How can I help my husband realize that he’s great despite his addiction?
We were so excited when this question came through because generally, the questions we receive are:
- How do I help my husband realize that he needs help?
- Should I leave him?
- Why don’t they realize this hurts me so bad?
Your husband, is struggling with addiction, needs to make that internal choice to get help himself, based off of his own desire for change. Research has shown that when an individual gets help without a desire for change, the change does not last.
There are internal and external motivators.
An external motivator would be,
‘My spouse is threatening to divorce me if I don’t get help. Therefore, I’m going to get help.’
That’s a powerful motivator, but it’s an external motivator and external motivators tend to have very successful outcomes in the short-term, but the original issues come back in the long-term.
When someone goes into their internal motivators, which is exactly what this question is addressing, which is:
- I deserve to heal.
- I want to heal me.
- I want to be better within my family system because that’ll make me a better husband/a better parent/a better family member.
- I want to move past this hazy place of addiction and be a more capable and connected individual.’
This internal desire comes when we work through our own personal shame. The nature of this question is effective in helping them identify their internal desire.
You do this or else …
I’m not condemning anyone who has been in the trenches and taken an external approach which is, ‘You do this or else’, because we’ve all been there in one way or another where we’ve just had it with some of the issues that take place in our lives.
However, if you can come from this level of compassion and understanding, with this mentality:
- I really want my spouse to see themselves as an excellent person they are.
- I really want them to stop beating themselves up.
- I really want to help them realize that their addiction is not who they are.
- I want them to realize that a part of their brain that has been put into a cyclical place of repetitive negative behavior.
- I want to help them find the solutions that will work.
The more we can keep healthy boundaries and be there for them, as hard as it is sometimes, the more healing everyone can experience.
There are two key principles:
- Do NOT use emotional force, do NOT use punitive punishment as a form for them to change.
- Do NOT Shame
Emotional force and punitive punishment can motivate a person to take steps to change their life, but they don’t last because the reasons behind the change are because they were forced.
A more visual way to see how this kind of change does not work for the long-term, the majority of prisoners, and I’m not calling addicts prisoners, but individuals who go to prison – most of them return to prison. They are changing because they were forced too, but once they get back among their system, they result back to the negative behavior. If the change is internal, they can handle their system.
The premise is punitive punishment does not work long-term.
There are people who are robbing banks or hurting individuals, they need to have that kind of lock up so they can’t hurt people in those ways, but it doesn’t create change inherently unless they’re willing to go through a change process in the prison system.
It’s very similar to our loved ones struggling with addictions, from an emotional standpoint, they need to believe in themselves and find that internal desire. The more support they get from those they have around them, that are not shaming them, they can heal.
We see addicts and families healing every day.
Give the struggling addict hope and confidence, that they can change and do NOT nail them to the ground forcing them to change.
Number two is to have what we call a non-shame-based mode of conversation or compassion/empathy.
The ability to help anyone who may be struggling is to be able to be with them in their pain so that they feel confident in having someone who they can go to and talk about their triggers and talk about their shame.
They need to know that you truly care about them and not feel shame built upon more shame.
For example, say I’m an alcoholic if I go to someone and I say,
‘Man, I’m just really having a hard day and I’m really craving alcohol. I really want a drink.’
and the person says,
‘How long have you been in recovery, three years? What’s wrong with you? You should be better by now!’
That has almost guaranteed that I’m going to go and get plastered.
We’re going to change this scenario a bit and instead of shaming us, they were to sit down and say,
‘Yeah that must be really hard. You know, I’m here for you and I’m here for you to talk too, whatever you need to talk about.’
I call my office a shame-free zone; this is a place where people can just talk and they’re NOT going to be shamed. They’re not going to be slammed on the head for behaviors that they’re participating in. They have a safe place to talk through things and to be accountable, and when people can be accountable without shame they begin to become confident and to love themselves and to heal.