CNM 034: Navigating Marriage With An Addict – with Janine

Listen via Stitcher

In this episode, I interview Janine, who is a licensed counselor and has personal experience navigating a marriage that involved addiction, a child, a house, and a business partnership, and her decision to ultimately separate from that marriage. We’ll discuss all the considerations she needed to think about while making that decision.

I know this will be useful to many of you because I get notes from quite a few of you who are in a similar position.

So here’s my interview with Janine…

Interview on Navigating Marriage with an Addict – with Janine

Brian: I’d like to first say welcome to the show, Janine.

Janine: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

Brian: Absolutely. I wanted to bring you on the show to talk about a specific question that I get from time to time, and it’s a really hard question to answer. You have personal experience with it and you also help others with this sort of situation, so I wanted to get your feedback on this.

It’s all around being in a marriage with an addict (or an abusive person) and trying to navigate what do, because maybe there are children in the picture or maybe you’re financially dependent on the person. It’s a very difficult situation to be in. We’re looking for some advice from you on that topic.

So since you have been in that position the first thing that I want to ask you is…

Question: How did you react when you first realized that your ex had a problem with substances?

Janine: Well, it’s kind of a long story with us. We met when we were pretty young. I’m going to be 37 now. We met when I was 21. And when I look back on that time there were so many things that I would consider to be major red flags now. But at the time I was young and I still hadn’t really done any work for myself. I wasn’t aware of my own issues with men and love so I pushed a lot of it aside. I knew he had a problem from the very beginning with drugs, but over time it got progressively worse and worse as we were together.

Question: Since you knew he had a problem, when you found yourself in an uncomfortable situation because of that, how did you typically handle that at first?

Janine: In a kind of crazy way. It’s all really chaotic when I when I think back on it. I would see signs of the drug abuse and we would argue a lot. I remember a lot of times knowing that he was high on whatever and being really angry with him for acting the way that he was acting. But we would just argue about it. We were constantly fighting during that time.

Question: Did it (fighting) seem to get you anywhere?

Janine: No, it didn’t get me anywhere. There was a lot of, “Why are you doing this? Why do you keep doing this? You know that I hate it.” A lot of blame going on, but I didn’t do much of anything for myself to get out of the situation.

Question: Did you go through any period where you tried to fix him or try to change what he was doing? If you did try to do that, how did it go?

Janine: Yeah. He became addicted to heroin early on in the relationship; I’d say about a year and a half or so into the relationship, and at that point we were living together. At first I tried to get him into rehabs with his family. We tried at least six or seven times with different rehabs and he would always leave. And eventually when it just was not going anywhere, we ended up breaking up.

I should have stayed away at that point when we were broken up for a little while. I went No Contact with him for a little while. But once I found out that he was sober and he was able to maintain his sobriety for a little bit, something just made me want to reach out to him again. And so the whole thing started back up, but now with him being sober.

Question: When he was sober, did you notice a difference in the quality of the relationship?

Janine: Well, in the beginning I noticed things were good and he was doing work in recovery. There were some bumps along the way with lying and things like that, but I pushed it aside thinking that this was just part of the process of getting clean and that these things would eventually go away or get better. What I realized after a few years is that when you’re dealing with an addict or a narcissistic person, the substance is just a small piece of the puzzle. There are so many personality traits that exist in people like this that took years to develop and they don’t just go away unless that person is willing to continue working on themselves.

Question: I’m curious – aside from the substances, what other things came along with it that you might be speaking about?

Janine: I’m talking more about the narcissistic traits. There was a lot of manipulation that went on emotionally; lots of guilt tripping and stuff like that, and a lot a lot of lying. We would be in a social setting for example, and I used to notice that he would just flat out lie about things that he did or said, or situations that happened. I would catch it and think to myself, ‘Oh, he must just be insecure, trying to make himself look better in this situation.’ But if someone’s going to lie about little things, they’re definitely going to lie about the big things as well. The false persona is common with addicts and with narcissists as well.

Question: How long did you put up with this behavior before you decided to leave? And what was the final straw that broke the camel’s back?

