Should you stay for the kids with an addicted spouse?

Written by Heidi Rain

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December 9, 2021

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Should you stay in this relationship for the kids? If you’re new here, you should know that what I do is I help people that are in highly dysfunctional situations. Not your run of the mill type of relationship stuff. I deal in the deeper issues of shit shows. What I mean by that is you’re in a relationship with an addict or an alcoholic or a narcissist or somebody equally toxic or dysfunctional. That relationship is a constant provider of confusion. Should I stay or should I go. Resentment, he should be doing, or she should be doing something other than they’re doing.


Confusion, resentment, anxiety, waiting if things are gonna get better or waiting for the other shoe to drop constantly. Never knowing if things are gonna get better or not. You’re waiting, holding your breath. Or pain, you’re sad, you’re frustrated. I know that dealing with a person like this runs the gamut of emotions much more than the ones I’ve just described. Some of you are numb. You get to that point where you are so checked out. You’re like, ugh, you know. That point of numbness is like, okay, I know that I don’t want to be in this, but I also know that I don’t want to mess up my kids.


When you’re asking that question, should I stay in this relationship for the kids? What you’re really asking is, is it going to cause more damage to leave the relationship for your kids than it causes them to stay in?  Do they deserve this? Suck it up, see it through this stable environment. Can you pretend your way through this relationship long enough so that the kids are going to come out all right and then when they reach a certain age, you can just make better decisions for yourself? You’re in the right place if that’s a question you’ve been asking yourself for a while. I definitely intend to give you some very concrete answers. Not around yes definitively, you should get out for the kids or no, you should stay in it for the kids.


But to tell you the impact that you’re having on the kids so that you can make an informed decision. I have to tell you when I worked inside of a drug and alcohol treatment center, before I really took my business primarily online. I used to do it inside of a building every day. I’d see thousands of addicts and alcoholics in that environment and worked with hundreds of their families. There’d always be one guy sitting in the auditorium where I teach hundreds of people at one time. He would say, well, you know, my drinking doesn’t really affect my kids too much. They don’t even know, you know, I do that when they go to bed and I’m thinking to myself, you gotta be crazy. Of course, I’m not going to say that, but I’m thinking your kids can tell. They know, they’re like a walking radar. They know way more than you think they do.


I’m going to start there and let you know that if there’s any delusion around your kids, knowing what’s going on, I’m going to let you know right now, your children know what is going on. The problem is they don’t know exactly what’s going on. When they’re raised in an environment where there’s secrets or drinking around or hush, hush. You just think that you’re dealing with your issues with your husband or wife, and they’re not really privy to it. They don’t know exactly what’s going on. It’s not like they’re going to go, oh yeah, mom and dad are fighting because dad’s a narcissist and he blames her for everything and gaslights her. That’s why she stays in this relationship.


They fight because he always has to be right all the time. Or, oh, I, know they’re really upset and they’re going upstairs to talk because mom thinks dad’s using again and he’s using because he’s addicted and it’s not really a choice and has nothing to do with us. They don’t have the rationale. They know what’s going on. They know either dad’s drinking or mom and dad are fighting. What they don’t know is, it has nothing to do with them. The impact that you’re having on your kids in an environment that is toxic or dysfunctional is a guarantee that they’re going to exit this dynamic, thinking something was wrong with them, period. It manifests in a lot of different ways.


When you have dysfunction or toxicity in the house, all kids are kind of self-obsessed. They think the world revolves around them. They think that everything that’s going on in the household is a reflection of them. So they adjust. They’re born into a world, free to believe that all their needs are going to be met. Their family is going to get along great. But when they look around and go, ohoh, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be. They hurry and scurry to take on a personality in order to survive the toxicity and dysfunction. One child in that dynamic will become the hero. So my guy in the audience, he was like, my kids don’t even know. I said, okay, well, how many kids do you have?


