Every day, families face addiction and the hardships it creates. As a parent with a partner who suffers from addiction, the heartbreak can seem unfairly punishing. Watching your kids suffer while also witnessing the entire family’s relationship deteriorate with your significant other can make you feel helpless and hopeless. You know your priority is your kids, but the mix of anger, disappointment, regret, and love you feel for your partner is an almost unbearable weight.
There Are No Winners
The sad truth is that there are no winners in families dealing with addiction, regardless of who has the dependency issues. Your children may be in the most difficult position of all, because they are not empowered to change anything about their circumstances. Picking up the pieces when your spouse succumbs to addiction means taking on your children’s heartbreak along with your own. It can also mean taking the blame for the separation in the eyes of your children if they aren’t able to process what is actually happening.
It is important not to overprotect your children from the truth. Not disclosing their other parent’s shortcomings, be it rehabilitation, legal issues, or an unexplained departure, can lead to distrust. They may not need every detail, but denying the truth about their other parent’s substance abuse issues could lead to resentment for you. Be honest to a reasonable extent based on the age and understanding each child has, but avoid villainizing your mate.
It can be difficult to think rationally from the high emotional stress that comes with removing someone with a substance abuse problem from your daily life, but it is important to actively avoid putting your kids in the middle or making them choose a side. Seeking professional support for your family is an important step to minimize the emotional damage. Every member of the family will need care as they transition though the difficult realization that healing from substance abuse has become a greater priority for their loved one.
Start With An Intervention
It is likely that you feel like any of the ultimatums you have already given to your partner should have worked to make them stop abusing their substance of choice. It’s easy to believe that the pain they have inflicted on you and your children should surely have been enough to convince them to seek treatment. The sad reality is that with full-blown addiction, it is often not, and previous patterns of behavior may make your threats and their promises an empty cycle of words.
Working with a professionally-trained interventionist can help you navigate ways to approach your loved one without engaging in this same endless cycle of blame. They can help you determine how to approach your partner in a way that won’t further alienate them, but will be assertive enough to let them know you are serious this time. It will also prepare you and your family for your partner’s possible rejection of treatment options. Part of this process is learning how to determine what real consequences should exist, and ways to follow through on them if that happens. Professional interventions also include preparing treatment plans for the whole family, since the impact of addiction is not solely on the person with the substance abuse problem.
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Address Legal Implications
When addiction results in an involuntary intervention, especially one with serious legal or financial consequences such as job loss, divorce, or incarceration, it is important to protect yourself and your children from the fallout. Even if you aren’t emotionally ready for divorce, seeking appropriate legal advice to protect your family members and assets is important. It is also critical to seek guidance from legal counsel as well as an addiction specialist to ensure you are prepared for however your partner responds to your decisions and actions.
Filing for custody arrangements, visitation parameters, and support obligations (if necessary) will maximize your parental rights while limiting your partner’s for as long as a court deems them unfit to care for your children alone or full time. If the other parent is deemed unfit, it is also critical to notify schools, daycares, and other caregivers of the current legal status of their visitation rights. It can be extremely difficult to share such personal matters with others, but the safety of your children could otherwise be at stake, especially if the children aren’t old enough to understand or be fully informed about the circumstances.
On the same note, it is critically important that no matter the status of your relationship with your partner, you continue to make every effort to help them have a positive relationship with your children. This includes respecting the parameters of their visitation rights, even if you don’t like or agree with them. Denying them their right to see their children can result in legal consequences for you, and further exacerbate the pain for your kids.
Facing separation or divorce is almost as emotionally taxing as the death of a loved one, because it signals the death of a relationship that was, at least at one time, important and meaningful to you. It can be extremely difficult to move on from the familiar into the unknown, even when the familiar is incredibly toxic. This is especially true when there continues to be hope that your partner will get treatment, and stay clean and sober.
Many single parents focus so much on protecting their children and maintaining hope of their partner’s recovery that it can be difficult to move on to something more positive. While jumping immediately into a new romantic relationship is not the answer, remember that your relationships provide an example of what love and mutual respect are supposed to look like for your children. It’s important not to linger forever in grief with the hope that your partner will eventually come around. Moving on for the sake of your children will show them that healthy relationships are possible, and codependency can and should be overcome, especially when the relationship is emotionally or otherwise abusive.
Deciding to end a relationship when children are involved, even temporarily, is not an easy thing to do. The stress is compounded when the reason is substance-abuse related. Likewise, if that person has abandoned the family in favor of their substance of choice, finding a way to move the family forward without that individual can be overwhelming.
It is important to avoid assigning blame, even though that is a natural emotional response. It has no value in resolving the problems your family faces due to your partner’s substance abuse. Instead, focus on the things you can control and change. Finding emotional support for your family is the first step, including a possible professional intervention for your partner.
Continued denial that there is a problem or refusal to seek treatment might mean that legal action is necessary in order to protect your family. Once the situation has resulted in permanent separation, moving the family forward means moving on from the loss of your partner. Building a new, positive relationship with someone will provide you the emotional support you have been missing, and demonstrate to your children that having a healthy relationship is possible.
- National Institute Of Health – Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children whose Parents Abuse Substances
- U.S. National Library of Medicine – Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy
- Washington and Lee University – Health and Behavioral Risks of Alcohol and Drug Use
- Mayo Clinic – Intervention: Help A Loved One Overcome Addiction
- LiveStrong.com – Child Custody & Loss of Parental Rights From Drug Abuse
- Psychology Today – Divorced with Kids: Boundaries for the Alcoholic/Addict Parent
- Parents.com – What Kids Learn from Your Marriage