Janine: Is too long a good answer? Way too long. We were married for nine years but the relationship lasted about thirteen years.

I’m the type of person that wants to fix things. I wanted to try to make things work, so we went to couples therapy for a little while and tried to work on it that way. Well, he would lie in the therapy sessions, so that was ineffective. It would be a little bit better for a couple of weeks and then things would go back to the way they were.

As our relationship continued we opened a business together. We bought a house together. I got pregnant. So there were a lot of things that were now keeping me tied to this relationship that made me stay a lot longer than I should have.

Question: I think this is really the gold that we want to dig into here because a lot of people find themselves in the exact same situation. Now, you’ve got a child. Now, you’ve got reasons you’re going to be tied to him for a long time, and yet it’s not going well. So, what sort of things did you consider when you were figuring out what you needed to do in terms of leaving versus trying to make it work? What was going through your mind?

Janine: Well, in the beginning what was going through my mind was that if I could really hear him and understand what he needed and why he did the things that he did, then I could meet him. In a partnership you meet a person halfway. I knew I was willing to change, but was he? I went back to that a lot, and eventually I realized he was not willing to change and these things continued to go on over the years. And the more they went on, the angrier I got; the more resentful I got.

His behavior started to escalate and change after we had our son. I distanced myself from him emotionally a lot. So, when I started thinking about how to get out of this, my first instinct was, ‘Well, maybe I just need to work on myself and learn how to deal and live with him because I can’t leave.’ That was the first step I took.

Once I started doing a lot of inner work, healing and learning to set boundaries for myself, he pushed back a lot against that and things continued to escalate, eventually to the point of being a deal-breaker. And at that point I had to leave.

Going back to your original question I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do about my business? How am I going to support myself financially?’ We had joint accounts. We had this house that the income from our business was supporting. Would I be able to do this on my own? What would happen to our son if the two of us split? Are we going to completely screw him up?

All kinds of things were going through my head and I was really conflicted for a long time.

Brian: Yeah. Well, there are a million questions I want to ask you.

Question: Backing up just a quick second – when you started to do the work and the healing and he pushed back on that, in your opinion was he not wanting you to heal because maybe subconsciously he knew that you would be no longer attracted to him? Or were you actually trying to set boundaries on him and he was resisting that? What exactly was he pushing back on?

Janine: The relationship for the most part revolved around him. It was his show. And so whatever he wanted to do, I walked on eggshells with it because if I had an opinion it was either dismissed or invalidated. He thought I was being crazy, or he just didn’t want to hear it. And that hurts, obviously. So in order to avoid that I would just distance myself and keep quiet. That was how the relationship went for a really long time.

When I started doing more of the inner work the boundaries started coming in. For example, there was a point in time when I found out that he was using steroids, and coming from the history that we had, drugs of any kind are a deal breaker for me. I knew I probably would not have confronted him about it in the past though because I knew he would have tried to justify it in some way.

But at this point I thought, ‘You know what. I’m not going to stay quiet about this because this is a big deal for me. And now we have a kid, and I’m seeing these changes in his behavior. He has this  false persona that he’s giving off to the public.’

That really pissed me off because behind closed doors he was doing steroids, so I confronted him about it and that was like a huge blowout. It was at that point that I realized this was not going to end well because I was starting to use my voice a lot more and he didn’t like it. We ended up becoming that couple that hates each other behind closed doors but puts on a smile to the public, as our relationship and business were very public.

Question: When you started setting those boundaries and you felt the resistance, it almost sounds to me, correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds to me like maybe that helped you make the decision to leave. Perhaps if he would have respected your boundaries, maybe you could have worked it out. But since he was resisting, did that help solidify your decision that you needed to go?

Yeah absolutely. Trust is huge for me, and it took a lot for me to feel that I could trust this person again. I felt completely betrayed when I found the steroids in our house, to have that just completely brushed aside. Yeah, it really did solidify for me that this was a relationship that I needed to get out of because morally we were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. And again, the work that I was doing on myself brought me to a point that I loved myself more than this relationship, and I wasn’t going to stay anymore. That was you know one of the things and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The second was these overt relationships that he was having with women in our business were really starting to get to me. I would confront him about it and he would deny it. Eventually our son started coming to me telling me that this one particular woman was around all of the time. At that point I said, “Either you work on this with me and we go back to therapy, or I’m done. You need to get out of the house.” And he left the house. He didn’t want to work on it.