He said I have four kids and all of them are fine, except for one. I said, well, tell me about your kids. And he said, all right, well, Johnny is the football star. He is absolutely amazing. He makes straight A’s and in fact, he takes care of the stuff around the house. He’s mowing the lawn. I don’t even have to ask him. He takes care of everything and he’s great with his little brothers and sister. He just, you know, he takes care of the whole family. I mean, he is a real stand-up kid and I’m so super proud of him. He is absolutely amazing. And I said, wow, he sounds like a really great kid. Yeah. He’d never been in trouble, not once. Now, if my drinking was so bad, don’t you think that he would be mad at me or something?


I said, well, he’s not mad at you. And he said, well, no. I mean, I don’t think so. I mean, he doesn’t really want me to come to his games or anything. Cause I think I distract him a little bit and I’ll make him nervous. I said, oh, well, why do you think you make him nervous at your football games. Whoa. I mean, at one time I embarrassed him or whatever, but he just, it didn’t affect his game. He still won. And I’m thinking, okay. Please know that this is not an attempt to make fun of the addict or alcoholic or think it’s a laughing matter. What I’m trying to help you understand is this is a very common run of the mill every day thought process for an addict and alcoholic.


I could be saying it this way. I could be saying, well, no, it doesn’t affect my kids at all. Julia is in law school and Julia has never had an issue at all. I’ve never had to ask her to do a thing. She takes complete and total care of the house. In fact, she’s a big help around everything. She has lots of friends. She’s very popular and it doesn’t affect her at all. If anything she’s more successful than one would think. I could be an addict or an alcoholic and talking both ways, either I’m a high high-class alcoholic or the other. High functioning or low functioning. Either way, I’m still making up excuses for my drinking because one kid in the household, no matter what is going to take up all of the dysfunction and say, not on my watch. I’m going to be perfect. I’m going to achieve. I’m going to excel. I’m going to make up for all the crap in my family by being a high achiever and being a success story.


And what happens is the addict or alcoholic puts all of their worth and their proof that they’re not that bad on that one kid in the family that’s achieving to go look, I’m not that bad. Julia is in law school. Okay. Chad’s the football star. Can’t be that bad. Well, they’re achieving not just in spite of you, but also because of you a little bit. They’re picking up the slack for the lack of achievement, the lack of success in the family. All the success gets puts on to them and that’s an immense amount of pressure. That kid grows up to be a kid who measures all their results in life on their achievements. As long as they’re performing and succeeding, they become great but if they’re not, they don’t know who they are without their success.


In my attachment personality patterns, my latest book on codependence and how it develops, that would be called the performer or the pretender. Where they put on a mask and they act like they’re fine all the time and they power through and they climb the ladder of success, but they’re empty inside and they can’t figure out why they’re not happy. That’s that kid as an adult. That is the lasting impact of that kid when they become an adult. They don’t know how to be intimate. They don’t know how to let their hair down. They don’t know how to not be perfect. They don’t know how to share themselves fully. There’s a pretending everything’s fine. I’m successful and they don’t let you see what’s going on behind the scenes with them, ever.


They attempt to fix other people. They become fixers and helpers, but they never focus on their own stuff. They never are afraid to get vulnerable. That’s the impact. If you stay in this dynamic that you’re having on a kid like that, even if it looks like they have all their stuff together, eventually that’s the road they’re gonna take. I said, tell me about your other kids. Well my other kid is not really affected because she doesn’t even see it because she stays in her room all day long. She’s up in her room. She likes her book. She likes to play video games. She doesn’t even come downstairs really. So she can’t be that affected because she don’t even see anything. She don’t want to interact with anybody. She’s quiet. She’s shy.


