How to Confront an Addicted Spouse
Q: My husband is addicted to drugs and it’s destroying our marriage. He refuses to talk about it. What can I do?
Dr. E says: As you know, giving advice through email is not the ideal. I desire to serve you with godly wisdom, yet realize I don't have all the pieces, and have not heard both sides. Please keep this in mind as I attempt to help within these limitations.
The first thing I suggest is to seek godly, professional guidance from someone who is for your marriage, but understands addiction. Then I suggest following these 3 steps to incorporate Love & Respect into the process:
1. Respectful Confrontation
The first step is to confront your spouse respectfully. It may sound crazy to confront an addiction with respect. But I am not saying to respect the addiction! That would be respecting sin, and that would be crazy.
What I’m saying is to separate the person from the behavior. Underneath your husband’s bad behavior is a man made in God’s image. Down deep he is still the man you married who had good intentions for your life together. Yes, he has disappointed you deeply. But somehow you must reach inside yourself for the self-control and offer him unconditional love and respect as you put conditions on his behavior. That is not easy to do, but with God’s help you can do it!
Choose your time wisely, not in the heat of an argument but preferably when you are both calm and without distractions. If you are afraid of his reaction, have a professional or wise mentor with you.
Most importantly, pray before you speak. Ask God to give you the words and the ability to control your emotions and remain calm, yet strong. Your facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and word choice should come across respectfully.
The guilty party may deserve your contempt but contempt never, ever works. When we are hurt by ongoing, sinful behavior, we feel disrespected and it’s natural to show disrespect. However, that approach always backfires. It pushes the person farther away and deeper into the addiction.
2. The Plan of Action
Secondly, you must decide what your plan of action is going to be, and there must be a plan of action, or the situation will remain the same. In other words, have a plan in case your husband does not accept your respectful confrontation. To fail to follow through would simply contribute to the problem, which is enabling.
God’s Word does not advocate enabling sin but rather just the opposite. The apostle Paul warns us to not participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them. NOT confronting sinful behavior can lead to enabling that behavior, allowing it to continue.
For example, your plan of action could include an ultimatum for him getting help for his addiction, or he leaves for a time of separation (not divorce). The details of this are something you should work out with Godly counsel – someone who is for your marriage and will come alongside you to support you in tough love and respectful confrontation. You must protect yourself and your children. Again, do not confront him alone if you are in an unsafe situation and fear him.
3. The Ultimatum
If you have done #1 and your husband refuses to deal with his addiction, you will need to implement the plan of action and ultimatum. Although unconditional respect means you come across respectfully as you confront his unacceptable behavior, it also means you set healthy boundaries.
For example, you can say something like this: "It is time to deal with this. I believe in you, which is why I married you. But you are not acting like the man of honor I believe you long to be. Until you get help for this addiction, I would not be respecting you or myself if I just looked the other way while this destroys our family. We need to separate (not divorce) until you let me know of your decision to seek help and for us to address these matters with a third party."
This ultimatum should only be made after you have respectfully confronted him and asked him to get help, and he has refused. This is very different from a threat! This is the time to get serious about follow-through.
I am well aware of the devastation that addictive behavior brings to marriages. I do not wish to minimize this in any way. This is sinful behavior that Christ would not have you tolerate. Again, I recommend you seek out professional, Godly counsel to help you through this.
In my book, The Language of Love & Respect, I address these issues specifically in the Appendix entitled "Forgiving - but also Confronting - the Three A's: Adultery, Abuse, and Addiction." Also in this book, I include a chapter on Good Will vs Evil Will, and Forgiveness. I believe these resources will help you.