Q: My spouse's substance abuse and drug addiction has had a devastating impact on our marriage and family. I feel as if I've just about reached the end of my rope. Help!
Jim: Perhaps it will encourage you to know that you're not alone. Drug abuse affects men and women from every age group, every socioeconomic class and all walks of life. In nearly every case it's rooted in the basic human craving for attachment and relationship. Addicts attempt to fill those gaps (real or perceived) and medicate the aching emptiness.
Because drugs and other addictive substances change the chemistry of the brain, addiction is something more than a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle. It's actually a physiologically based problem that can be extremely difficult to resolve. That's important to remember when seeking to help a loved one who has fallen prey to chemical dependency.
The good news is that effective help is available. I suggest that you and your spouse begin by seeking professional counseling -- and do this together. Generally speaking, weekly one-on-one counseling isn't sufficient to deal with an addiction of the intensity you've described. But a substance abuse counselor could be tremendously helpful in setting up an effective intervention and arranging a specific treatment option prior. The objective would be to persuade your spouse to agree to a program of in-patient treatment. Once this treatment is complete, the counselor could also participate in the follow-up plan.
For more specific guidance, I invite you to call our counseling department for a free consultation: 1-855-771-HELP (4357).
Also, you might consider contacting the Lighthouse Network (lighthousenetwork.org), a clearinghouse for substance abuse referrals. They can help you locate a facility in your area that will help your spouse take positive steps in the direction of recovery. They can also provide information about insurance companies who are prepared to work with these facilities.
Q: How do I tell my young children (ages eight, seven and four) that their grandparents -- my husband's mom and dad – are splitting up as a result of Grandpa's involvement with another woman? These grandparents live out of state, so we only see them every few months. How do we explain that Grandma and Grandpa won't be together anymore?
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting & Youth: Children at this age don't have the capacity to understand the complexities of sexual infidelities and marital affairs. So, it would be wise to avoid getting into details except on a need-to-know basis. Here are a few tips:
-- Keep your comments as calm, genuine and generic as possible. For example, "Grandpa made some poor decisions that are hurtful to Grandma's feelings and their marriage."
-- Be honest with your children about how you as adults feel about what has happened -- but avoid throwing grown-up feelings onto the kids. Don't make your problem into the child's problem. Instead, say something like: "I feel ____, and this is what I'm doing about it."
-- Talk about coping with change without necessarily liking it. Emphasize that while you can't control Grandpa or "fix" the problems his decision has caused for the family, you can still love him, keep up your relationship with both grandparents and adjust to new patterns of staying in touch.
-- Use this tough situation to discuss the ripple effect -- how the decisions we make in our lives often affect other people in ways we might not have imagined.
-- Finally, patiently let your children express their emotions and confusion. Younger kids especially want to know how this affects their own lives -- it's not selfish, just how the brain works developmentally at that age. Keep in mind that kids' feelings often reflect their parents' emotions but are expressed in the child's unique way behaviorally.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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