I wonder how much of that is nature versus nurture? There’s one kid in the household called the lost kid that just wants to get the hell away. They don’t want to come down. They don’t want to be involved. They don’t want to have anything to do with it because they figured it’s a lost cause. Why even focus on it? They don’t want to talk about the addiction or dysfunction. They don’t want anything to do with it. They just want to disappear. The addict or alcoholic might say, well that person’s not at all. Again, I could be the other woman. I could say, just like that other high functioning addict or alcoholic. I said, well, Julia is not really affected because she’s just studying class.She’s just up in her room and she likes to read her books and she’s just very to herself. She likes to do her little art. She just has a little world up in the room that she’s created for herself. It’s really quite endearing.


No, that kids trying to escape the hell. It’s just a prettier cage. You’re living in a nicer house. That’s all that is but it’s still the same prison. That kid is not alone or that kid wants to escape and get the hell out of Dodge. That’s the kid that grows up, but doesn’t know how to open up. Doesn’t know how to relate. Doesn’t know how to be intimate. Has social anxiety and all other kinds of things or an addiction of their own because they’re escaping all the time into other realms or worlds in an attempt to disappear from it. I said, okay, well, tell me about your other kid.


Well my other kid is hilarious. I mean, he’s definitely not affected because all he does all the time constantly is crack jokes. I mean, he’s so funny. He just sits around and makes us all crack up all the time. He’s so funny. He’s not affected at all. He thinks it’s funny. He thinks my drinking is funny. He just, he’s entertaining as hell. I mean, I just sit around and drink and watch him all day with his jokes. He’s just entertaining, or oh, well I have one child that I definitely know is not impacted because they’re just, you know, they’re in their own little world. They make up these little plays. They’re, constantly entertaining everybody. and it’s really nice because it’s a little distraction from the family problems if you will. They’re over here, just really making everybody laugh and taking their minds off everything all the time.


What a blessing that child is. Well, that child is called the clown in the family and they provide the comic relief. They laugh, if they’re not laughing, they’re crying. They’ll make fun of it, often at the addict or alcoholic’s expense. They’ll create humor. It can be really cunning or sharp. If that kid grows up, they don’t know how to not make a joke of everything. They don’t know how to be serious all the time because they had to make everybody else in their family laugh. The siblings laugh to lighten the load because it was so toxic and dysfunctional. They provided that comedy relief to rescue people. A lot of people in this position become comedians, depressed comedians.


They’re making light of stuff until they walk off the stage, they’re like, damn. They only feel alive when they’re making fun of it. Otherwise they don’t know how to just be present in the moment with all their thoughts and feelings. They don’t know how to let other people have their thoughts without trying to laugh them out of it and change their state or whatever. So I said well okay, tell me about your other kid. Well, this one is the one that’s a problem. I actually probably wouldn’t drink so much if it weren’t for this kid, because all he does is get out and get in trouble all the time. He smokes weed. He’s disruptive. He gets kicked out of school all the time. He’s a handful. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him.


We give him everything and he just, you know, doesn’t know how to behave. He’s just out fighting all the time. Oh, he makes me want to drink. Well, I have one child who is difficult. Doesn’t really know how to get along in school. I think there might even be something, you know. I haven’t had him formally diagnosed, but definitely just hyper and just rebellious and doesn’t know how to follow the rules and doesn’t know how to listen. And really, it’s exhausting you know. If it really weren’t for that child, I probably wouldn’t need to take so much Adavin. Let’s be real. That kids called a scapegoat. That’s the kid that gets all of the blame placed on them.


The alcoholic will blame the scapegoat and oftentimes the enabler will blame the scapegoat too and say, well, they drink because we have this child who is causing so much trouble all the time and I get it that he needs to escape and smoke weed because this child’s a problem child. It’s not a problem child. It’s the kid that’s most sensitive in the household and they’re acting out all the trauma while the one kid is hiding in their bedroom, playing video games. This other kid’s getting kicked out of school because they’re so full of angst. They’re so full of anxiety. They’re so full of resentment and rage and anger that they don’t know how to process it. That’s how they do it. They act out, Hey, I’m over here.


