Updated: May 7, 2021
I came across a situation this week where a couple is struggling with one partner’s alcohol addiction. I thought it would be useful to write some pointers on how to choose the correct therapist when they have addiction as part of their relationship issues. This is something we see commonly in our gay couples counseling clinics.
On the initial phone call with the potential therapist, ask these questions:
1. “How can couples therapy help my partner stop drinking/drugging?”
Wrong answer: “Well, honestly, individual therapy (or meetings, or some other treatment) is the only thing that’s really going to get him to stop.
Right answer: “You are as much involved in his addiction as he is. The goal is for the two of you to establish your roles and responsibilities regarding addiction recovery. Behavioral couples therapy has been research-proven to facilitate that, even better than individual therapy or meetings. There’s nothing wrong with individual therapy or meetings, but behavioral couples therapy can sometimes have even better outcomes."
2. “We argue when there are relapses. How can you help us?”
Wrong answer: “My goal is to get him to really listen to you so that you feel heard. He needs to understand that his addiction is a problem for you.” This answer is wrong because it immediately sets up an adversarial relationship between you and your partner. You already have this! You don’t need a therapist to make that worse!
Right answer: “I’m going to give you tools that help BOTH of you control how your arguments go. It will help you avoid criticism in either direction. It will help avoid defensiveness from either of you. Once you know how to control the *how* the argument happens, you’ll find that you both feel like a team, even though you’re arguing.” In this answer the adversarial piece is gone.
3. “Do you think my partner will need medication?”
Wrong answer: “I’m totally against medication. He won’t need it, usually.” OR, “Yes, he’ll need it, no question about it.” This just isn’t true, based on the research.
Right answer: “That’s a question best answered by him and his doctor. The goal in the couples therapy, though, is for you two to have a normal conversation about medication that doesn’t put either of you on the defensive. We find that when couples can do this, and feel like they’re on the same team, they can make lots of decisions easily."
Our staff actually enjoys seeing addicted couples. If you liked this article let me know, and I’ll put some more questions/answers up. - Gay Couples Institute Staff