addiction has touched most of us in some way. For those of us who are married to an addict or are an addict ourselves, recovery is an ongoing plan and relationship counseling is apart of it.
These interventions are considered phases of recovery for the couple. The first phase is treatment for the addict, the second is an adjustment for the couple and/or family, and the third phase is a lifestyle-building phase that promotes recovery for both.
The Couple In Recovery
In their book, The Alcoholic Family in Recovery: A Developmental Model, Stephanie Brown and Virginia Lewis state there are four stages that individuals, couples, and families affected by alcoholism pass through; 1) drinking, 2) transition, 3) early recovery, and 4) ongoing recovery. This model can be used successfully to treat couples affected by all types of addiction, including gambling, drugs, video-gaming, and sex addiction.
According to this model, couples therapy helps by addressing problems that have occurred in the relationship because of the addiction. When the addict is using, the relationship becomes restrictive and rigid, and that adaptation creates pathology within the couple. This pathology often makes achieving abstinence more difficult for the addict just as it makes recovery for the codependent more challenging.
The defense strategies that a couple developed in an effort to cope and preserved stability eventually causes more trauma, developmental arrest, and psychopathology.
Couples Therapy and Recovery
For the couple to recover, the unhealthy relationship system must collapse, and the defensive structures that maintain the pathology must change. In couples therapy, the three major goals for treating the couple affected by addiction are:
- Creating interventions aimed at supporting the addict in changing.
- Interventions aimed at improving the quality of the couple.
- Ongoing relapse prevention for the addict.
For therapy to be effective with the couple affected by addiction, it must be directive, psychoeducational, and provide concrete steps that can be taken by both partners to change the patterns of addiction that impact them.
It’s important that each partner’s recovery programs are relatively in sync. The scenario with the highest probability of success is a couple who presents as a unit deciding that the couple wants to go in the direction of recovery.
If either partner is in denial, the couple will present as unfocused in couples therapy because there is no shared problem. The first step towards reaching this sync is getting both partners into recovery. Once both partners are in recovery, they can begin the transition phase by working on a joint treatment plan in couples counseling.
Couples Counseling As A Team
In couples counseling for couples affected by addiction, I begin by asking each person what their common goals are in couples therapy and in their marriage, and how they think they could get their individual recovery programs into sync and still maintain healthy boundaries.
I approach counseling couples with addiction as a team effort. Together we decide what path to take to make your relationship whole again.