Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


If you or your spouse in the past month have taken a drink first thing in the morning to help you recover from a hangover you may be dealing with an addiction problem. There are other possible symptoms, as well. For instance, as the person with the addiction you may gotten home from the party in one piece after drinking, and even though you went up on the lawn a bit, you were able to park the car and get into the house.

But if you don’t know how that scratch on the rear bumper got there, you are showing addiction symptoms, and you can tell yourself ‘It must have been someone else that did that’ you this is part of your denial. Maybe you say, “What’s the big deal, almost all of my friends are serious drinkers. They drink way more than I ever do.” “I don’t drink too much.” Such rationalizations are also indicative of a problem. Most people with an alcohol problem know exactly how much you drink each night, although they usually low ball the number. They’ll even tell you “ it’s not even the hard stuff, it’s only wine or a couple of beers.” And if your wife or husband complains about it, you write it off as just so much nagging.

If any of this is familiar or if you or someone close to you thinks you have a problem with alcohol, or with drugs, it is most likely you do. If you have a loved one who has this problem you can and need to get help; do not ignore it. Substance abuse and addiction does not disappear; rather it only gets worse when left untreated.  Substance abuse, which includes alcohol addiction, is a major problem in the United States, and it is a major source of marital breakups and family problems. It affects all the members of the family, not just the one abusing drugs or alcohol.

An individual with alcohol and/or other substance addictions has a distorted sense of reality. They will justify hiding their addiction from family and friends. They might even explain that they do so only because of their marital partner – this other person who makes life so difficult – or because they have a stressful job or their children are such problems.

When their problem worsens – and it will -they will tell you the police were unjustified when they got the DUI or that this really was just a one-time fluke or incident. Even when they begin to have black outs – memory lapses – due to the intoxication they are able to deny this to you and to themselves.

In addition to the person with the addiction, there is often a spouse who suffers from co-dependency. One of many definitions of codependency is a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress. As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. And the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship, which does not work. Their own unique “recovery” come when the codependent partner addresses their own needs or desires; instead of the old pattern of setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment. This may be a minor or more serious problem to address. Often it is this partner that brings the important work within the relationship by first addressing his or her own need for assertiveness, listening and communication skills. Counseling can help you become more aware of non-helpful actions/behaviors, and work with you on developing new, healthier coping skills.

The denial is a family problem, often including the spouse as well. They do things like cover for their partner, make excuses, call in to his job and say he/she is sick when it is a hangover. They will overlook the fender bender accident. Most of all they tolerate the lack of physical and emotional unavailability from their spouse present due to their “affair” with drugs and/or alcohol.

Alcoholics Anonymous, known as A.A., and all the other 12-Step Programs that are available throughout the country are a great source to you and your spouse. There are meetings morning, noon and night. Individuals get the support of a sponsor – someone who has gone through the process of recovery and lives their life fully. These people are models of living a life of sobriety. For the spouse of someone with an addiction, as well as for their children, there are Alanon and Narconon meetings. These programs are for those who live with and love a person with addictions. They support and encourage, as well as, find recovery from all those ways the spouse may have been inadvertently enabling the addicted person.

Sexual addiction is another addiction that needs to be addresses. With the emergence of the Internet sexual addiction has grown into an even greater problem.  Sexual addictions can take many forms, ranging from masturbation to pornographic magazine and videos, to infidelity such as having affairs or paying for sex. It may be even as pathological as breaking into apartments and raping unsuspecting residents. This stage of sexual addiction requires major intervention and usually results in criminal interventions as well. But for other range of sexual addiction, the one thing all have in common is that need for sex is more important than the feelings are more important than their spouse.

Addictions are often ruinous to a marriage, but only if they are allowed to continue uninterrupted.  They need to be seen as compulsive behaviors that are usually fueled by deeply seated anger or fear of intimacy. You might be married to a person who was shamed in their early childhood. They might have had poor or no sexual education, experienced a parent that sexually acted out, or had serious childhood trauma. They may be a victim of incest or sexual abuse. Must often-sexual acting out in these compulsive ways, as well as other addictions, are indicative of emotional pain, and also used as a substitute for true intimacy.

Treatment often takes the form of individual, marital and group therapy combined. There are key tasks for recovery that includes, first and foremost, breaking through the denial. Sometimes this requires that the spouse first break his or her own denial and also learns about the addiction process, and how one can and does go about establishing sobriety. Then it is a matter of getting the one with the addiction to enter into a treatment plan. For many AA or NA can be an effective solution. For others it can be the starting point and be an adjunct for other things as well, such as therapy.

Sometimes it is necessary to create an intervention. This is a well-prepared and pre-planned meeting with a professional counselor, family, friends and even work related people who meet with the addicted person and confront their addiction, as well as, the consequences that their addicted behaviors are having on family, friends and work place. They usually have a pre-arranged treatment plan that may include an initial hospital-type phase – either as an in-patient or outpatient as an important part of the addicted person’s treatment. This may be the necessary option for those who have serious drug or alcohol dependency problems and who need a detoxification first step.  Professionals who do these can provide you with more information. After this initial phase of treatment where the denial is broken through, then it is a matter of establishing sobriety and creating a healthier environment to support such a sobriety for the addicted person and his or her family. This phase is not easy either, there may be setbacks, and early on in the part of the treatment the 12-step programs often prove to be invaluable.

Couple therapy is also an essential part of recovery. A spouse may not be able to recognize the need for his or her involvement, but recovery is much more successful when two the spouses are involved. If both spouses get involved in couple work, and the addicted person attends AA, and the spouse possibly attends Alanon meeting, the marital relationship is more likely able to stabilize and the couple is able to work through the trauma they experienced from the addicted partner’s behaviors.  There are also Retrouvaille weekends, a program for married couples that are hurting. It is not specifically for addictions, but it does assist any couple that has experienced a major disillusionment.

With addictions comes the need for reconciliation and forgiveness for what damage the addiction has caused in the marriage. With help, hard work, and often the right kind of support, the couple is able to find their way to heal their marriage and create a new and healthier marital life – something they could not have imagined while in the midst of their crisis. With time, patients and persistence the couple is eventually able to restore trust in the relationship – and build a new/renewed level of intimacy, both non-sexually and sexually, and thus restore their marriage. By moving beyond the initial denial and by doing each step of the work required that comes in the discovery of life of sobriety, any couple can find that their marriage is a place of spiritual growth and on-going healing.

National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists

Retrouvaille 1-800-470-2230


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