When you send your spouse or significant other to rehab, you’re hoping that the end results will be a happier loved one and an improved relationship, but more often than not, that’s not the case at all. The reality is once someone gets treatment for addiction and enters the subculture of addiction recovery, this can throw a wrench into their relationships, especially intimate partnerships.

I remember when my father was forced into treatment due to legal problems, and then was required to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a year. As he did with so many things, he jumped into AA with both feet. He read all the literature and insisted that my mother, my siblings and I become well versed in his apparent affliction. He wanted us to understand him and why he needed to be treated with kid gloves. As a result we all walked on eggshells around him constantly, in fear we would trigger him to drink.

He went to meetings nearly every night, and he made it clear to us that only other alcoholics could possibly understand what he was going through. He acted like making the choice not to drink was heroic, and a tremendous sacrifice that he was making for us. Sadly, I he treated my mother with complete disdain much of the time, even though she remained loving and worked so hard to do the right thing by him.

While my father never drank again, my parents divorced about 10 years after he got sober. It may have taken 10 years to divorce, but the marriage was doomed from the moment he bought into the AA rhetoric. You see, he stopped drinking, but he became more self absorbed, more demanding, horribly judgmental, and impossible to please. He didn’t seem to be happy unless he was working or with his AA friends, and he spent all of his time and energy fixated on his own happiness.

When sending a partner to treatment, what many people fail to understand is that treatment tells substance users they are different and “special”. It forces them to believe that they are afflicted with a disease that makes them incapable of being personally responsible for their choices and actions. To put it bluntly, whether drunk or sober, the disease model provides an excuse to behave in ways within a relationship that are uncaring, unloving, and even hurtful. The justification is you have to take care of yourself before you can care for anyone else. It’s common to hear in meetings that AA is a selfish program (which is sometimes now replaced with the more PC, “self-care program”). The irony is, there is a component of service work in AA, but it only counts if you are serving your fellow alcoholics and addicts.

The good news is very few people stay “in recovery” and specifically in AA or NA. It is estimated that by the end of one year, 95% have left meetings. Based on natural remission rates it’s safe to say that not all who leave return to problematic substance use. Some simply mature out of it as a function of age. Those few that do stay in AA and make recovery a way of life, usually end up leaving their non “addict” mate for one that is also in recovery. You might think those “in recovery” relationships would last longer but they typically have their own set of problems. Relationships require give and take, compromise and serving each other without conditions. It’s impossible to build a successful relationship when you’re completely focused on yourself and your own “recovery.”

So if you’re with someone who you feel has a substance use problem, don’t assume that sending them to rehab or support group meetings will improve your relationship. The odds are good that not only will your loved one not find a solution to their problematic substance use, but it may also destroy your relationship regardless of how close you are and how long you’ve been together.

There is a solution to substance use problems that doesn’t involve alienating your loved one from you, their family and their current group of friends. It is in line with the natural processes of change, and shows people how they can manifest that in their lives on demand. The Freedom Model for Addictions is a revolutionary approach to solving a substance use problem, regardless of how serious it may be. The Freedom Model for the Family book is also available to help loved ones to gain a new perspective on the problem known as addiction, so they can make an informed decision and maintain healthier, happier relationships.

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