Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Will a relapsed partner change?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Bob and I have been married for 20 years. We went through a rocky patch about 10 years ago and were separated for a year. During that time, Bob made some bad decisions, one of which was to start doing drugs with the guys he was hanging out with; they were into crack. Bob ended up losing his apartment and who knows where he might have ended up, but he had the sense to realize he was in too deep and called me. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to take him back at that point, but he promised he’d go to counseling and it seemed he’d gotten his life back on track. He had a couple of relapses, but then he really doubled down and for the last 8 years, I was sure the problem was behind him.

Then came the COVID-19 lockdown. I knew this could be difficult for Bob, so I was very watchful. At first, everything was fine. Then the economic stimulus checks started coming in. Bob began his “walks.” He’d say he was going to a park right near our house, but he always took the car and I got suspicious – the park is only 1/4 mile away. One day, I checked the mileage before and after, and discovered he’d put 6 miles on the car. When I innocently asked him if he’d gone anywhere else, he said no. It was only when I told him I knew there were 6 miles on the car that he realized his mistake. It turns out he HAD gone on a drug run. He swore that it was only recently he had relapsed. He blamed the pandemic and said it would never happen again, but thinking back, I realize there’s been suspicious behavior for a while now, and he’s been coming up short on cash. 

At this point, I don’t know what to do. We’ve been through so many things with me over the course of 20 years, but I have caught him in a number of lies in the past and now I wonder if this has been going on all along. Thing is, I just don’t know. Addicts lie as easily as they talk. I don’t want to start my life over again at my age, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with a lying drug addict who will never change either. What are my odds? Is this a bet you would take? I want to believe he can change.


Dr. B says: It is your life so I can’t tell you what to do but I would say, NO. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and infinite love and acceptance is not related to miraculous change as Disney has led us to believe. That may be the message from the animated musical score of Beauty and the Beast, which has been taken to heart by our culture, but it just isn’t true. Love in and of itself is not redemptive. Redemption requires a lot of work. Sobriety might be next to impossible once the brain changes to accommodate anything from simple sugars to crack. All addictions have the same basic process. Addicts are “black and white,” “all or nothing thinkers,” and they have a trigger threshold. Once it’s hit, they just say “the hell with it all.” Their attitudes relapse even before they restart their habits.  

Sobriety is a way of life and someone who is lying is not living that life. A person cannot get sober for someone else, that will not last. Sobriety is something that a person has to decide they ARE. A truly sober individual is not ever allowed to say “the hell with it.” By the way, Bob’s “walks” place him in danger of bringing home COVID to you, amongst other things. I suggest you get yourself to AlAnon or ACOA. 

C says: An interesting effect the lockdown has had is that the people who make bad choices are using the pandemic as an excuse to make more of them, and the enablers are as willing as ever to hope things will change. Dr. B has made an accurate assessment of Bob, but I’d like to address your issues, Kay. If you spent 30 years of your life with Bob and he’s been lying for a good part of it, being an enabler is a way of life for you. You are no more likely to change than Bob is. If you end this relationship, are you really going to walk into a better life? Not unless you do some serious work on yourself. Joining a group will help, but it’s going to take more than sharing stories. You weren’t on to Bob, and you aren’t on to yourself. Get some serious therapy and figure it out before you waste the rest of your life, too.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at