10 things you shouldn't say to the spouse of a recovering addict
Our marriage counselor Bob once told me, “I’m a lying drunk.” I hated that he referred to himself that way, because I greatly revered him for having fought and beaten alcohol addiction. Bob told me, “That’s not who I am now, but that is always going to be part of my story.”
Realizing that being a liar and a pain-pill addict was always going to be part of my husband’s story helped me move forward in forgiving him as we sought help. When you are married to a recovering addict, you certainly don't need the reminders from other people that you are married to an addict. You know that all too well. So here are some things not to say to the spouse of a recovering addict.
1. They will never get better
I am not one of the people who believes addiction is an incurable disease. I believe with medical help, tough love and honesty, addicts can and most certainly will recover. While there is likely a genetic propensity or chemical component inside the addict’s brain and DNA, it ultimately boils down to choice. The spouse will get better if they seek help from their doctors, counselors/therapists and, in some cases, rehabilitation. It is cruel to tell the spouse of a recovering addict, based on your personal experience from watching a parent/cousin/neighbor/friend who struggled with addiction, that their loved one will never get better. Though you can certainly share your experience with them, if your friend’s spouse is making actual efforts to get better, encourage rather than discourage. Just because your parent/cousin/friend did not get help and recover doesn't mean your friend’s spouse won’t.
2. You should just divorce them
Unless you're a marriage counselor who has worked with the couple and know whether or not the spouse is being honest and treating their past addiction responsibly, suggesting divorce is really none of your business. Period.
3. Are you sure you can trust them?
I can promise you without a shadow of a doubt your friend is asking herself (or himself) this question every single day. After living with an addict, trust is something that often takes years to rebuild. Throwing it in their face and almost taunting them with this question brings resentment and hurt to your friend. Perhaps a nicer comment would be, “I am proud of you for trying to trust him/her again. That must take a lot of work.”
4. Do you check their phone and follow them around?
Don’t assume your friend needs you to be their own private Investigator. As trust is rebuilt within marriages, try to remember that your friend is not stupid. What they might have been blinded to in the beginning, they are certainly acutely aware of those things now.
5. How can you let your kids around your partner?
Recovering addicts never stop loving their families. When they're recovering and not current users, how can you not let your kids around them? If a spouse of an addict is rebuilding their marriage, they know all too well the risks involved with allowing children to be in a car or alone with their spouse. But when a spouse is recovering and therefore no longer using, they are just as capable as you are to care for their children. Remember the key word is recovering. When a friend’s spouse is no longer an active user, they have every right to rebuild the relationship with their children and mend the broken hearts without your judgement.
6. You need to lay down the law
Your friend knows all too well that rules and safety precautions are necessary to encourage sobriety in their spouse. This falls under the “you need to” and “you should” comments that should be kept to yourself. Your friend has probably laid down the law plenty of times and knows all too well what needs to be done to encourage their spouse to stay clean.
7. You need to find someone better
This comment, though often intended to be encouraging, cuts like a knife. Recovering addicts are often some of the strongest people you will ever meet, because they have been down that road before and they do not want to return. Like our marriage counselor said, “That’s not who I am now, but that is always going to be part of my story.” Some marriages are broken beyond repair because of addiction. Some get stronger and better than ever. It will always be part of their story, but it does not mean it will always be part of their everyday life.
8. You need to get revenge
The “you need to” and the “you should” pieces of advice are almost always unsolicited, and while some of the comments could come from a place of love, all of us should adopt a “think it, don’t say it” rule. Unless you have or are currently walking in the shoes of the person to whom you are speaking, your story, though it might have similarities, is not the same. Encouraging someone to get revenge is wrong on many levels. Though terribly clichéd, the phrase, Two wrongs don’t make a right, is very true. Telling a friend who is married to a recovering addict to have an affair or do something simply for the sake of hurting their spouse will only elicit more hurt. Knee-jerk reactions do not typically carry out fundamental results.
9. You deserve better
This one is tricky. If someone is currently married to an addict who refuses help and is putting your friend, their family or themselves in danger, then yes, your friend absolutely deserves better. Under no circumstances should anyone stay in a relationship that is dangerous. However, those in glass houses are often the first ones to pick up a rock to throw. Maybe your friend is thinking you deserve better, too. Perhaps your spouse has an angry, jealous streak that flares up when you are all at a concert or dinner party, together. Remember that no one lives a perfect life. Social media has a terrible way of implying lives are perfect behind those glossy smiles. No one’s life is perfect, not even your own. Saying things like, “You deserve better,” is hurtful, and your friend might think they deserve a better friend than you.
10. Why did you stay and let them get away with that — are you codependent?
Not every spouse who is married to a recovering addict is codependent. In fact, some of those spouses who refused to cover/enable/allow addiction are the very reason their spouse decided to get help. Recovery is a lifelong effort. A marathon is too short of a distance to adequately express the process of recovery. A spouse married to a recovering addict did not let their partner “get away with that” if their spouse is seeking help. In fact, it's all the more proof that the addict did not get away with it — they are in recovery. When you love someone, truly love someone, you want the best for them, even if that means experiencing personal pain along the way. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” — 1 Corinthians 13:7. Your friend likely stayed with their now recovering addict in order to help get them to the point of recovery.
Applaud your friend, don’t shun them, because, God forbid, you might just be in their shoes one day.