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The Importance of Partner Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Addiction doesn’t only affect the person abusing drugs or alcohol; it also negatively impacts family members, friends, and colleagues. And more often than not, it’s the spouse or the partner that bears the biggest burden.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re bound by marriage, living together, or have been dating for a few months, substance abuse can negatively impact your relationship. Even with the best intentions, trying to “fix” your partner and their addiction on your own can be frustrating and almost nearly impossible. Addiction treatment is much more nuanced than a simple solution to a problem, which is where professional help comes in.

In this article, we discuss the importance of participating in partner therapy in mending and supporting romantic relationships that have been impacted by addiction.

What Is Partner Therapy?

Partner therapy, also known as behavioural couples therapy (BCT) or marriage counselling, is a popular type of psychotherapy designed for individuals in an intimate relationship. Despite the name, partners do not have to be married to participate in this form of therapy.

Conducted by a licensed family therapist or marriage counsellor, the primary goal of partner therapy isn’t all about saving the relationship at all costs, but empowering both parties to make well-informed decisions about the next steps they should take. It helps identify the issues of a dysfunctional relationship, provides a safe space for open communication for both parties, and offers personalized and actionable solutions.

When dealing with substance abuse disorder, partner therapy aims to reduce the tendencies for substance use by improving the dynamics and interactions between the couple that often involve enabling or sustaining the addiction. Even recovering addicts and their partners can also benefit from partner therapy by earning the forgiveness of their partners who may still have trust issues from their painful experiences.

Young couple attending partner therapy

The Benefits of Partner Therapy in Treating Substance Use Disorder 

1. Higher Chances of Overcoming Addiction

According to a scientific review of multiple studies with diverse populations, patients who engage in partner therapy have consistently reported greater reductions in substance use than have patients who only receive individual counselling.

2. Improved Behaviour and Relationship Satisfaction 

The same study also reveals that couples participating in partner therapy also experience higher levels of relationship satisfaction and significant improvements in other aspects of their lives, such as children’s psychosocial adjustment.

3. Teaches Partners How to Discuss Differences Rationally 

Partner therapy helps couples process emotional issues within the relationship constructively through healthy communication. As a result, the partner struggling with substance abuse holds back from resorting to using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with difficult situations, which used to leave the other party disappointed and unsupported.

4. Recognizes That Both Partners Require Emotional Support

Most people fail to acknowledge that it’s not only the person dealing with addiction who needs support but also the other party. Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, was among the first personalities to recognize this fact. She founded Al-Anon Family support groups for partners of alcoholics who, like her, were also emotionally burnt out by the struggles of their spouses.

Delving deeper into your relationship issues by participating in partner therapy can be instrumental in helping couples become more understanding and mutually supportive of each other’s unique circumstances.

5. Stops Enabling Behaviours that Worsen Addiction

Partner therapy can help couples identify and break free from unhealthy, enabling behaviours where the non-addicted partner may have unconsciously allowed the addiction to continue unchecked. Examples of enabling behaviours include:

  • Lying or making excuses for dangerous behaviours in front of others
  • Giving money despite knowing where they’d spend it on
  • Cleaning up their mess
  • Letting them verbally or physically abuse you or someone else
  • Taking over the addict’s responsibilities
  • Sacrificing your own needs to prioritize the other person’s
  • You refuse or avoid confronting your partner about their addiction
  • Agreeing with your partner when they say they don’t need professional help

In addition, your therapy will also work on eliminating the power struggle that may have caused or led to enabling habits and finally put an end to this cycle.

6. Facilitates Healing and Forgiveness

Partner therapy creates an opportunity for couples to honestly talk about everything they have been through without suppressing their emotions or being in denial. Ideally, this should lead to partners seeking and granting forgiveness to each other, paving the way for healing, reconciliation, and helping them to move forward from their past mistakes.
For example, a recovering addict may finally be able to overcome the guilt of relapse, or the spouse may finally be able to feel free from the burden of their emotional trauma.

Cropped shot couple holding hands

Family Therapy at Freedom From Addiction 

During a time that might feel as if all the attention is on the individual in recovery, our Family Program in Toronto allows family members to explore and process their own feelings. Our goal is to ensure that everyone heals in the process, not just the patient.

To know more about our family and partner therapy programs, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. Contact us today!


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