Oftentimes, a couple can credit the inception of their relationship to one drug-fueled twist of fate. Whether it’s the ecstasy-driven make-out session at an underground rave or a sunrise kiss at the beach following a Sid and Nancy-inspired cocaine binge, for some couples, drugs instigate their version of happily ever after.
But what happens when one person in the relationship has had enough of the rainbows and is trying to go straight, while the other is still ripping bongs before diner parties? To find out, we asked three licensed marriage and family counselors whether or not it’s possible for couples with differing drug habits to maintain a healthy relationship.
Sarah Schewitz, Licensed Clinical Psychologist: It really depends on the drug, how each member of the couple views the use and if addiction is an issue related to the drug use. For example, many people describe themselves as functional marijuana smokers, and the people around them can’t tell the difference between when they’re high and when they’re not. If this is the case, the use will likely have minimal impact on the relationship. If, however, the drug is something like cocaine, which causes one partner to stay up all night while the other is ready for bed, it may be harder to reconcile.
It’s important that both partners voice any expectations and boundaries they have about drug use to one another. People change all the time, and there will always be new issues to navigate in any long-term relationship. Open and honest communication about what you expect, how you’re interpreting your partner’s behavior, and how you feel about the behavior is a great place to start communication.
If the drug use is recreational and not an addiction, I do feel it can work if one person stops and the other doesn’t, as long as the one quitting doesn’t have the expectation that their partner will do the same.
Allen Wagner, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: There’s the old expression: Misery loves company. In the case of couples, if you’re using drugs and drinking together, you tend not to feel as bad. But when one person in the relationship stops using drugs, it creates a division — the person still using often feels like there’s a spotlight on them. They also can see it as their partner being hypocritical, because they’ve both used drugs together.
The best way is to slowly quit together. Both people should understand the reasons behind quitting, but with couples it’s usually one person who decides they want to get healthier, so they quit, which means the other person has to play catch up.
Still, there are people who are high-functioning pot smokers in relationships with nonsmokers, so it’s possible for two people to have a successful relationship when only one of them wants to quit using. But it’s the responsibility of the person who still wants to use drugs to not have it around the house or to not use the drugs in front of their partner. It’s not a secretive thing; it’s being mindful.
The problems arise when the person who’s battling their own addiction feels like they’re being coerced to continue to use drugs.
Jinous Berjis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: I had a patient whose partner had introduced her to cocaine. But then the partner stopped and asked the patient to stop too because it was getting out of hand. What would happen was that the patient — who was still using drugs — would get into at-risk behavior, and the partner would have to come and rescue her. Which means the sober person is becoming codependent and aiding a type of dysfunctional relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction. In this case, enablers suffer the consequences of the addict’s behavior, and there’s no way for the couple to maintain a healthy relationship.
Another example is a couple where the boyfriend smoked weed daily while the woman used to do it recreationally, but who now does it every night with him. In a relationship, a person is going to adopt your habits and vice versa. If the impact of those habits is negative, that’s going to make for a very unhealthy relationship.