That’s a kid that grows up and doesn’t know how to get positive attention. The only time that parents pay attention to him is when he’s getting expelled or getting in trouble or getting whatever. They don’t know how to get positive attention. That’s often the kid that’s going to become the addict or alcoholic and repeat the pattern over and over again. They started as a scapegoat and they learned the only way to identify with the addict or alcoholic is to be getting in trouble so they get some kind of attention paid to them. They don’t know how to have positive attention. Here’s what you need to know. One of the core issues of every single child who grew up or you continue to have in this environment is trust issues.


They don’t know how to trust other people, trust authority, trust themselves, trust the process. Intimacy issues. They don’t know how to be vulnerable or relate.  They overshare or they’re over clinging. They’re, pretending how they really feel, or emotional regulation. They don’t know how to share their feelings. They don’t know how to talk about or, communication problems as well. They don’t know how to speak their truth. They hide things. Are secretive or they overshare. It’s like over or under. It’s very black and white when you grow up in a family like this. They have issues with self-esteem and that’s the number one way it shows up is that a kid thinks what’s wrong with them.


They adjust and try to make sense of it all. They take on this personality and they just try to cope and survive in that dynamic. Oftentimes they don’t want to make any waves and they don’t want to call it out. The hero will. The hero will often be the kid that tells you things like, why don’t you leave him? Why don’t you get out? Why don’t you exit? I don’t know why you put up with that. That’s the kid that’ll just be like, what’s the matter with you? Why are you staying? They’ll make it mean there’s something wrong with you. That you’re the problem. Not you’ll become the problem, not the alcoholic or addict or not the dysfunctional person. It’d be like, what’s wrong with you that you stay?


That kid in the family that’s pursuing his own success, can’t understand why you’re not pursuing your own success and eventually that finger’s going to turn on you and they are going to go you’re the problem. Everybody in the family is going to adjust and figure out who they need to be in order to cope and survive and then later on in life, they’re going to try to figure it out. These are the main issues. Self-esteem issues, trust issues, intimacy issues, emotional regulation issues. Codependence is the number one thing that encompasses all of those things. That’s how codependency starts. It happens in dysfunction.


These kids are born into families that are not firing on all cylinders, are not healthy. Please do not tell me that all families are unhealthy and sick and codependent. That’s what we say to justify and rationalize being unhealthy and codependent. It’s not. Be a cycle breaker. That’s not how all families operate. I promise you. I used to think the same thing when I see a normal family, like that’s not real. Something weird is going on behind the scenes there. No, they were just healthy, but I couldn’t fathom it at the time. All these kids are going to have these codependency issues. They’re born to a family that’s dysfunctional and they learn how to function in the dysfunction.


Ask yourself this question, two questions. A, if I see the impact that I’m having on these kids, and I know that staying is actually, this is what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen when they leave. I don’t know what kind of stable environment you’re gonna provide for them if you choose to get out of this relationship. But I know if you stay in it with an unhealthy person that never gets well, this is the impact long-term that you’re having on your kids, whatever path they line up with. If you want to download that free book on personality patterns that I created the apps, go ahead over and download that free book. It will tell you which personality pattern the kids might be developing as a result of being in this dynamic.


You can get that book for totally free over at, just download it. That’s what I want you to consider. I want you to consider well, if this is the issue and this is how they’re going to be affected. Am I willing to subject them to this, knowing that that’s possibly going to be the outcome. The other thing that I want you to consider is asking yourself this question, if kids weren’t involved, would you stay in it? If you didn’t have kids, would you choose this person? If the answer is, no, I wouldn’t choose this person if I didn’t have kids, I’m only staying in it for the kids. Then the question I have for you is this, why would you be unwilling to subject yourself to it as a single person, but you’re willing to subject your children to it.


