Will marriage counseling be effective if my spouse has a drug addiction and is unwilling to get help? My wife has been hooked on prescription meds for the past three years. It has taken over our lives and has devastated our relationship. She's able to hide much of it from the outside world, but the impact on our home life is undeniable. I find myself dealing with and responsible for everything – much as a parent does with a young child. I'm not sure that there is much hope for us, but I'm willing to try. Although she won't seek treatment for her substance abuse, should we at least start with marriage counseling?
The short answer to your question is no. Addiction is a very serious problem – deadly serious – and until your wife is ready to face facts and admit that she's "hooked," there's little that can be accomplished by way of standard marital counseling. As a matter of fact, any reputable and conscientious therapist would turn you down as candidates for couples counseling until the addiction problem has been acknowledged and addressed. That's because addicts are notoriously manipulative, seductive, and controlling. They're masters at hijacking counseling sessions and using them to promote their own agenda and make themselves look good. It's obvious that your wife is in denial, and until that changes she's in no shape to do the hard work of wrestling with the truth about herself or your marital relationship.
Before doing anything else, we'd suggest that you get yourself into counseling with a qualified, reputable Christian therapist. You need to educate yourself about addiction and addicts and learn more about the way your wife's mind works. It's also important that you deal with any deep-seated personal issues or family history that may be inclining you towards co-dependency. If you've been enabling your wife's habit in any way, it's crucial that you put a stop to such behavior before attempting to move forward.
Next, we strongly recommend that you think seriously about staging an intervention. In a formal intervention, a group of concerned individuals – usually strong, reliable family members, friends, and anyone else who is important to the person who needs help – agree together to approach the addict at a designated time and place without her foreknowledge. The purpose of this gathering is to talk to her in a clear and respectful way about her destructive behavior. This typically involves a period of preparation during which the folks who will be staging the intervention spend some time getting their facts straight and researching specific ways in which the addict can get the assistance she needs – resources, treatment programs, and counseling referrals. It's best if you can pinpoint a specific treatment facility first, talk to the administrators of the program, come to an agreement regarding payment, and even have transportation in place and ready to go before confronting your wife.
The Lighthouse Network is a clearing house for substance abuse referrals. They can help you locate a facility in your area that will help your wife take some positive steps in the direction of recovery. They can also provide information about insurance companies who are prepared to work with these facilities.
Throughout this meeting the focus should remain on the addict. Don't let her change the subject by pointing the finger at you or anyone else. Your immediate goal is to persuade her to initiate treatment, the sooner the better. Until she does, there's very little progress that can be made in your marriage.
A group intervention has three advantages. First, it affirms the serious and destructive nature of your wife's behavior. Second, it demonstrates that your complaints are valid and that resolution must come through actions on her part. Finally, it serves to bring the rest of the family together and to unite them behind your strategy – in other words, it motivates everyone to agree that there will be no more enabling, no more co-dependency, and no more inadvertent support for the destructive habit. If this plan produces the desired effect and she agrees to cooperate, you can think about moving into intensive marital therapy once the addiction problem has been resolved. If, on the other hand, she remains resistant, there's only one option left.
We're speaking, of course, about a therapeutic separation. This is the point at which you need to implement tough love. We recommend that you create a crisis by giving your spouse an ultimatum. Say something like, "Either you admit that you have a problem and get the help you need, or you will have to look for other living accommodations until you're ready to cooperate." A temporary separation may be what it takes to open her eyes to the seriousness of the situation and to stimulate some badly needed self-examination. Just remember: divorce is not the goal. The whole idea is to give her a dose of reality and jump-start the process of finding appropriate treatment.
If separation becomes necessary, we strongly recommend that you first seek out and take this step under the guidance of wise legal and Christian counsel. If legally advisable, it's best if you can convince your wayward mate to move out. That way there's no need to disrupt your routine or upset your children any more than is absolutely necessary. If she won't go along with this, you may have no choice but to pack up and leave, but you'll want to make sure that your support system is in place, that people are praying for you, and that you actually have a place to stay – the home of a friend, family member, or neighbor. Lay out your plans, line up your resources, and make your arrangements prior to packing your bags and walking out the door. Then put the entire matter in God's hands and trust Him to work things out according to His sovereign plan. Let your spouse know where you can be contacted and make it clear that you will be ready to resume negotiations as soon as she is willing to reciprocate.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss your situation at greater length, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
Substance Abuse (resource list)
Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse