Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have been in a relationship now for four years. For the four years we have been together, I have been dealing with his constant alcohol usage, smoking, and other substances. I feel that I am stuck. I always give second chances, although at this point it’s more like the 50th chance.
It is always the same story and he gets extremely defensive when I come up with a way to resolve or at least make an attempt to resolve the situation. I find myself searching for someone to speak to in hopes that he will come around and agree to speak to someone.
If he is willing to go to therapy, is it required that I attend therapy with him at first or could I attend on my own? Hope I receive a response as soon as possible. Thank you in advance.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Thank you for reaching out. I understand why you are trying to come with ways to resolve your partner’s substance abuse problem. I’m sure it takes a toll on you, your relationship, and your everyday life. However, at this point, his substance abuse problem seems to matter more to you than it does to him. As long as you are the one carrying the problem, he has less of a need to change. He has a chance to move away from his defensive stance once you refrain from your attempts to get him to change.
It is possible that this is a familiar experience for you. Have you had earlier situations in your life where you or others were stepping in to pick up responsibilities that belonged to someone who was absorbed by their own problems or addictions? Your current relationship provides you an opportunity to heal and to grow through these past and present situations.
One powerful action you can take to shift the dynamic here is to stop caring more than he does about his substance abuse. The first step is to refrain from trying to control or fix his problems. As you have discovered, after 50+ “chances”, trying to get someone else to change is a no-win situation. The more you allow him the space to be responsible for his own decisions and actions, the more he has an opportunity to choose to engage in his own healing process. Alanon or Co-dependency meetings can extremely helpful to you in this regard. I also recommend books by Sharon Wegsheider-Cruise (“Choice Making, and Learning to Love Yourself”) and Melody Beattie (“Beyond Co-dependency”).
You ask if you could attend therapy on your own. This sounds like the most appropriate course of action here, as you are the one who is willing to engage in a change process at this time.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2020 Chaitanya Counseling Services