How to cope with a very rough rough patch in marriage?
January 27, 2018 1:31 AM   Subscribe

My marriage seems to be crumbling (or at the very least, has hit a doozy of a rough patch), and I am not sure what I should be doing, or how to cope with everything that is happening.

My spouse is extremely unhappy, with just about everything. They are unhappy with their employment, they feel that they are unable to make social connections, they are finding their household and social obligations (there is resentment here that most of the social activities they take part in are planned by/through me) overwhelming, and we have a very mismatched libido (they have a higher drive than I do, and they also gravitate to extreme experiences, whereas I am more vanilla). For the last year - 18 months, spouse has been largely self-medicating, and has developed a substance abuse problem -- starting with weed and hallucinogens, and now is in a cycle of using (not illegal, but not doctor-prescribed) stimulants and sedatives. This is disrupting their sleep patterns, and now is to the point where they are missing work. Spouse has gone through a few rounds of therapy, but is not currently in treatment. In addition to this, they have been regularly contacting online sex workers, which they know I feel is infidelity.

Our relationship is now to the point where we can barely have a conversation that doesn't involve discussing our problems, and how unhappy he is. We have tried some exercises from self-help books, and while they will generate some improvements, they don't stick, and spouse falls into the same cycle of "spouse being overwhelmed -> spousal drug abuse -> emotional outburst of both parties -> apologies and temporary patch"

I am having a lot of trouble with staying supportive and loving and caring, and not sinking into worry, nagging, and judgement. My spouse has expressed that they feel that I am too critical, and not everything is caused by them, and that I need to make changes too. I see how they feel that way (I am certainly not perfect!), yet at the same time, I am not the one who's changed drastically in the last few years. I am exhausted from keeping up with everything that's going on. Because of all of this, I am withdrawing, and I don't believe that that is helpful. I want to "lean in", and change things for the better, and rebuild a marriage that is a welcoming, loving sanctuary.

One more wrench to throw into this, is that for this particular issue, I do not have a support structure. Because my spouse's substance uses are not public information, I do not feel comfortable discussing any of this with my close friends or family, which is normally who I would go to for advice/comfort.

I have a call in to schedule an appointment with a therapist (just for myself, spouse is reluctant to do couples therapy right now), and have started reading Nar-Anon materials, which are helpful. What else can I do in the meantime to regain some sort of intimacy and closeness? Or, how can I best help without being an enabler? Any day-to-day strategies for coping without withdrawing are also welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest, "I need a break from discussing our problems right now, but I love you. Would you like to do fun activity x with me?"

When discussing problems, "I know this is hard for you. I'm sorry you're going through this. I'm going to a counselor for ideas. I hope things get better for you."

When they want sex and you don't, would you be comfortable with doing a different physical activity, such as cuddling with them?
posted by Eevee at 3:08 AM on January 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know that you want to rebuild and change things for the better, but I would gently suggest that this isn't actually a choice that you get to make. It has to be something that you both want, and that you're both willing to work towards, and it doesn't sound like that's something that your spouse is willing to commit to right now. It sounds like when you bring things up, they're defensive and deflect blame to you, saying that you're both at fault, that you have to change, too, and that they can't help their behavior, they're just so unhappy.

This, bluntly, is bullshit. I'm sorry to say it because I've been where you are, almost to the letter, and it's misery that I wouldn't wish on anyone. But you can't fix this on your own.

So how do you cope, day to day? First, build your support network. I know that you're not comfortable talking to your close friends about it, but you owe it to yourself to find *someone* to talk to about this. Let go of the idea that you're helping your spouse by keeping this a secret. Second, start taking notes. Write it down when your conversations go sidewise. Write it down when you know they're seeing sex workers. Write it all down, and keep it safe. I started doing this, and was genuinely shocked by how bad things were, and how little of that badness I was retaining on a day to day basis. Our brains do weird things in the name of self protection, and a common thing is just...not forming the memory. Third, make contingency plans. What do you do if they lose their job? What do you do if they start meeting sex workers in person? Because these behaviors are going to escalate until your partner--not you--decides that they want to change, and that they want to lean in and rebuild your marriage as a sanctuary.

Be as kind to yourself as you can, because realistically, all that you can do is wait--or decide that you're done waiting and ready to leave.
posted by mishafletch at 4:38 AM on January 27, 2018 [43 favorites]

Honestly, I think staying IS enabling. They are cheating, using drugs, blaming you for their problems, and refusing to seek help. They have rationalised that you staying is giving them permission to continue making things worse, I think living day to day in this awful situation is also eroding your sense of what is normal/acceptable. If you met this person today, as they are now, would you agree to marry them? Seek legal and financial advice, just so you know your options and move out temporarily to give you some breathing room to make choices for you.

