As your spouse drowns themselves in alcohol or drugs, all your instincts may be urging you to scream at them. You just want to grab their shoulders and shake them until they realize what their addiction has done to you and your family.
Anyone who has struggled with an addicted spouse can certainly empathize, but this response will only push your loved one further away. Your spouse didn’t start drinking or using drugs to destroy the life you’ve built together. They’re battling a disease that they need your help to overcome.
Fortunately, active listening can be a useful strategy to better connect with your spouse during this time and get them into the treatment they so badly need.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is the process of hearing out what another person is saying to you and fully paying attention to the conversation. In conversations where you aren’t actively listening, you may forget what the person speaking is saying or tune them out entirely because you’re preoccupied with your own thoughts and feelings.
When you’re practicing active listening with your spouse, you’re paying attention to each word they’re saying, not interrupting and responding in ways that draw out additional details that they haven’t shared before.
Active Listening Tips When Talking to Your Addicted Spouse
Of course, active listening is a major challenge when you’re overwhelmed with your own heartache over how your loved one’s addiction has rocked your life. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks that can make this process easier and help your spouse be more open to the idea of rehab.
- Provide Verbal Affirmation. When your spouse is talking to you about their addiction, use verbal affirmations like “I see” or “Sure”. Responding to your loved one from time to time will help them know that you’re listening and paying attention to what they’re saying.
- Leverage Nonverbal Cues. Beyond verbal affirmation, make sure you’re making eye contact with your spouse, nodding and leaning towards them as they’re talking. Nonverbal cues like these show your spouse that you’re engaged in what they’re saying. These nonverbal cues combined with your verbal affirmations can help your loved one feel more comfortable and at ease while talking to you.
- Take Notes. Discussing your loved one’s addiction is an important matter and you want to show your spouse that you’re taking it seriously. If taking notes helps you concentrate, do it. Just let your loved one know that your note taking is a way for you to remember everything they’re telling you.
- Seek Clarification with Open-Ended Questions. If you haven’t struggled with addiction yourself, it can be difficult to understand what your spouse is going through. If they’re defensive or angry with you, it’s only because they are devastated inside. Being patient with them and asking open-ended questions gives back some of the power and control they may feel they’ve lost in their life, since they won’t feel pressured to give you a specific answer.
- Don’t Interrupt or Respond Negatively. Remember that this conversation isn’t about you, no matter how upset you are. You also don’t want to snap at your spouse, yell at them or blame them for their addiction. Instead, do your best to be understanding and empathetic. These positive reactions will put your spouse at ease, build up their confidence and help them see that you still have faith in them.
- Limit or Eliminate Distractions Entirely. When talking with your spouse, get them into a room or location where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off your cell phone and limit the number of items inside and outside the room that would pull your attention from the conversation. Your spouse deserves your undivided attention while talking about their addiction.
- Don’t Prepare Rebuttals. Your conversation with your loved one shouldn’t be about blame, guilt or making them feel ashamed for what they’ve done while drunk or high. Remember that your main goal is to listen, and don’t bring up any counterpoints or debates. Do your best to avoid hurtful rebuttals, as they will put your loved one on the defensive and keep them from talking to you further about their substance abuse.
Get Addiction and Mental Health Support at The Raleigh House
At The Raleigh House, we know how difficult talking to your loved one about their substance abuse can be. That’s why we offer addiction interventionists who can help you communicate with your spouse and encourage them to seek rehab if talking to them on your own doesn’t work.
When your spouse comes to The Raleigh House, they’ll experience an evidence-based treatment approach that will get the alcohol or drugs out of their system and help them learn how to live life again without substance abuse. Contact our expert team today to learn more about our treatment approach and to find out how to get your loved one started.