“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.”
Recovery is the ground that you build yourself up from after you’ve torn yourself down. It goes far beyond getting clean and sober—it’s a rebirth, the letting go of patterns and behaviors that no longer serve you and finding new tools to help you cope with the many ups and downs of life.
So, what happens when your partner isn’t willing to take the leap into recovery with you? Is it possible to sustain a healthy relationship with someone who is using drugs or alcohol? If they have the intention to join you but continue to relapse, how much time do you allow them before cutting ties?
You are here because these questions have been circling through your mind. Perhaps you’ve been keeping your partners use a secret and living in fear of the judgment you may receive from friends and family. Maybe you came here on your own in search of another way.
Identify Why You’re Staying
The first step, and really the keystone to this journey is identifying why you’re staying. Start by asking yourself, “Why am I choosing to stay in this relationship?” and then write down at least 3 responses.
Love is more than likely a top contender. They’re a good person that has lost their way is another common reason. They couldn’t survive without you or you have concerns for their wellbeing if you left. Maybe you have children with your partner and are not ready to throw in the towel. These are all good and valid reasons to stay, but more often than not these are surface reasons and something more dysfunctional is hidden underneath. When addiction is present, co-dependency is not far behind and it’s important to consider the influence it may have on your relationship.
People with co-dependency form and maintain relationships that are emotionally destructive and/or abusive, they choose partners that will never truly meet their needs and often fall in love with a person’s potential in hopes that true love will inspire them to live up to your expectations.
It’s common for one partner in a co-dependent relationship to be more dominant and demanding and the other to be submissive and always seeking to please their partner to avoid conflict. Generally, the submissive partner will have a tendency to feel like they’re not enough and can never live up to the needs of their demanding partner.
In many people’s experiences, becoming aware of the co-dependent cycle of the Drama Triangle is a real game changer. It’s the concept of changing roles throughout conflict to perpetuate a negative self-image and thus keep the cycle of mental and emotional abuse going.
The Drama Triangle
The drama triangle is a dynamic model of social interaction and conflict developed by Dr. Karpman when he was a student of Eric Berne, M.D., father of transactional analysis. Karpman and other clinicians point out that “victim, rescuer, and persecutor” refer to roles people unconsciously play or try to manipulate other people to play, not the actual circumstances in someone’s life. The three roles of the drama triangle are archetypal and easily recognizable in their extreme versions.
Victims utilize the classic “woe-is-me” attitude, taking no responsibility for their choices and feeling hopeless, dejected, and ashamed. A person in the victim role seeks out someone who will rescue them; a savior to all their problems and someone they can resent if their chosen rescuer fails or refuses to relieve them of whatever circumstance they feel oppressed by. Victims also have difficulty making decisions and understanding their self-perpetuating behaviors.
Rescuers like to be helpful—they consider their self-worth to be directly related to how valuable they make themselves to others through saving. The rescuer often casts their own needs to the side and devotes all of their time and energy to the person who needs their help. They need victims to help and often use guilt to keep their victim’s dependent on them. Rescuers are frequently overworked, and deeply resentful at times.
Persecutors point fingers, often using sayings such as, “Look what you made me do!” or “It’s all your fault!” They are bullies and often use a person’s shortcomings as ammunition to assert their status above the victim. They are rarely vulnerable and are deeply afraid of being victimized themselves; they rarely offer a solution and use blame and resentment to manipulate others.
Here is an example: Sally is dating Brad and they’ve been going steady for a few years now. Sally is new to recovery and has put down the drugs, but still clings on to hope that Brad will get clean. Sally starts finding empty drug bags in Brad’s pockets while washing clothes.
She confronts Brad and persecutes him for lying to her. Brad plays the victim and admits he has been struggling. He blames his traumatic childhood and stressful living situation. Sally then feels an intense desire to save Brad, and so she invites him to go to a support meeting later that night. Brad agrees to go and never shows up.
Sally then goes looking for Brad and finds him at his friend’s house. She is upset and makes a scene in front of everyone. Brad becomes upset because she crossed the line and then blames her for his behavior. He cites her traumatic childhood and victimizes Sally, implying that she is damaged and says she’s lucky he is willing to put up with her, implying that he is her savior.
In this example, both Sally and Brad transitioned into all 3 roles to manipulate each other and furthered the co-dependent cycle they’re both engaged in.
Accepting that You Can’t Save Your Partner
Following the previous example, Sally responds with strong emotions because Brad lied to her; he gave her hope that he was changing and then he made the choice to visit with his friends rather than make a change toward getting clean. At this point, Brad has made his choice clear, and there is nothing Sally can say or do to change his mind.
Sally may still try and convince him, and may still believe that she can save him or that her love for him will be enough to bring him out of the depths of his addiction. The hardest part of being in this situation is coming to realize that there is nothing more you can do. If your loved one wanted treatment, they would be taking opportunities to do so.
With addiction, you must look at a person’s pattern of behavior instead of the words that come out of their mouths. If they promise to do something and then follow through with it, they are telling you, with their actions, they are ready to change. However, if they continue to let you down, such as making commitments to change and then being unreliable and are stringing you along with the hope of better days, then it’s time to consider leaving.
Protecting Yourself Against Relapse
For your own safety, please consider the following tips to prevent relapse.
• Regularly attend a support group of your choosing
• Have a safe support figure, someone you can be completely honest with
• Identify your relapse triggers and be aware of them
• Take positive action when you are triggered
• Seek out professional counseling services
• Have an exit plan should you decide to leave the relationship
Setting clear boundaries in your relationship will be the difference between your partner making a positive change and enabling their addiction. Enabling is when you feel the negative consequences of their addiction. The more you do for them the longer they will use.
Remove any and all ways that you support their addiction—don’t lie for them or otherwise cover up their behavior and don’t allow them in your home if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
An addicted individual will seek out help when they have reached their bottom. By offering financial bailouts, rides, and allowing them to get away with using keeps your partner from reaching a point where they are ready to change.
Where to Turn to for Help
Hope for your partner is found by seeking out a reputable addiction treatment center and traveling outside of your partners home state if possible. Look into a center that can address any underlying causes and conditions to using like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, and remember: hope for the best for them, but be prepared to cut them out if they are damaging to your recovery.