Please get a therapist and share your pain with friends and family you trust. Hiding your spouse's behaviour has not helped the situation but the cold light of day probably will. Unfortunately, with someone in such a self-destructive spiral, you can't really do much more than to remove yourself from the situation and assert very strong boundaries (as in, you will not entertain discussions of moving back in until there has been a year of no drug use and infidelity that you are sure of because they have been completely transparent).

They don't have the ability to have a healthy relationship and you can't fix the relationship for both of you. Being grounded and sure in yourself, from a safe distance, is really your only hope. I wish you courage and strength,this is hard, but you will get through it.
posted by saucysault at 5:15 AM on January 27, 2018 [29 favorites]

You are not obligated to keep your spouse's substance abuse problems and infidelity secret from your support network.
posted by bq at 5:56 AM on January 27, 2018 [45 favorites]

The best way to get through this unbearably rough patch might be to separate.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 AM on January 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

SMART Recovery

Programs for both a substance user and the family members.

Just focus on the family program now. It is free, online and can complement Nar-Anon.
Will help you set up and maintain your self care and bolster your skimpy support system.
You need to come first, that will help you be in the best possible position to help them.
posted by egk at 6:10 AM on January 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

It would be excellent to have a marriage that is a warm, loving sanctuary. It is loving of you to want to support your spouse who is clearly having a significant struggle.

I will add my voice to the sad chorus that one can wish and try and do every single thing within their power to create a warm and loving marriage, but it really just cannot be done by one person.

I think the fundamental question, the one that is so painful that you may not be able to look at it directly is: In what ways is your spouse loving to you, in your marriage? In what ways is your spouse showing care and concern toward you, the way you are toward them?

I would guess (I certainly hope) there are some ways that your spouse demonstrates love and care for you. Those aren't reflected in your writings. It sounds like that's lacking in the major aspects of partnership: money, house responsibilities, sex, socializing.

You get to decide the treatment you tolerate. It is absolutely OK to have limits about this--that is what healthy boundaries are about. It is absolutely OK to have limits, in an adult partnership, to how much you are willing to give, if you are not receiving in return. If your spouse really can't handle the idea that you get to draw the line and say, hey, I want some reciprocity here, I want some care and love too--if that gets interpreted as an attack and further reason to fault you--I think you have your answer about the sanctuary concept.

I know how painful that is to face. I'm sorry.
posted by Sublimity at 6:27 AM on January 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

First, I'm sorry you are going through this.

Second, you're not going through this alone. This sort of circumstance has been ripping through the lives of some of my friends: a dearheart of mine described it as "He wants the rewards that come with emotional labor, but without actually having to provide said emotional labor", and I think that seems to be a generalizable point that may also apply here.

You say that your spouse resents that most social activities are planned by you, but also they are unable to make social connections themselves: a kind of "I don't know how to do it, but I don't like that because I don't know how, you plan everything." I would wager hard money that part of the resentment is because you do not plan social activities that are exactly as your spouse would plan, if they were able to plan social activities.

Employment is a common problem because it is one that spouses can no longer mediate and emotional labor is expected to be performed. The person who is less ept at managing the social connections doesn't have the benefit of their partner there, and interpersonal conflicts often arise that they do not know how to manage.

"Unhappy about everything" is usually a depression symptom, but the fix for it - going to therapy and working through why they feel that way about their issues - doesn't seem to be one that they often want to try: it's a lot of work, and no one can do it for them, and they just want the problems to be solved without having to do the work to fix them.

Thus the drugs and 'extreme' sex experiences - they are things that force reactions regardless of how much work the person engaging in them puts in.

Your spouse knows they are missing work, they know that they are violating the terms of your relationship, and they can't be bothered to change because it is too much hard work to change for longer than a short period.

Unfortunately, and god, I wish there were another answer, you cannot either force your spouse to adult or make them stop feeling bad at the consequences of failing to, or resenting you for somehow, in some way, denying them the fun-filled live they feel they are owed. The only thing you can do is control your own reactions to these circumstances. If you aren't working, I would start working, as your spouse's employment is clearly unstable. If you are working, I would start reducing household expenses if possible such that you can more easily float your living situation solo.

You can bandaid this problem through controlling when your spouse goes to sleep, finding sleeping aids, getting them to work, etc, but it is very much going to be you managing the situation and not fixing it.

