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Couples Therapy In Addiction Treatment

By March 12, 2019 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
Trafalgar addiction treatment centres

Addiction rarely affects only one person. Those close to someone struggling with addiction also have to cope with the consequences of addictive behaviour.

This can be particularly challenging in the context of a romantic relationship. In some cases, both people in a relationship may be struggling with addiction, which adds further complication.

For this reason, couples therapy is often offered as part of addiction treatment. If an expert suggests couples therapy to you, there is no reason to be concerned by the suggestion. It is not a judgment on the state of the relationship. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that addiction is something you are both coping with, even if only one person in the relationship has an addiction.

Couples therapy can help to identify and address issues contributing to the addiction. The treatment can be extremely useful in identifying the ways in which the addiction is affecting the relationship and in developing progressive methods for coping with this. It is an opportunity for both partners to discuss, in a safe environment, their thoughts and feelings. It helps to replace destructive coping mechanisms in the relationship with positive, progressive ones that will benefit both partners.

Addiction In Relationships

In a relationship in which at least one partner has an addiction, there will often be problems such as resentment, damaged communication, enabling or co-dependency. These problems often occur in loving, supportive relationships. Often, problems of enabling and co-dependency emerge out of the desire to support a partner. However, these behaviours will ultimately damage the relationship. Couples therapy can help partners support one another in a more progressive manner. It can help both partners as individuals and the relationship as a whole, making it more supportive of lasting recovery and generally stronger.

Coordinate Treatment

Many addiction treatment providers offer couples therapy as part of their treatment. However, if you decide to participate in couples therapy that is separate from your addiction treatment, you should let both treatment providers know so that they can coordinate their support.

Benefits Both Partners

Couples therapy for people affected by addiction does not only address problems in the relationship, or the addiction problems creating them. It also identifies and supports the needs of both partners as individuals. Addiction affects every aspect of the life of the person with the addiction and their partner. This means that couples therapy must be comprehensive in addressing all of the problems and challenges both partners are experiencing.

During Treatment

Couples therapy can play a crucial role in addiction treatment. Alongside the many other benefits discussed here, it can help to identify the underlying causes of the addiction and to develop methods for both partners to cope with them progressively. In some causes the roots of the addiction may be related to the relationship. In situations in which this is not the case, however, the addictive behaviour will still deeply affect a relationship. Analyzing it may help to address the factors contributing to the addiction. This is an immediately positive step which also creates the opportunity to develop methods for coping with the issues identified. Understanding the underlying causes of an addiction and developing methods for dealing with them is crucial in achieving lasting recovery.

Non-Addicted Partners

Partners of people struggling with addiction who are not addicted themselves face many complex challenges. They will often have to cope with the consequences of their partner’s addictive behaviour. They may also struggle to trust their partner if they have failed to communicate honestly, keep promises or maintain established boundaries due to their addiction. People with addictions will often attempt to deceive those close to them about the extent of their problems or the nature of their behaviour. This makes honest communication extremely difficult. Partners may also be made complicit in lies and excuses made to others in the addicted person’s life, such as their family members or employer.

Avoiding Blame and Judgment

It can be difficult not to blame and judge an addicted partner for their behaviour even if you understand on an intellectual level that they are not in control of their addiction. This means that resentment will build on both sides of the relationship. In some cases, the partners of addicted people will also ignore or understate their partner’s addictive behaviour as a way of coping themselves.

Even if the non-addicted partner is fully understanding of their partner’s struggles and supportive of their recovery, addiction will impact the dynamic of the relationship deeply. In many cases, a co-dependent relationship is formed, with the non-addicted partner prioritizing supporting the addicted partner above their own well-being, and the addicted partner forming an unhealthy dependence on this support.

Couples therapy can help to address these problems. It helps couples work towards healthy modes of support and communication. The relationship as a whole and both partners as individuals will benefit greatly from this.


Communication is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. It is also one of the areas that is most affected by addiction. Couples therapy provides an opportunity to repair communication. Couples will work with their therapist to restore trust and honest communication. They can develop more progressive methods of conflict management. Couples can practice actively listening to and understanding one another. This will also help to bridge any emotional distance created by the addiction.

Couples can also establish accountability for problems and work towards forgiveness where one partner has hurt or let down the other. This helps to restore balance in the relationship and to achieve mutual support.

Acknowledge the Positives

It is also important to acknowledge the stronger aspects of the relationship and the positive behaviours within it. Couples therapy should not only address the aspects of a relationship that require work, but the positive aspects of it which the couple can build upon.


Isolation can occur for people struggling with addiction both before and during recovery. The reasons for this are discussed here. It is common for one or both partners in a relationship to become isolated due to addiction. Couples therapy will help to identify and address this problem by working on communication and developing a system of mutual support in the relationship. Open and honest communication, and a willingness to ask for help, are powerful antidotes to isolation.

