May 29, 2018

Can a Relationship or a Marriage Survive After Years of Addiction?

Written by Alex Thompson

We sat with St. Christopher’s COO, Brandy Klingman, LMSW, BACS, to get her advice on this topic.

Can a relationship or a marriage survive after years of addiction?

I believe that most things can be healed when people want to heal them. I have been blessed as a therapist to be with people in the worst of times, whether it be losing a child, divorce, even addiction. What I have learned is that most wounds can be healed in time with treatment and a lot of work. Both people have to be willing to have grace, compassion, forgiveness, and openness; then moving into trust. It’s difficult for people to open up and realize there is a lack of trust and talk about it openly and honestly. They have to talk about how to regain trust. Some people want to know every single detail in order to regain trust; I don’t really ever encourage that. It’s not the most important thing to know every detail. It’s about cleansing the person and admitting that there was a lot of wrongdoing and go from there.

Do you think that trust can be re-built?

Absolutely! I know that trust can be re-built. It’s a lot of hard work! I don’t blame anyone who is exhausted. The loved ones that standby always characterize themselves as weak or an idiot for putting up with it for so long, where in actuality I believe they are some of the strongest people! They have endured so much and stood by their loved one where a lot of time other people would have walked away. They have a resilience and strength to rebuild trust. Some will say that they are all in and some will have hesitancy. It’s okay to be nervous. You don’t have to be confident in moving forward, but there does have to be a willingness to try. Trust can be rebuilt, it’s just hard work for both parties.

How do you get a loved one to acknowledge the damage they have done to the family?

That is a tough question. Sometimes people will get to that step, if they are doing 12 step work, to make a list of wrongs they have done and how to make amends. However, forcing someone to fix something doesn’t always come organically from the family. It has to come from that person’s healing and their own progress in their treatment. If they get to the point that they want to make amends or right the wrongs they have done to the family, they will do it organically. They may even come to you or the family with the support of the treatment team to make amends for the things they have done. It’s really hard because, at the beginning of treatment, the family member typically looks better so the family thinks that they can be apologized to, but that’s not always the case. The mind takes a little longer to heal so you want to give them time to make amends or get to the step where they are ready to.

Should we hold our loved one accountable or coddle them when they get clean?

I believe in holding each other accountable for all things. The big book in AA teaches us to hold each other accountable. We want to be able to hold our peers as well as ourselves who are in recovery accountable. Coddling is a weird and tricky word. It’s often confused with compassion. I do believe that compassion is important too. In other words, there used to be a mentality in recovery to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, this is going to kill you, stop doing it, etc. That is a severe judgment around the addicted person, thinking they are morally or spiritually broken. Most judgments lied with them not deserving compassion because they are “broken” or a horrible person in societies mind. We know it’s an illness, it’s a brain disease. I don’t think you should coddle, I do think you should hold the person accountable, but there is a way to do it with compassion. Working at St. Chris, I have seen many guys relapse. With our guys that work there, the first thing they do is embrace the person in a hug and say, “I’m sorry that this happened, I hope you can get better, come on with me” and they always walking them in arm in arm in a very loving way but still holding them accountable. Relapsing is scary for them, they don’t want to go back to that life.