Memail me if you want to talk in more detail. My heart goes out to you forever.
posted by corb at 7:37 AM on January 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Hi. You're married to an active drug addict, and marriage to an active drug addict is awful. I know, I'm married to a drug addict. My addict is sober, and has been sober for a long time, which is great, and which is the basis of me being in a successful long-term marriage. Yours can't be successful right now, not under any circumstances, and not if you "lean in" or "lean out" or act strict or be super friendly and nonjudgemental or, or, or...anything. Because your spouse is an active drug addict.

You should start going to Al-Anon (it's for partners of drug addicts too, not just alcoholics). There are meetings everywhere. There are women's only meetings, men's meetings, day, night, midday, morning meetings. Every meeting is different. If you try one and don't like it, try another. Try going to a bunch of meetings. When they ask who's a newcomer, raise your hand. When they ask who has a pressing problem, raise your hand.

Al-Anon is a big step toward developing your support structure. Another will be when you get honest with the people closest to you about what's going on, and the fact that you're married to a drug addict. 'Cause that's not a story about him, it's a story about you and how your life is falling apart right now because you're married to a drug addict. You don't need to announce it on Facebook, but one day you're gonna be ready to tell whoever's most important to you -- maybe your mom, bestie, sister or whatever.

Sorry -- it sucks being married to an active drug addict. Luckily, some of them have the ability to get sober, and when they do, things can be great again.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2018 [16 favorites]

This is not something you can fix by doing more work or being nicer. If anything, it's time to recognize that the stakes here are getting incredibly high - he's on the verge of ending up in big life-altering trouble, the kind he might not survive. If he has any sort of insurance coverage, now is the time to get him into an inpatient or intensive outpatient program and documented as having a disability before he loses his job for his undocumented disability.

And you have to let your support network know you need support. Your own mental health is important. Your safety is important. You may need to leave in a hurry. You may need legal help in a hurry. Not preparing for the inevitable outcome here does not stop it from coming. Staying with him is not going to stop it, and leaving is not going to cause it. You're doing yourself (and him) no favors here by doing nothing. You must put your own mask on.

He's not just going to get better if you wait long enough.

If he doesn't want treatment, you need to double-pronto putting your mask on. Shit is about to get extremely real.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

It could be very helpful to attend a Nar-Anon or Al-anon meeting in person, in addition to reading the literature. Sharing and venting with people who know where you're coming from because they're in the same boat, can help *immeasurably.*
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been where you are. You can't be intimate with someone who lies (and I'm using "lies" here for all of the deceitful behavior.) So I would set that aside for now.

Second of all, and I don't say this lightly - you're wrong about withdrawing. That is exactly what you have to do. You keep going to work, and doing the things you enjoy doing, and when the urge comes up to text him to see where he is, or to yell at him for being all doped up, you do whatever you can to not engage. Sometimes you have to do it an hour at a time. "For this hour, I will not engage. After this hour is up, if I still want to get into it, I will."

Because you cannot fix this for him. No one ever wants to believe that but it's true. We all think we're different, that our love can somehow make them better, "if I would just make good dinners that he likes to eat and keep the house clean and...." but it can't and you can't.

Eventually I just kept on living my life. Whether or not he was there in the moment with me was up to him. If he was, I tried to be graceful. If he wasn't, I tried to accept that and move on.

Living with an active drug addict is, man, it's sad and infuriating and depressing and disgusting all at the same time. It's so, so hard. You should tell people. I was very wary of telling people what was going on, especially the people we both knew and loved. I didn't want them to judge him or me. Turns out I should have given the people in our lives way more credit, because quite literally to a person, they stepped up for both of us. Knowing they were in my corner but also supporting him was an enormous relief to me.

You'll find that everyone has different coping mechanisms. I actually didn't care for NarAnon. I used a website called Sober Recovery - they have lots of forums. BlaLaLa rightly points out that it can be great again. I would cautiously agree, but also would say that it's always there. We're ten years out and I still remember some of those days like they were yesterday.
posted by lyssabee at 11:44 AM on January 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you go to a meeting, you can freely disclose your spouse's substance use issues and talk about your shit without fear of judgement or repercussion. Nar-anon, Al-anon or CODA are probably all options for you depending what is available where you live.
posted by windykites at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Who said you can't talk to your support system about his addiction? Who made that rule? John Bradshaw talked about the Alcoholic No Talk Rule, that is part of the addictive situation. Winddykites has this right, find a group to talk. Hurry and get support.
posted by Oyéah at 8:08 PM on January 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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