Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.
Addictions come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most common and damaging addictions include substance abuse (in all its forms), pornography, and gambling. If left unchecked, these addictions have the power to destroy anything and everything you hold dear — your family, your career, your friends, your marriage, your future.
It's possible that addiction has, or at some point will, show its ugly face in your marriage. Dealing with addictions can be very challenging to all parties involved. But, despite how bad things may seem, there is always hope. Where there is a desire to change and be better, change is possible. While we certainly make no claim to be experts or have all the answers, we hope you find these tips useful as you help your spouse deal with, and overcome, an addiction.
1. Remember we all have flaws
The first step in helping your spouse is recognizing, or remembering, that no one is perfect. We know you thought they were perfect when you married them, but guess what — you were wrong. We're all human, we make mistakes, and we have flaws. We're a work in progress. Your spouse isn't perfect, and neither are you.
This may sound like a cop-out or a way to simply excuse your spouse's poor and inappropriate behavior — but it's not. There are no excuses. However, remembering your own imperfections will help put you in a state of mind to exercise genuine love and patience as you help your spouse change. Just as you would want someone else to do for you.
2. Identify the problem and seek help
Just like many serious illnesses, early detection and help can be the difference between success and failure — as well as the varying degrees of pain in between. It's far more difficult to break a bad habit once it's become entrenched as your way of life.
If you notice your spouse acting differently and you suspect something is wrong, then approach them in a loving and concerned way. Unfortunately, your "hunch" might be right. Ask them if something's wrong, or if they have fallen back into bad habits. There are many signs to watch out for depending on the specific addiction — but that's a topic for another day. What's important here is that if your gut tells you something is wrong, don't simply ignore it. Approach the topic with your spouse rather than waiting for it to turn into a big ugly monster that could destroy your marriage.
One of the keys to successfully tackling an addiction is to form a team and tackle it together. Don't let your best friend and spouse try to fight this monster all by themselves and without help. They need you!
Set goals together, put a plan in place, and have them report to you on a regular basis. They need to feel completely comfortable talking to you, without feeling judged or belittled (certainly, there may be circumstances where that's not easy, or even possible). It's much more likely that they will break their poor habits and experience real and lasting progress if there is accountability to someone other than themselves. Don't be afraid to ask hard questions.
Your spouse's addiction is likely a very sensitive topic, so be the friend they can turn to in confidence and trust. Be the friend and spouse you would want if you were in their shoes dealing with a seemingly impossible task. And don't give up. Despite any setbacks you may experience, never give up!
4. Remove the temptation
We once heard someone very wise say, "It's far easier to avoid temptation than to resist it." How true that is. Help your spouse recognize when they are weakest and most vulnerable to their vice. Then, arm them with the tools they'll need to avoid those situations.
If there's a problem with alcohol, then remove it from your house and expect your spouse to come home right after work. If there's a problem with pornography, then use filters on computers, phones, and tablets. Put a password, that only you know, on devices, and keep computers in higher traffic areas. If there's a problem with gambling, then carefully track spending and put stop-limits in place.
This is all easier said than done. At the end of the day, it's nearly impossible to completely avoid or remove all temptation. The only kind of control that really works is not external, but rather, internal. Self-control. But there are certainly steps we can take along the way to make things easier.
5. Be a source of encouragement and support
Dealing with an addiction can kill a person's self-esteem. And low self-esteem makes fighting that addiction much more difficult. So, be a source of encouragement and support. Let your spouse know that you believe in them, that you love them, and that you will do whatever you can to help them. This doesn't remove their personal responsibility to make better choices, but rather empowers them. As they feel your love, they will want to be better for you — and that can be a very motivating power.
Many of these suggestions cannot be done unilaterally. You cannot fix the problem for your spouse — and you shouldn't feel guilty for their mistakes. But, when there is a real desire to change, you can work as a team and conquer this challenge together.
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.