It was a combination of those three things that were the deal breakers for me.

Question: Separating your lives from each other with a son in the mix was hard I’m sure. I know there are people out there right now listening that are feeling like they need to separate, but they can’t bring themselves to even think about how to do it or where to start. They don’t have income, they don’t have good family or friend connections because they’re a bit isolated. They’ve got children  they have to provide for. They don’t feel that their spouse is fit to care for the child. Were any of those things true for you?

Janine: It’s a really scary time. I was so terrified of what was going to happen and how I was going to live. But our situation is kind of unique, I guess, because I was part owner in this business, and so you know there was a sense of security through me. I knew I had fifty percent. I knew I was going to have income no matter what. I know that’s not the case for everybody. But despite that, I did reach out to a lawyer to consult with. That lawyer did family law.

They gave me a lot of really good advice in terms of, ‘You’re going to get alimony, you’re going to get child support. You have a home together, so here is a negotiation that has to go on with that. You’re going to be ok.’ So just reaching out to the lawyer and having that discussion in the very beginning really helped to give me the courage to continue to move forward with it.

Question: How about with respect to your son?

Janine: Yeah, you know, I have this one memory of when his dad and I were having a fight. And for the most part we would keep our fights to after he went to sleep at night. He didn’t really see us arguing much, but in the end it was really hard not to because there was so much resentment towards each other. We were arguing one day, and he started yelling for us to stop yelling and it really hit me. It was part of our discussion. My ex and I would say this is not good for him to see, and this is not the type of environment that we want him to grow up in.

Both of us come from intact households. Our parents on both sides had been married for over thirty years. So it was a big struggle for me to make that decision to split up the family unit. But when I think about it now, our kids learn so much about love and communication and relationships from us. I almost think it’s more damaging for a child to see their parents fighting in that way, or stay in a loveless marriage, than it is to have them happy and apart.

Question: Are you happy with how you’ve navigated the situation now? Do you have any regrets or things that you would have done differently now that you can look back?

I’m really happy with the way we’ve navigated this situation because despite all the differences we had, the one thing that we did agree on was that our son was the top priority. So, we ended up doing a collaborative divorce which is, I guess, unusual with a narcissistic individual. It worked, in my eyes, to my advantage because he already had another relationship going on. He was very easy and willing to get out of the house and start with his new relationship, so he worked with me.

We would go through the process and have meetings where there was a lot of back and forth about how we were going to split things. But again, we wanted to keep our son protected from all of the drama that goes on during the divorce process. What was great about this was that we had a psychologist on board with us. While we were navigating custody and child support, this psychologist was helping us to also work through how to co-parent.

I think the way we navigated everything was pretty healthy considering how unhealthy and toxic the relationship was. So, I don’t have any regrets at all.

Question: Where did the psychologist come from? Did you mutually decide to bring someone on to help you, or did you make that decision for yourself?

Janine: When you do a collaborative divorce you get a team. He’ll have his lawyer. I have my lawyer. And then there’s a team psychologist and a team forensic accountant. You hire them as a package. You’re required through the process to have monthly meetings where everybody is meeting together, as well as meetings with just a psychologist to discuss communication, co-parenting and custody.

Brian: I imagine that would make things go so much more smoothly.

Question: As we near the end of our time together, I wonder what would be your biggest piece of advice for a co-dependent person, or at least someone who’s in a similar situation that you were once in?

Janine: The biggest piece of advice is to get a good therapist. I feel like that saved my life because in therapy I learned not only why I was in a relationship like this, what had led me into a relationship like this, and all of the connections from my past, my family history and how that was showing up in my relationship today. Learning all about that helped me to better set boundaries.