Discussing Potential Problems

Couples therapy should incorporate discussion on how to handle problems that might emerge in the future. Couples can work with their therapist to form a plan for how to handle a potential relapse, for example. While these conversations can be difficult, expressing fears and forming plans for how to manage negative situations will ultimately make both partners more comfortable and secure. As recovery is a lifelong process, couples must be aware that they may face challenges even after long periods of sustained progress.

Setting Goals

Couples therapy can establish goals for the addicted person’s recovery and for the couple more generally. During therapy, you will hopefully identify some methods for working on the relationship, such as improving communication and accountability. Establishing some specific goals can help to work on these methods. Goal-setting provides a path towards the changes you want to make. A therapist will be able to help you establish specific goals and to update them as the relationship progresses.

Partner Support

In cases where only one partner in a relationship has an addiction, it is important that the other partner also receives support. Couples therapy provides a space where the non-addicted partner can discuss their thoughts and emotions and how they are being affected by their partner’s addictive behaviour. It also allows them to focus on other aspects of their well-being.

Often, the partner of someone struggling with addiction will neglect their own needs in order to support that partner. This usually creates an unhealthy, codependent dynamic in the relationship. As well as attending couples therapy, it can be a good idea for the partner of the person with an addiction to attend individual therapy. Trafalgar offers Partner Support Therapy at no additional cost as part of our residential treatment programs. These weekly sessions allow the partners of our clients to work on progressively supporting their partner while taking care of themselves.


Relationships in which one or both partners has an addiction are at risk of becoming co-dependent. An addicted partner may come to depend on the other to support them through their addictive behaviour and to repair any damage this behaviour causes. A non-addicted partner may neglect their own needs and base their lives around offering this support. While well-intentioned, this support will ultimately have a negative impact, as it will prevent the addicted person from facing the full consequences of their addictive behaviour, making them less likely to pursue lasting recovery with the necessary dedication.

When Both Partners Are Addicted

Couples in which both partners are addicted may also become co-dependent. The relationship may be based largely around obtaining and using addictive substances and engaging in addictive behaviour. Both partners may avoid conflict and may not be truly confront problems but deal with them by using substances instead. Someone involved in a relationship largely based around addictive behaviour is also unlikely to achieve lasting recovery unless the relationship is fundamentally altered through hard work and evidence-based treatment. Couples therapy can provide vital assistance in changing a co-dependent relationship into a progressive, mutually supportive one.

Boundaries & Consequences

Couples therapy provides an opportunity to discuss and establish boundaries and consequences within the relationship. Addiction can complicate the boundaries around what is acceptable and appropriate in a relationship. Discussing boundaries in a safe, open environment is very healthy for a couple and can prevent complications and conflicts.

Discussing consequences for when established boundaries are not observed is also important. For example, a non-addicted partner might state that they will no longer make excuses for their addicted partner’s behaviour. They might state that they will no longer drop their own personal or professional responsibilities in order to help the addicted partner. This will help the addicted partner to understand the true consequences of their addictive behaviour. It will improve communication and will help to prevent resentment building on both sides.


If relapse occurs for one or both partners in a relationship while they are participating in couples therapy, this should not be taken as a sign that the therapy is not working. Rather, we should regard relapse as a learning opportunity and an occasion to recommit to recovery. Discussing it with a therapist will help you to make any necessary adjustments to your recovery plan. Therapy will help both partners to understand what caused the relapse and what they can learn from it to avoid similar problems in the future. The roots of relapse usually begin to emerge some time before the event. Identifying the causes is an important step towards avoiding future relapses.

Adjusting to Recovery

As well as helping one or both partners to achieve lasting recovery, couples therapy can also help the relationship adjust to sobriety. Recovery can sometimes reveal new problems within a relationship. If one or both partners previously avoided confronting problems by using addictive substances, these problems must be faced in recovery. There may be anger or resentment still present in the relationship due to the addictive behaviour of one or both partners. The partners may not have confronted these feelings previously, and they will not simply go away once the addictive behaviour has stopped.

Concurrent Disorders

Addiction is also often related to underlying mental health conditions. Treatment will help to cope with these conditions, but they will still be present in recovery. They may also manifest themselves differently in the absence of addictive behaviour. This will require an adjustment from both partners.

Changes In Recovery

Sobriety can also change a person. These changes are difficult to predict. Both partners may require support in order to adjust to these changes. Recovery can also reveal new issues in a relationship that were previously obscured or ignored due to the more immediate problems created by addiction.

Frustrations or resentments the couple have previously neglected may now emerge, for example. Problems created by addictive behaviour, such as loss of trust or financial pressures, will not simply disappear in recovery. The couple must confront and work through them. Couples therapy provides a suitable setting for doing this in a healthy and progressive manner.

If you have any questions about couples therapy in addiction treatment, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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