If you’ve come to the realization that your life is falling apart or that you’ve become dependent on alcohol, drugs, some combination of the two, possibly in conjunction with anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder and have decided to get help for the problem, that’s a courageous and incredibly positive first step. But how do you tell your spouse you’re getting help for your addiction?
RECOGNIZE THIS WON’T BE EASY
You likely already have some inclination that this will be a very difficult conversation to have with your spouse. Yet, he or she probably won’t be all that surprised to hear you say you have an addiction. While not being fully conversant in all the aspects of addiction, your spouse isn’t blind to the changes that have gone on with you, even if he or she didn’t attribute them to alcohol or drugs or a process addiction such as compulsive shopping, workaholism, compulsive gambling or others. Your heightened anxiety, depression, inability to sleep, problems with money, difficulties at work and other signs of something wrong have been there all along, adding to a mounting recognition on the part of your spouse that this day was coming.
You’ll need to prepare yourself the best that you can to go into this all-important discussion. Understand that it won’t be easy and probably will require multiple discussions.
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
It’s important that you educate yourself about the disease of addiction so that you can talk credibly about what you’re experiencing and what steps you’re prepared to take to overcome it. Although you’ve decided to seek treatment for your addiction, you may not yet have fully gone through the selection process. For one thing, you may need to figure out what your health insurance policy will cover. It may also be that it’s not your policy that will be used to pay for most or all of treatment but your spouse’s. That’s another vital part of being prepared to talk about your decision to go into treatment.
EXPECT THE CONVERSATION TO BE EMOTIONAL
Be prepared for emotions to be high for both of you. Your spouse may express shock, denial, outrage, say he or she can’t talk about this now, cry, become agitated, even walk out of the room. There may be eerie silence after you broach the subject, leading you to wonder if what you said was heard. Whatever the initial reaction, this is just the beginning. After all, your statement that you’re getting help for your addiction is a lot to take in. Your spouse needs time to process. You must give him or her the time to do just that.
For now, reiterate your intention and ask that the two of you continue the discussion after your spouse has had some time to reflect on your decision. Respect that your spouse may not want anything to do with this right now.
Waiting for your spouse to be in the right frame of mind to continue talking about your intention to seek treatment for your addiction may not be what you want to do, yet you should be willing to give it a day or two before broaching the subject again. When you do revisit the issue, make sure that it’s at a time when you both will be undisturbed so that you can talk freely, and your spouse can ask all questions on his or her mind. If you don’t have the answers, say so, yet promise to get the answers or ask that you work together to figure them out. For example, your spouse may say, “How are we going to pay for this?” Another question is very likely to be, “How long will the treatment take?”
If you’ve already considered treatment facilities and explored the assorted options such as residential treatment or treatment on an outpatient basis, the facts you’ve learned can inform the conversation. If you’re just starting to check where you can or want to seek treatment, you may wish to ask your spouse to help you in the selection process.
ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS
You might harbor the belief that circumstances drove you to drink or use drugs, or that you couldn’t help yourself due to outside influences, a poor upbringing or having alcoholism in the family. Saying any of these things won’t help your spouse deal with the fact that you say you are going into treatment to get help for your addiction. What will, however, is a sincere statement by you that you accept responsibility for all your words and actions that have brought harm to your spouse, family, friends, co-workers and others. You must mean what you say, though, for your spouse will pick up on insincerity and may wish to discontinue talking about it. On the other hand, when your spouse can see and feel that you mean what you say, this will create an opportunity for you to begin working to repair the relationship, to once again build trust, and start the healing process.
ASK FOR SUPPORT
Going in for treatment for your addiction is a monumental step, yet it’s just the beginning of an ongoing journey to recovery. You’re going to need a lot of support and encouragement as you go forward. While you’ll receive support during treatment from your counselors, therapists, group leaders, participating in 12-Step or other self-help groups, you also need a strong and supportive family during and after getting help for your addiction. To this end, it’s important to ask your spouse for his or her support while you go through treatment and afterward.
INVOLVE YOUR SPOUSE IN YOUR TREATMENT
Let your spouse know that you want to involve him or her in your treatment, to the extent that you can, and it is practical. Couples therapy can prove valuable, as can family therapy. Participating in 12-Step and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous and others can help both of you feel like you’re doing something proactive for your future together in sobriety, show you that you’re not alone in this and receive the genuine and nonjudgmental support from others who’ve gone through what you’re going through now.
BE HONEST, YET STRESS THE POSITIVE AND MAINTAIN HOPE
You’re likely a little apprehensive about what’s ahead in treatment, as well as how your relationship with your spouse will be following your return home. Express your feelings and be honest about them, yet also point out that you’re doing this so that you can become the best version of yourself that you can, and that means learning how to live a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t include alcohol or drug use. Say that you know there will be ups and downs as you begin recovery, including the possibility of relapse, and once again ask for your spouse’s love and support – as well as giving you the time you need to put your life back together again. This may not be the easiest or most welcome discussion you’ll have with your spouse, but for your sobriety and your future together, it is likely one of the most important. Be strong, be positive, be hopeful and embrace recovery.
For more information about talking to your family or children about going to seek treatment, read our other articles: