My marriage to your mother was my first choice and will always be my first priority.
Those were the words uttered to me by my father when I was 14 years old and my addiction was threatening to tear them apart. I still remember the anger and hatred I felt toward him in that moment.
Today, many years later, those emotions are an ancient memory that has been replaced by a deep feeling of gratitude for that choice my father made. My parents are still together and in love after 57 years and their commitment to each other first, may be the reason I’m still alive and able to experience a similar type of love in my own marriage.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for thousands of other marriages that fell victim to the divide and conquer assault put on them by the addict who showed up disguised as their child.
Addiction is arguably the most baffling, insidious weapon of mass destruction that our world has ever seen. It starts by unraveling the very fabric that holds a society together…the family. Combating it often requires a father and mother to throw out their individual rule books and remember the commitment you made to each other before the shit hit the fan. This way, when one of you gets blindsided (and you will) you can tap into that powerful force that’s so much greater than the sum of its parts.
In working with parents, I’ve noticed some common strategies and beliefs that have gotten them through and kept their families intact. Here are five of them:
1.Develop or strengthen your faith. Our children belong to the same God/Universe/Source/ you made your commitment to your wife in front of. You were gifted with the responsibility to raise them together to the best of your ability during their childhood. Before that (in most cases) you made a lifetime commitment to partner up with your spouse through better or worse and here’s some of that worse. This, too shall pass along with their childhood and what remains after that depends on how well you honor and prioritize that commitment. As difficult as this may be to hear, your child is now on their own personal journey through life and you cannot do anything to control it. You can, however have a great influence on it by maintaining your personal boundaries and allowing them to face their consequences. You’re in the middle of a temporary shit-storm and when it passes, what survives will be determined by how well you’re able to draw on the strength of each other and your mutual faith.
2. Any support you give to your child, do it together. The difference between enabling and supporting the addict is a super complicated issue which you’ll need to figure out together. If you’re like most parents this will be a learning process. In the meantime, it’s important for your marriage that you go through this process together. Inevitably one partner will get wise before the other and by walking through this together, you will create the trust and safety needed to support each other through the difficult times. The addict is a master manipulator and will try to divide and conquer to serve the addiction. Your fastest track to your child getting clean depends on how fast they run out of resources. Your united stance will help insure that happens sooner rather than later.
3. Honor your differences. Understand that you both are different in how you deal with stress. In general (not always), it’s common for the man to want to isolate and the woman to want to talk it out. (It may be helpful to read John Gray’s book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to better understand masculine and feminine tendencies when under stress). Schedule 10 minutes in the morning and/or just before bed to discuss the emotions you’re both feeling around your child. Give each other permission to just speak without a response from the other. You can have a dialog about it at any other time but this time is reserved only for each of you to vent. This is difficult and requires practice but it may be the most important piece to holding your marriage together. If you find yourself unable to do it alone, get a trusted third person or a professional to facilitate it with you. This will allow you to strengthen your connection with your spouse by understanding how they’re processing this. You may both say things that the other doesn’t agree with or understand but non-judgment is important here. Remember, the fact that you’re even doing this demonstrates your love and commitment to each other.
4. Don’t blame yourself or each other. Guilt and resentment are the two greatest threats to your marriage. I’ve seen many different scenarios where parents see themselves as being responsible for their child’s addiction. Understand that there are no perfect parents and you will always find things you could have done differently, in hindsight. That being said, blaming yourself or your spouse will only serve to divert you from finding possible ways to provide the much needed support it will take to get through this together. It will also lay a foundation for your addicted child if and when they decide to seek recovery and have to deal with those same two demons of their own.
5. Get support I don’t care how strong you are, YOU CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. There are free programs like ALANON, NARANON, GAMANON, and local meetups. There are also professionals who specialize in this area. The cost is minimal compared to the exorbitant costs involved in the demise of a good marriage or the thousands upon thousands of dollars an enabling parent will waste on counterproductive attempts to fix their addicted child.
My parents have endured a lot over the years and I’m still amazed at how much they love each other after all that. I can only attribute it to the fact that they always did it together. I’ve often disagreed with their philosophies and methods like almost every other rebellious child on the planet, I would imagine. The bottom line is, what matters most to them is their commitment to each other and I can’t argue with their success.
Choosing your marriage over your child’s addiction is not choosing between your spouse and your child. It’s choosing in favor of both of them.