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Does Couples Therapy Work When One Partner Suffers from Addiction?

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As a relationship coach, I’ve seen countless couples grapple with an array of hurdles. But, when addiction enters the equation, the road can become steeper, the journey more tumultuous. A question often asked is, “Can couples therapy be a lifeline in such circumstances?” The answer is not as black and white as one might hope.

Decoding Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling

Addiction is a complex beast. It has been aptly described as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry” by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM, 2021). When a partner suffers from addiction, it doesn’t just affect them; it seeps into the fabric of the relationship, altering its texture, and sometimes even tearing it at its seams.

The Dance of Addiction and Relationship Functioning

Here’s an essential point to understand – addiction and the health of a relationship share a two-way street. Addiction can erode a relationship, causing issues like dishonesty, stress, and emotional detachment. However, the reverse is also true. A troubled relationship, filled with constant conflict or emotional distance, can amplify feelings of stress or loneliness. To cope with these negative emotions, a person might increasingly lean on their addictive habits. This cycle can be challenging to break (Rodriguez, Neighbors, & Knee, 2014).

The Role of Couples Therapy in Addiction Recovery

In these tough times, many couples look to therapy for help, hoping to find a way not just to address the addiction but also to mend the relationship. Whether it’s called couples therapy or marriage counseling, the goal is the same – to work with a professional who can help improve how partners relate to each other. But, is therapy effective when addiction is part of the equation? Let’s dig deeper.

Therapy’s Place in Addiction Treatment

First off, it’s crucial to understand that couples therapy isn’t a one-stop solution for addiction. It cannot replace the essential treatments for addiction, such as individual therapy or detoxification processes. Each person’s journey to recovery is unique, and therefore, the treatment must be personalized (NIDA, 2018).

That said, couples therapy can, and often does, play a pivotal role in the healing and recovery process. Studies suggest that including a couples repair process “produces better outcomes than individual-based treatment for alcohol and drug use disorders” alone.

It provides a safe space where partners can discuss the addiction’s impact on their relationship and learn healthier ways of relating to each other.

Therapy as a Joint Endeavor

Yet, the effectiveness of couples therapy is not a guarantee. It depends on various factors, including the nature of the relationship, the type of addiction, the commitment of both partners to the process, and the therapist’s skill. While couples therapy can be a potent tool, it needs to be used correctly and in combination with other treatments.

The First Step on the Road to Healing

It’s important to remember, however, that every relationship is unique, as is every battle with addiction. Couples therapy isn’t a magic fix, but it can be a catalyst for change, growth, and healing when one partner is suffering from an addiction.

Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength, resilience, and a choice to prioritize love, even when faced with life’s toughest challenges. Whether you’re considering couples therapy, marriage counseling, or both, the journey towards recovery begins with the first step.

American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). (2021). Definition of Addiction.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.

Weiss, R. (2015). Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating.

Behavioral Couples Therapy for Substance Abuse: Rationale, Methods, and Findings – PMC (

O’Farrell, T. J., & Clements, K. (2012). Review of outcome research on marital and family therapy in treatment for alcoholism. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.