Guidelines for Ending an Addiction-Destroyed Relationship
This is the second article in a series on navigating addiction affected romantic relationships. Also read part 1, for advice and guidelines for living with an addicted partner and part 3, for advice on rebuilding a happy relationship through early and mid recovery.
Trying to Be Above Reproach
I would love to have a dollar for every time I’ve heard an affected other say, “I just need to know that I’ve done everything I possibly can.”
The illusion is that some measure of peace can be attained by accumulating a long list of sacrifices and attempts to support, encourage, and tolerate the behavior of a partner or spouse who remains active in addiction. We seek to be above the scrutiny of friends and family before we make the choice to separate and/or end a relationship. We seek to be free of guilt and self-doubt. Too often we seek these things alone and with a very self-limiting perspective.
Our efforts are exhaustive attempts to mitigate a horribly disappointing outcome. The person we fell in love with has gradually been taken from us as their disease progressively takes over. There is no worse form of powerlessness than to bear witness to the suffering of a loved one and be unable to prevent it.
For many of us there comes a moment of clarity in which we see that incurring further suffering will serve no purpose!
In this moment our focus turns 180 degrees. We stop focusing on what we cannot do and orient ourselves toward what we must do. There are myriad pragmatic concerns – real world issues that any person faces when leaving a relationship and these deserve both careful planning and support from loved ones.
Detaching with Love
Things happen by default or by design. Choosing to separate or end a relationship overshadowed by addiction is best done by conscious choice coupled with planning for life without the active addict. In the absence of design we tend to procrastinate, only to achieve unplanned resolution in a moment of heightened emotion.
It’s not like there’s a right or wrong way to separate. It’s that we owe it to ourselves to set boundaries. It’s not about wording or picking the right time and place. It’s about having clarity for ourselves moving forward.
Regardless of what we say and what they hear, we need to be on the same page with ourselves.
Above all, please consider safety concerns:
- How will you communicate your choices (in person, in writing, by phone, through an attorney)?
- Do you need to be in a public place when you deliver them?
- Do you need to have others present?
Issues to resolve with self:
- Is the separation absolute with no expectation or need for future contact?
- Are there pragmatic concerns (finances, resources) that will need to be addressed and if so how will that occur?
- Do we wish to leave the door open for any other form of continued communication?
- Do we remain hopeful that our loved one will in time meaningfully engage in recovery and if so, are we willing to have contact at that time?
- Where children are involved – what type of contact if any will be allowed (especially when pending court decisions remain).
No Explanations Owed
One of the concerns I hear most from affected others is, “What am I supposed to tell people about why we’re not together anymore?”
I suggest that we have a right to privacy and that we’re not obligated to explain anything. It’s completely appropriate to say that we don't care to discuss the reasons for the relationship ending. It’s appropriate to speak your truth simply and directly if you care to. It’s more a matter of what feels most comfortable for you. At the point at which the relationship has ended, the only person you’re responsible for is you.
What to Tell the Children?
The concern of what to tell children and those we wish to share with is a difficult proposition. I favor the truth as directly and simply as possible. It’s usually surprising to us to be faced with how much they already knew. This is especially true of children. Tailoring our truth to the developmental level of children is important. Helping them to understand that their loved one is very 'sick' is sufficient when coupled with a willingness to answer their questions. Our efforts are best designed to help them to arrive at the same truth we’ve attained:
We didn’t cause it. We couldn’t prevent it. We can’t control it. Powerlessness is one of life’s hardest lessons. There are painful realities in life that we can do little about. And yet...
Life Goes On (adjusting to life without the addict)
Relief is spiritual but fleeting. It’s almost always short lived. The weight has been lifted and now we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. Instinctively we ask ourselves, “Now what?” I urge you to be mindful at this juncture. The way we’re wired, we’re most likely to go looking for the next problem to solve, the next person who needs us, or the next shiny distraction to occupy ourselves with.
There are lessons to learn and losses to grieve. Whatever we do not accept we are likely to repeat. Take time to invest in yourself. Take time for you.
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