If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse, making the choice to go to rehab is an important first step. But it’s hard to enter treatment without support, whether you’re a newly single parent or simply struggling to keep up with daily responsibilities.
Although the thought may be hard to face, it’s often necessary to rely on your ex for support during this time — especially if children are in the picture, in which case your ex may have to shoulder greater childcare or financial responsibilities while you’re away in rehab. If you’re nervous about breaking the news to your ex, use these tips for telling a former spouse that you’re going to rehab and asking for their support.
Choose a good time to talk — in person.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed how often people choose to communicate sensitive or important messages by text or email. Spare yourself the fallout. The only “good time” to tell an ex you’re going to rehab and need their support is in person at a pre-scheduled time when they are not running off to work or another engagement. If they are wary of meeting with you, or they question the utility of a conversation, then it may be appropriate to let them know the reason that you’re requesting a tête-a-tête.
Identify and process any emotions ahead of time.
It’s only natural that preparing for this necessary conversation will stir up some powerful, even conflicting emotions. Whether it’s dread, anxiety, sadness or relief —and often it’s all of these things and more — what you’re feeling is normal. Processing these emotions ahead of time, by talking about them with your therapist or airing them in your peer support group, can help you prepare yourself for the conversation with your ex.
Greater emotional clarity and acceptance will help you speak to your ex from a more grounded and centered place within. You’ll also find that you’ll then be able to be more compassionately present to your ex and their feelings and concerns — and the more they feel heard and understood, the more understanding and accommodating they will be regarding your decision to go to rehab.
Have your plan of treatment in place.
The more you know ahead of time about how long treatment will be, the location of the program, and what will be expected of you while you’re away in rehab, the less guessing and uncertainties your ex will have to contend with. Remember that they, too, will be dealing with their own anxieties related to your decision, so strive to tie up loose ends for them where you can.
Prepare answers to the following questions, which will also help convey your seriousness about going to rehab:
- How long you’ll be in rehab (Research shows that a minimum of 90 days will have the best recovery outcomes.)
- Whether the program is with a trusted rehab provider
- Whether you’ll be at a facility that is close to home or away from home
- Whether you’ll be in inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment or both
Educate your ex about your disease and why treatment is necessary.
If your ex questions why you need rehab, have an answer ready. If you’re not sure what to say, remind them that addiction is a chronic but treatable disease. Because addiction is a disease, quitting drugs or alcohol on one’s own is rarely successful— the cues to drink or use are often too powerful to overcome without professional treatments and interventions.
If you share custody, emphasize how rehab can help you become a better parent and improve your co-parenting relationship.
Untreated addiction may be robbing you of the capacity to be present to your children in positive and meaningful ways. In more severe cases, substance abuse may be putting their physical and emotional welfare at risk. Therefore, treatment is the best recourse.
Similarly, your co-parenting relationship may benefit from the work you do in rehab. For example, some rehab programs invite loved ones to participate in family therapy as a way to strengthen communication and address dysfunctional family dynamics. A program of this sort could be the best thing that happens to your co-parenting relationship.
Ask your ex what they’ll need in the way of additional supports while you’re away in rehab—then take responsibility where you can.
If you’re asking your ex to take on more childcare responsibilities when you’re away at rehab, do what you can to ease the stress of this transition for them. This may mean, for example, offering to take the children for an extended period of time before rehab begins, so that your ex can enjoy more “me” time before they’re the parent on duty.
Offer support where you can and encourage your ex to tell you what they need, including what preparations and arrangements you can make to help them out. Whether that’s scheduling additional babysitting support from doting grandparents, paying for the additional costs in afterschool care or setting up a meal preparation service, there probably will be things you can do to help.
Take a problem-solving, future-oriented approach when making arrangements with your ex.
Inevitably, making arrangements will demand patience, flexibility and clear-headed teamwork. The process will go much more smoothly if you can stay positive and keep the focus on solving problems rather than indulging in accusations, casting blame or reviving old resentments from the past. Let sleeping dogs lie. You may even need to draw up some ground rules for the conversation so that if tensions flare, you can ask for a time-out and take a breather.
Finally, arrange for how to stay in touch with your ex while you’re in rehab.
Many rehab programs forbid any contact with family during your stay. Others allow only weekend phone calls. Know what the policy will be ahead of time so that you can prepare your ex in advance and agree on some clear expectations regarding communication while you’re in rehab. At the very least, you should have a plan for how to be reachable in case of an emergency.
Anna Ciulla is the Chief Clinical Officer at Beach House Center for Recovery. Anna has an extensive background in psychotherapy and clinical management, including more than 20 years of experience helping individuals and families affected by addiction find lasting recovery. You can learn more about Beach House’s program options on their website.