This was originally published at The Recovery Village.
When it comes to love, men and women with substance use disorders can have a hard time maintaining romantic relationships—especially in periods of active use.
But on the flip side, even if they get sober and enter recovery, the dynamics of a relationship may still change. Drugs and alcohol (or the lack of) can affect relationships deeply. The following are a few situations that demonstrate how substance abuse may impact a romantic relationship.
One person in the relationship is battling substance abuse
This is probably the most common situation in which addiction can wreak havoc on relationships. When one person is battling substance abuse and the other is not, the one who is not will probably have a hard time understanding addiction, and therefore understanding their partner and the choices they are making. The negative choices one person in the relationship is making may begin to affect the other person. Everyday Health states,
“It’s easy to see why relationships can become compromised by addiction. Negative behaviors that people battling substance abuse can exhibit include lying, stealing, being unfaithful, losing a job, becoming violent, causing injury to themselves or others, breaking the law, creating financial disaster and many other disturbing kinds of conduct.”
Circumstances like these usually happen one by one and are just the tip of the iceberg. As drug and/or alcohol use continues, it’s likely that all of these situations may occur at one point or another. Ultimately a situation like this may result in one person leaving the other, which could send the addict even further into a downward spiral.
Both people in the relationship have a problem with drugs or alcohol
This situation can become problematic very quickly because the two people in the relationship don’t know how to stop enabling one another. Enabling a person means that you allow them to continue their destructive behaviors. A relationship involving two people with substance abuse disorders also has the potential to become full of anger and violence. Drugs and alcohol can make people act in ways they normally wouldn’t, and when you put two people like that together, it doesn’t always end well. Two people in a relationship like this will likely feed off one another, making the cycle of addiction continue.
One person in the relationship decides to get sober
This can change a relationship between two people with substance abuse disorders, as well as a relationship between someone with a substance abuse disorder and someone without. For two people who both are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, one member of the relationship deciding to get sober can change the entire dynamic. The non-sober person may come to realize they are no longer being enabled and are instead being made to feel as if their addiction is a negative thing. This can cause shame and guilt, and in some cases, immense anger. In some occasions, it’s possible both members of the relationship may get sober together. But more realistically, they likely go their separate ways at some point.
In a relationship with one addict and one non-addict, sobriety can still change the dynamic
The non-addict may have pushed the other to get help, only to realize that their relationship will begin to change if sobriety sticks. Some couples can make this work, though. According to addiction expert Russell Goodwin, changing dynamics in a relationship take work from both sides. Goodwin states, “Each member of the relationship needs to be doing their own individual work before proceeding to work on the relationship. Once you are established in your own work [towards dealing with the situation], you can start to work on healthy communication and honesty with one another.”
But for some couples, the changes that come with recovery are too much
Getting sober can be an overwhelming process, both for the person going through it and for their partner. In some cases, the partner could decide it’s too much to take on. In fact, according to Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor George Joseph, “It is often reported that 9 of 10 married women who seek addiction treatment and stay sober for an extended period of time get divorced…My suspicion is that the husband is less likely to get involved in support programs and resents the attention their wives get in and give to their 12-Step programs.”
Of course, there are other ways in which addiction can affect relationships—and not just romantic ones. Addiction can affect every relationship differently, which is why it’s so hard to predict the outcome of certain situations. But for the best bet of relationship survival, sobriety is the way to go.