How to Cope When Your Spouse Relapses


It sometimes feels more frustrating than the original addiction: watching your loved one relapse after weeks, months, or even years of hard work. If you are coping with life after your spouse’s addiction, be aware that relapse is very common. You should also know that a relapse does not mean that he can’t or won’t get back on track again. When relapse does happen, stand firm, give him your support, and take care of yourself. Help him get through this bump in the road and your relationship will be the healthier for it. 

Why Does He Relapse?

If you have stood by your spouse through his addiction and recovery you probably learned a lot about his disease. You probably know, for example, how drugs have changed his brain and how they have created a lifelong craving that he has to battle every day. It’s true that resisting the urge to use again does diminish with time, but it never really goes away. Drugs have left a lasting impact on his brain chemistry. It may be easier to understand just how likely relapse is if you think of addiction as a chronic illness. Researchers have determined that the relapse rate for addicts is no different from that of people with diseases like asthma or diabetes. With these chronic illnesses, people must keep up with treatment, or risk having an episode. The same is true with addiction. The illness can always return.

How Do I Lend Support after a Relapse?

For you, no matter how much you have learned about addiction, relapse is still difficult to understand. When your spouse has been clean for two years then goes on a bender, you will be left flabbergasted, frustrated, and disappointed. The best way to cope with the situation is to lend your support. It is important to remain firm in any consequences the two of you decided upon in the event of a relapse. Do what you promised you would do, no matter how you feel in the moment. Hopefully the consequences include going back to a therapist or support group. Encourage him to return for more treatment. Just as a person with asthma reaches for medication when having an attack, your spouse needs to return to treatment for his relapse. If he needs you to go with him, lend him that support. He is likely feeling ashamed and guilty. For emotional support, give him comfort, but don’t make excuses. He messed up and he needs to live with that.

How Do I Cope and Remain Patient?

If you are going to continue to successfully support your spouse in his recovery and relapse, you need to take care of yourself as well. Dealing with a relapse can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention terrifying. Try to understand how difficult it is for your spouse to resist his cravings whenever you feel you might lose patience with him. Taking care of yourself is so important during this time. If you are frazzled and stressed you won’t be much help to anyone. Exercise, meditation, yoga and other similar practices can help you stay balanced and can give you patience when you feel it slipping away. If you need a timeout from dealing with the situation, don’t feel bad about taking it. Go for a walk alone. Go to the movies. Relax in your room with a good book. Do whatever you need to do to stay well. It will help you support your spouse and set a good example for how he can cope with his own stresses and cravings.

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