Addictions and Marriage Counseling

Will marriage counseling be effective if my spouse has an active addiction and won’t get help? My wife is hooked on pain meds, and it’s taken over our family and ruined our relationship. Even if she won’t find treatment for substance abuse, should we at least start with couples therapy?
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Probably not — but we don’t say that to discourage you.

Here’s the reality (that you know only too well): Addiction of any kind is a serious problem. It greatly impacts a person’s thinking and processing abilities, and it creates negative behaviors that can cause extreme harm in marriage and family life.

So in most cases, when personal or marital issues need professional attention and there’s an active addiction, the addictive behavior and mindset need to be addressed first. Then other issues (like marriage and communication concerns) can be sorted out. In other words, until your wife’s mind clears up enough to think rationally, couples therapy would likely distract from her recovery.

To point you in the right direction, we’ll cover the following areas:

First steps

In most situations, a better use of time and money is to begin therapy on your own. This will give you the tools to resolve any potential codependent issues on your part. You can also develop an appropriate plan for dealing with your wife’s damaging behaviors and her reluctance to find care.

If she does open up to therapy for her addiction, continue your individual sessions and have a counselor assess her to identify the best treatment. Matching the right level of care to your wife’s specific situation is critical to her making the most progress in the weeks and months ahead. Options could include:

  • A residential program (local or out of state).
  • An intensive out-patient program (often called an IOP program).
  • Regular attendance to an addiction support group plus weekly out-patient therapy appointments with a licensed Christian counselor who specializes in addictions.

On the other hand, if your spouse continues to resist help, think seriously about staging a formal intervention.

Staging an intervention

The purpose of a formal intervention is to clearly and respectfully talk to your wife about her harmful behavior. And addressing concerns in a group setting has three advantages:

  • It affirms the seriousness and destructive nature of your wife’s behavior.
  • It shows that your complaints are well-founded, and that resolution has to come through actions on her part.
  • It unites the rest of the family behind a joint strategy. It encourages everyone to agree that there won’t be any more enabling, codependent behavior, or unintentional support of the addiction.

Use the checklist below as a guide to holding an intervention. You can also ask your personal therapist for input about your family’s unique circumstances — and how to handle the unexpected.

  1. Choose individuals who are concerned about your wife. These could be reliable family members, friends, and anyone else who’s important to her.
  1. Before the intervention, ask those involved to get their facts straight. Research resources, treatment programs, and counseling referrals.
  1. Pinpoint a specific program, talk to the administrators, discuss payment options, and have transportation in place (if needed) before confronting your wife.
  1. Gather everyone together at a time and place when your wife won’t expect it. The element of surprise is vital. If she knows the intervention is coming, she might not show up — or she’d have time to think of ways to justify herself.
  1. During the intervention, keep the focus on your wife and her addictive behavior. Don’t let her change the subject by pointing the finger at you or blaming anyone or anything else. Your goal is to persuade her to start treatment — the sooner the better.

If your wife agrees, immediately begin the admission process to the chosen program. If the intervention is unsuccessful, though, there might be only one option left: therapeutic separation.

When separation is necessary

A therapeutic separation is a formal separation with clear, specific guidelines and boundaries. The intent is to motivate your wife to acknowledge her problem and agree to treatment. Divorce is not the goal; you just want to break through her denial.

Your counselor can walk you through setting up the parameters for a therapeutic separation, but here’s the bottom line: This is the point where you enforce tough love. We recommend you create a crisis by giving your wife an ultimatum. Say something like, “Either you admit you have a problem and get the help you need, or you find another place to live until you’re ready to cooperate.”

If separation becomes necessary, find and follow the advice of wise legal and Christian counsel. If legally advisable, it’s best if your wife moves out; there’s no need to disrupt your routine or upset your children any more than absolutely necessary.

However, if she won’t go along with that, you might have to relocate with your children. In that case, make sure you have a support system and a place to stay. (Have a plan, line up your resources, and make your arrangements ahead of time instead of reactively packing and leaving in a hurry.)

Let your spouse know how you can be contacted, and make it clear you’ll restart negotiations as soon as she’s willing to cooperate. A therapeutic separation might be what it takes for her to admit the seriousness of the situation.

Finding support

Sharing life with a spouse who struggles with addiction can be painful and confusing.  On top of the burden of carrying the responsibilities she can’t, you might feel surrounded by shame and secrecy.

Would you let us come alongside you? Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and talk with you in more detail. Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation.

And if you’re not sure how to find an addiction treatment center, check with Lighthouse Network. They’re a clearing house for substance abuse referrals, and they can help you locate a facility where your wife can take positive steps toward recovery. They can also offer information about insurance companies who work with these facilities.

Above all, remember that God loves you and your wife, and He cares about your future and your marriage. May His peace and wisdom sustain you as you take steps toward healing.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The Last Addiction: Why Self-Help Is Not Enough

When Someone You Love Abuses Drugs or Alcohol

Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free From Spiritual Strongholds

Putting Your Past Behind You: Finding Hope for Life’s Deepest Hurts

Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis

The Imperfect Marriage: Help for Those Who Think It’s Over

Breaking Free from Addictions

Celebrate Recovery Curriculum Kit

Substance Abuse (resource list)

Celebrate Recovery

Adult and Teen Challenge

Lighthouse Network

The Salvation Army

Alcoholics Anonymous

Walter Hoving Home

His Mansion Ministries

Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Copyright © 2015, 2020, Focus on the Family.

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