Alcohol addiction can deeply impact relationships, but it can be especially harmful to intimate relationships; however, couples therapy can help couples address prominent issues and rebuild their connection.
Couples Therapy And Alcohol Addiction
When someone is struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it is not uncommon for the people they are close with to also be struggling in some way, shape, or form. This is probably even more true for the romantic partners of someone struggling with an active addiction or even for someone who is in early recovery from their AUD. These hardships can lead couples to pursue couples therapy to rebuild boundaries and trust.
Intimate relationships can be harmed by substance use disorders (SUDs), with parties involved usually experiencing a loss of trust, lack of communication, and difficult emotions that include guilt, shame, resentment, and anger. When two people are connected physically, emotionally, financially, and more, it can take a long time for a healthy foundation to be rebuilt after the damage is done.
Even after the partner with the addiction seeks professional treatment, there can be a sensation of feeling lost and unsure of the next steps. The relationship feels less welcoming, and both partners feel unhappy due to their own perceived issues. The conflicts grow more intense, arguments less productive, and emotions become more unbearable. Eventually, a breaking point may occur. This event often drives the couple to seek therapy to repair the situation before ending the relationship. For some, it may be used as a tool to determine if the relationship is even repairable at all.
The good news is that couples therapy is an effective approach to resolving relationship conflict through different therapeutic techniques; however, couples therapy is not considered a stand-alone solution for addiction or a magic fix-all. Couples therapy focuses on the relationship, with the primary client being the relationship itself. This means that the substance use disorder will still need to be treated independently. However, couples therapy may be an excellent starting point for finding solutions or as a powerful tool for reconnection once the individual has completed treatment.
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How Does Couples Therapy Work?
Couples therapy (also known as marriage counseling) focuses less on the individuals involved and more about their relationship. There are many reasons why people attend couples therapy, including acts of betrayal, miscommunication, financial issues, opposite value systems or beliefs, parenting disagreements, and domestic violence.
The therapist will look for unhelpful behavior patterns such as criticism, defensiveness, codependency, excessive substance use, and lack of communication from both partners, and spend time helping both individuals make positive changes to these behaviors.
The couple may spend time recognizing where the patterns developed in previous relationships and how they have associated these patterns to treating their partners (or themselves). This allows for an open exploration of life experiences in a safe, non-judgmental space and a helpful, neutral therapist to mediate along the way.
Sometimes this exploration might include recognizing behavioral health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, AUDs, and other substance abuse issues. In these cases, the therapist will provide education on each condition and how they may have impacted the relationship.
The therapist may also recommend potential treatment options for each condition. There is a possibility that anyone with an identified condition may be encouraged to work with an individual therapist so progress can be made on a personal level and applied to the relationship as well. The couples therapist may recommend an individual to attend a treatment program, like an inpatient or outpatient program, for AUD or other SUDs if determined to be the appropriate course of action. Couples therapists generally will not consistently work one-on-one with either individual, to reduce any bias or misconceptions from developing. However, they may have an individual session with each partner to better understand the needs of the relationship.
How Can Couples Therapy Help?
Working with a trained couples therapist has an array of benefits, but one of the most helpful elements of couples therapy is the therapeutic opportunity. Couples therapy provides the opportunity to safely share thoughts, emotions, and experiences without fear of judgment or being “attacked” for expressing them.
A common complaint from partners of those with substance use issues is that their partner being intoxicated leads to acts of hostility, such as acting mean or rude, and sometimes even physically violent. The intoxicated partner may not remember what they said the next day, but the emotional wounds inflicted upon the other partner are still very real. The other partner may harbor feelings of anger and resentment, leading to a destructive pattern.
Many of the core concepts of couples therapy focus on rebuilding trust and romantic intimacy within the relationship. This process can only start when both partners are sober and willing to rebuild their relationship through honesty and open-mindedness. The therapist may assign homework to the couple to help them work on their specific issues.
For any couple struggling with an alcohol use disorder or other addiction, trust becomes difficult to obtain again without reassurance. One partner or the other may need:
- Reassurance of recovery being a real attempt.
- Reassurance that relapse is not active (yet understanding it is always a possibility without continued work).
- Reassurance that both partners are committed to ensuring they both remain safe within the relationship.
How Do I Start Couples Therapy?
The important first step is to find a couples therapist that both partners are comfortable with. Next is to identify the goals of attending couples therapy. The decision to attend couples therapy, like most therapies, is not an easy decision to make. The need for couples therapy usually comes after experiencing uncomfortable events that have resulted in feeling hurt, attacked, unheard, and unwanted. With those experiences in mind, identifying what actions were unacceptable and why are important goals to establish. The therapist will work with the couple to identify and establish safe boundaries within the relationship to help both individuals feel safe together again.
Find Couples Therapy Today
Trust, intimacy, and communication can take time to build, yet mere moments to lose. The process of rebuilding what was once there is quite possible for many – if action is taken quickly by both partners. When the process is important to both partners and the recovery process has begun for the partner(s) with an alcohol addiction, an even more personal relationship can evolve. Many couples have found success in their relationship after serious medical conditions, harmful behaviors, and unexpected events occur.
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