Relationship Roles When You Love Someone Suffering From Addiction

Relationship Roles When You Love Someone Suffering From Addiction

Today we’re going to talk about the way you view your relationship with your partner. We all take on relationship roles, and addiction plays a part in this too. There are healthy roles to take on in the relationship as well as unhealthy ones.

Listen to the podcast episode here: 

Read the transcript + find more details here: 

Here’s what I mean by that: I’ve said in the past that there are three ‘people’ in the relationship. There’s you, there’s your partner, then there is their addiction. 

I consider addiction to be a third party in the relationship.

A separate entity. When I was married to my ex-husband, thinking of his addiction as a third party was helpful for me. 

It allowed me to find compassion and empathy for him. I could think of him, the man I fell in love with, without the addiction. When I separate the two, I can think about who I fell in love with in the first place. 

It helped me remember that I’m not going crazy. It reminded me that I was staying with him because I loved him. 

It helped me remember why I was staying with someone who was hurting me on such a deep and painful level. 

So there’s three of you in this relationship. 

Now the first thing I want to talk about is a triangle. Picture three separate entities in a triangle. Now the triangle represents your relationship. 

Your partner would be on one point of the triangle and they would be considered the hero. Because it really truly does take a hero in order to get addiction under control. In order to constantly choose day in, day out for the rest of their life to stay sober. That’s hero material in your book because that is not easy and it takes total commitment, total focus, and amazing fortitude. 

Relationship role: You’re the victim.

So your partner on one point of the triangle is the hero. Now, you in a healthy model relationship, are on the other point of the triangle and you have been the victim. 

Now when I use the word victim, I’m not saying you are helpless. I’m not saying you are a martyr, but clearly you went into a relationship looking for something healthy, healing, and loving. We explore this topic extensively in Love Over Addiction.

You were looking for a place where you felt safe, where you thought the person you were marrying was going to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time where you wanted to find somebody to grow old with and you didn’t get that. 

You got something very different from what you signed up for typically. 

In typical relationships, you probably don’t get a lot of manipulation, a lot of trickery, a lot of lies, a lot of deception, a lot of you know, money being spent on this addiction, right? 

So you are the victim in this healthy relationship model. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have responsibility to help yourself, okay? 

It doesn’t mean that you just have to sit around and wait for them to get sober so you can feel better. That’s not what we subscribe to in our community. 

But it does mean that loving somebody with this disease is tough. It is harder than you know. Loving someone for the rest of their lives is tough, period. 

Then you add on addiction and you are really asking for a lot of struggles.

So you are the victim. Make no mistake about it. 

And then that third and final point in the triangle is addiction. And addiction is the villain. Addiction is the mean guy in the movie that tries to tear everything apart. Who is evil, awful, and hurtful. The villain’s whole purpose is to destroy anyone that comes in its path. 

So you have the hero, the victim, and the villain. This isn’t every relationship model because every relationship doesn’t have addiction. 

Here’s the key to this healthy relationship model: Everybody takes accountability and ownership for their role and can clearly identify the other points in the triangle. 

So everybody agrees. Now let me clarify that. We’re going to start talking about the other two relationship models that are unhealthy. So in an unhealthy relationship, typically this triangle is the way you view the relationship. 

So the triangle I just described is healthy.

Everyone sees their roles clearly and takes accountability and responsibility for their roles. 

This next relationship model is typically how you would map out your relationship if it’s unhealthy. In this example, you would be the hero point of the triangle. And that means that you’re playing a role that you shouldn’t be playing. 

Relationship Role: You’re the hero.

You’re trying to come in like a good movie star and save the day. You’re driving your loved one to their AA meetings. You’ve taken it on as your job or responsibility to prove they have a problem and/or get them help. 

You may be nagging or making suggestions on ways that they can get sober forever. And listen, it’s possible you’re keeping a log of their sober days, how much they’re drinking or using, or when they’re lying to you. 

In this model, you’ve put yourself in the hero point, your loved one is the victim, and you’re trying to save them from the villain, which is addiction. 

So even in this unhealthy model, addiction is still the villain. 

As the hero, you viewed the addiction very much as your villain trying to tear your relationship apart. It’s ruining the person that you loved. It’s causing your family so much pain. 

And in the third point of the triangle, your partner is now the victim. They are helpless. They don’t know how to get sober forever. Life is too difficult for them to stop drinking or using drugs. 

They feel trapped. They feel helpless. You know that they can be very manipulative in their role. A victim means telling you that it’s your fault they have a problem. Or you’re the one causing them to drink or use. 

A victim mentality means that they’re not taking responsibility, but instead blaming external factors for their choices. 

Oftentimes in this type of triangle, we’re the ones being forced to play the hero because they’ve already claimed the victim role. To be clear, there’s a difference between being in the victim role and having a victim mentality or mindset. 

Two victims in relationships usually don’t attract one another. Even in relationships without addiction involved, a victim will attract a hero and a hero will attract a victim. 

And being in the hero role can pay off for us, right?

I got caught up in that role when I was with my ex-husband. I thought that I could fix everything and I’d be proud of saving my family and the man I loved. 

The hero role can imply that we get to be the bigger and better person. We get to be the ones doing everything right, doing everything that we’re supposed to. 

Now there’s a final option and this is the third triangle. I want you to ask yourself in your relationship, which triangle do you identify with the most? 

This third triangle is actually very common. It’s unhealthy, but it’s typically the way your partner would view the triangle. 

The villain in the relationship is you. So your partner often thinks you’re the villain because you’re the one that’s no fun. 

Relationship Role: You’re the villain. 

They view you as the one who’s holding them back from living the life that they just want to live. 

You may hear them say things like, “Get off my back, or leave me alone, or I’m fine.” 

“I just want to go out to the bar with friends and drink. It’s none of your business. You’re nagging me. You’re always annoying me.” 

This is when you’re the villain in their eyes. And addiction is the hero because addiction is their escape. It’s their fun. It’s their avoidance, it’s their coping mechanism. 

They use addiction in order to avoid feeling the trauma and the pain from their past. 

It’s always been their escape route. When they feel rejected, that’s where they run to. 

They view addiction as their hero, as their saving grace and you’re just the naggy nag who goes around counting the bottles and begging them to stop. 

So in this uneahlthy model, they’re still the victim. They’re caught in this helpless position where ‘they don’t really have a problem’ and you’re the one stopping all the ‘fun.’

These are the three relationship models that we sometimes play into in our relationships. 

Which one can you relate to the most right now? 

Because here’s the thing, you and your relationship will probably work their way through all three of these models over time. 

I encourage you to find a quiet space to think, write, breathe, and journal about where you think you are today. 

And things that you can do to improve the way you’re feeling, no matter what your partner chooses to do.

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.

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