The thing about boundaries is that once you start setting them with people you really learn who’s willing to show up for you and who’s not. At that point, you have some really important decisions to make, so if you can do that work and build up the courage and the strength to start speaking up for yourself, you eventually get to a point that you have the courage to walk away from something that’s just not serving you anymore. It makes it so much easier to make those decisions once you have that therapist and yourself on your side. So that would be the biggest advice for anyone.

Brian: That makes it a lot easier than going it alone. That’s for sure.

Janine: Oh yeah.

Question: Are there any final thoughts you want to share before we wrap up?

I had written down a lot about self-care and just how important it is, and therapy is just a piece of that. When you start to really honor yourself and honor your needs, you’re way less likely to continue into relationships like this. So when you do get out, I recommend really giving yourself time to heal.

I took a year off from dating completely to heal from the relationship and understand why I had fallen for so many of these things, and that all came through the self-care. One of the fears a lot of people (including my clients) have is, ‘How do I avoid this again? Because this has been such a pattern in my life with friends, with co-workers, with relationships, so how do I avoid it again?’ And I think that if you really focus on doing things for yourself more, and filling yourself up and not looking to other people to fill you up, it makes such a huge difference in your life. It opens up doors for the right people to come.

Question: As we wrap up for good, Janine, I understand that you also help people that are going through these issues. Would you like to take a quick minute and let people know what you do and how you can help people in this type of situation?

Janine: Sure. I am a mental health counselor. I work out of Miami, FL and I have a part time private practice where I do all kinds of therapy. A lot of it is nature-based.

For example, we go out on a kayak and we spend time in nature. It’s getting in touch with ourselves and doing therapy while we’re out together in this beautiful setting, and really helping people to put into practice what self-care is.

I also do traditional therapy. I work part-time in a psychiatrist office. So if nature-based stuff isn’t really your thing, we could do in the chair as well. Most of it is focused around the area of inner healing, inner work, self-care, self-love and communication in relationships.

Question: Do virtual counseling as well?

Janine: I do. I offer tele-therapy or Skype sessions through a HIPAA-compliant platform that we use in the office.

Brian: Okay great. And since we are using an alias to protect Janine’s personal information, if anyone’s interested in that you can send an e-mail to and I will be happy to put you in touch with Janine directly so you can discuss how you can work together. I’ll also put a link to that in the show notes, and I’ll tell you where you can find those in just a few seconds.

So thank you so much again Janine for being on the show, and we wish you well with your practice and all the good work that you’re going to do.

Janine: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Items Mentioned In This Podcast

  • Work with Janine (Click here to be put in touch with Janine directly. Type “Work with Janine” in the Subject, and write a quick message to Brian requesting to be put in touch.)
  • (Program to help leave and stay away from toxic relationships. This is an affiliate link)

We Want To Hear From You!

Do you like what you’ve read? Do you have personal experience with this? Is there something you’d like to know more about? Please comment below!

  1. Co-dependence is the Foundation of addiction, i have made every effort to make that pronouncement at A.A. I have found that people in A.A. are in no way able to realize or comprehend this Fact

  2. This is exactly my story except it was a 28 yr marriage with 3 children, 2 grown and a 12 yr old at home still that I decided needed peace in the home. My ex-husband is a narcissistic, self-admitted pathological liar, alcoholic (and probably other substance abuse as well), bipolar, dependent and a sex addict. He is a highly successful professional. I have been divorced for 6 months and still can’t believe it. It is so peaceful, but I am grieving what I thought my future would be. My fantasy….. We had 2 yrs of marriage therapy and I did the work and started healing and setting boundaries and he spiraled out of control not knowing what to do with my boundaries. He got violent. The last year of therapy was just navigating the divorce process. My son had a therapist too. She was very helpful in the co-parenting thing. I am co-parenting with an extreme narcissist. I tried to fix everything. I did EVERYTHING except he worked and I did EVERYTHING else.l totally agree about the advice to get a good therapist. It was in having my eyes opened to my part in being totally codependent and enabling him that I was able to do the work on myself to heal and get stronger that enabled me to see I was being abused and needed to leave if he wouldn’t do his own work.