Welcome to Relationship Helpers! Therapists Vincent and Laura thank you for listening to their series “How To Support A Spouse With…”. This is the seventh part of an eight part series where they delve into mental health and relational issues that create tension in marriages.
Today they introduce the topic of helping a spouse through a non-drug related addiction. (If you are in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic or struggling with substance abuse, be sure to check out episode 088, “How To Support a Spouse Struggling With Alcoholism.”)
Gambling, workaholism, shopping, food, exercise, sex, all can be addictions, but fall into more “socially acceptable” addictions or are not as publicly acknowledged as alcoholism and substance abuse.
Acknowledge The Problem
Often we minimize people’s behavior with, “Oh, that’s just what they do.” We are not looking at these behaviors as a problem. We don’t examine how it’s effecting relationships.
Activities such as over-shopping and over-exercising can put strains on relationships and negatively impact the functioning of families. As said before, however, they are more socially-acceptable and often go without being confronted.
If you suspect your spouse has crossed into the realm of an addiction, your approach must be done gently but firmly. You may begin by keeping documentation of what you are seeing. You may record how many times someone did something and how it affected that day.
The purpose of this documentation is not to tell them every time you enter something in your record but to help you see that it is actually a problem. Once you’ve established for yourself that this is a problem, THEN you can present your concerns to them. Do not use your record keeping as some sort of tally. We are only suggesting that this record be used to solve whether whether your spouse really has a problem.
An example would be that you notice your bank account low and decide to see what purchases are depleting your account. You may notice that your spouse is going to Target regularly and decide to record how often they go.
There’s a difference between over-shopping once in a blue moon versus on a regular basis, unless these rare shopping experiences involve very expensive purchases. It’s important to look at routines and what that person is responsible for. If their behaviors are negatively impacting what and who they are responsible for, they very well could have a problem.
Sex Addiction Example
With sex addiction, there are varying levels of addiction. (All are harmful to a degree.) Your lower levels are free pornography and masturbation, and your higher levels include paying for pornography, and higher still, having affairs, soliciting prostitutes and swinging.
When you examine the amount of time that is spent seeking out this material and these activities, it will help you see that it is a problem. The family and the marriage is neglected by these behaviors.
Discussing The Problem And Ways To Work On It With Your Spouse
This must be a calm conversation. Aggression will only make the situation worse. Don’t misunderstand, this is confrontation. It is helpful to approach this conversation with much prayer and possibly even writing things down beforehand so you can stay on track.
In the midst of your conversation, take notes. Collaborate. Write it out so both of you can see what needs to be done. Communication will be much more clear if you both see it spelled out in front of you. It leaves less room for interpretation.
Ultimatums and Boundaries
We also have to consider denial. Ultimatums are often used in situations where a spouse refuses to work on their problems. Issuing an ultimatum provides the hurting spouse healthier boundaries and serves to protect them from the unhealthy behavior of the addict.
In the example of over-shopping, keeping a tally of their spending and determining some healthy ways to overcome it. If they do not stop, you will have to come up with consequences such as separating bank accounts and separating bill paying so that they are solely responsible for their actions. Requiring them to get help is a great ultimatum.
If over-eating is a problem, you make them aware that you are no longer enabling their addiction by buying them the food. Then you stop buying their food with your money.
Talking to a Workaholic
If workaholism is the issue, having a conversation about protecting family time is important. Discussing when you can have a family vacation, discussing the value of family mealtimes spent together, and having a conversation with your boss about how you can accomplish these necessities is important.
Workaholics often do not want to sit quietly with their thoughts. When they have to spend time with their family, it can create conflict. Workaholics often do not come to therapy because they won’t take the time off of their schedule for it.
Addictions often are behaviors used to cover a void. As Christian we call the void the “God-shaped hole.” Relationship gets substituted by unhealthy behaviors.
Have A Healthy Lifestyle Yourself
You’ve acknowledged your spouse has a problem, it will be important for you to take care of your well-being. Having healthy eating habits and exercise will be helpful. Making efforts to care for your body will help you as you support your spouse through their difficult time.
It will be up to you to put boundaries in place. This means you may have to say “no” to a promotion at work if that promotion takes you away from home when you are needed at home.
Enacting healthy spiritual disciplines such as a quiet time will be helpful for you to stay in communication with God. Set aside a time everyday when you can go before God, read scripture, meditate on His word and pray.
Learning scripture and praise songs writes positive words on your heart and focuses your mind on the positive during these trying times with your spouse.
Vincent discusses “arrow prayers”. These are prayers much like Nehemiah made before he would go meet with the king. These are quick, eyes open prayers that are focusing our minds on God in the midst of a difficult discussion or time.
Imagine these arrow prayers as “shooting up a prayer to God” while in the midst of your daily activities. This is prayer during the trial, rather than finally sitting down to pray about it.
Lastly, the spiritual discipline of praising God is important. It keeps your mind on what is good and positive and keeps your focus on how God provides.
You may have made an ultimatum that your spouse needs to seek help. It is not only beneficial for them to have the support of a therapist, but it can be for you, as well. A therapist will help you learn how to cope with your spouses issues and keep you accountable with your boundaries.
A therapist will help you navigate some of the things we have discussed earlier, such as coming up with boundaries and communicating them to your spouse. Your therapist can help you come up with ultimatums and consequences. They can be your guide as you make decisions on what your marriage needs for recovery.
Support groups are a wonderful way to receive encouragement and accountability, as well. Many people shy from groups, but they are allowing fear to be their guide. Groups force you out of your comfort zone and help you tackle your issues in a supportive environment.
Learn what groups are in your area. Find groups for family or spouses of addicts. Support groups are not only for addicts. Celebrate Recovery is an excellent resource for addicts and their loved ones.
If you are a spouse of an addict, there is a strong chance that you are enabling their behavior. Help from a therapist and support group can help you see how you may be enabling and what you can do to overcome it.
Today’s episode serves as an umbrella for different types of “miscellaneous” addictions. We hope that it has enlightened you to the possibility of addictions outside of the more well-known ones and provided you with direction as to how to seek help.
As Christian therapists, we see the importance of seeking out counsel that is spiritually-based. Word-of-mouth referrals from those you trust can be helpful, but seeking out a therapist who is well vetted and a part of the American Association of Christian Counselors will provide you with healthy guidance.
Don’t make a quick call from the yellow pages. Research your potential therapists. Read their articles, read what they have to say. Don’t blindly enter into therapy.