That’s a skewed way to look at things. Isn’t it? Why I wouldn’t take it if I was alone, but I’ll put my kids through it. That doesn’t make any sense. If you say, well, yes, I would subject myself to it if I was alone. I am considering getting out for the kids. Then I think that that’s a healthier perspective to have. Just because you can function in dysfunction and you’re a pro at it, and you can make sense of their behavior and you can know their addiction is not all about them does not mean that your children are able to have that same ability until they go through therapy or coaching and get a handle on what happened. That’s what I do all day long as I deal with people who grew up in that environment.  Who are finally seeing how it affected them, cause at the time in their childhood, they just think we’ll just survive.


They’re in survival mode. Oh, thank God. We’re surviving day to day. They can’t make sense of it until they get out and they get into relationships and they go, oh my God, I don’t know how to be intimate. I have trust issues. I have communication problems. I have self-esteem issues with my career and pulling the trigger where I’m successful here, but I can’t be successful here. Or I keep sabotaging myself and I don’t know why.  Why do I self-sabotage all the time? Or why do I blow things up? They don’t understand the impact that the growing up in that shit has until they get out. They’re like, why am I doing this? Suddenly they go, man, what’s wrong with me? What happened? Then I go back in and I go, here’s what happened.


I make sense of it for them. So you can interrupt that process by either, if you’re going to stay in it getting them therapy and support. Get them an Alateen or some kind of program where they can make sense of that behavior while they are in it, or you get them out and they can heal from it. But either way to think that you’re staying in it so the kids will be okay, is a ridiculous notion. I’ve actually had people comment and tell me, well, thank God, the addict or alcoholic. Oh, for the kids. I’m glad she stayed. Well, I’m glad you got sober and recovered, but if she would have stayed in it for the kids, when you were an alcoholic, that wouldn’t have been a benefit to them. That would have been a hindrance to that.


They would have to figure their lives out afterwards. A lot of that resentment is going to be aimed at you as well for continuing to stay in it while you see their suffering.  Their story is going to be; you pick him over them. That’s what they’re thinking. Why is my mom…? Why is my dad pick…? Especially the hero, they’re like, man, I guess she just loves him more than me. That’s what your kids are thinking. They don’t know. They are making stuff up all day long. Your behavior and their behavior means something all day long and nine times out of ten, they’re making it mean something about themselves.  Their deficiency, their inadequacy is why we’re still here.


You need to know this. I know sometimes when I speak the truth, and this is the truth, because this is research-based truth. This isn’t just my truth. This is not just what I’ve read in books and been educated in my schooling. This is my firsthand experience with the children that I’ve helped in the family program. We actually have a family program that’s online with a support group component that the whole family can go through together. Once one person goes purchases the program, the whole family can have access to it. You can come into the support group that we have for it. Go over to and get that program. It is nominally priced so everybody can have it.


I’ll get an email that you signed up and then I’ll send you an email about how to join the support group. Let’s get everybody healing in the right direction. I’ve had kids as young as seven years old inside of my family program. I’ll never forget it. This little kid, we were inside of a group processing on Sunday. I used to do this live weekend instead of online. They were debating if they want him to come to the family program. I said, well, he’s affected somehow. He knows. So let’s have a minute and then we’ll decipher what’s appropriate and inappropriate when he’s in there. During the group, it had been shown to me that he knew a lot more than the parents thought he did.  He said, you know, when I found my dad passed out, it really scared me. I thought he was dead and he had overdosed.


This is what the seven-year-old said. This is the language he used. My dad had overdosed and I was so scared, but I didn’t understand why my mom kept letting him stay there. That’s what the seven-year-old is thinking. They’re not thinking, oh he’s got a problem. Yeah. She’s attached to him. She doesn’t want to leave cause she’s scared she can’t take care of us. His thing is, why is she allowing me to be waking up to this? That was his perspective. Some of you I know are reading this and tears are coming down and I feel your tears right now. Whoever’s doing that. I feel it.  I understand and I’ll tell you what that is. That is a loving correction. That is a loving, you’re being convicted because you know that you’re being called to look deeper at what’s happening here and it’s okay.


Those tears, I know sometimes some of us have had correction that was not loving. We’ve heard things about ourselves that were hard to hear and you’re here. If you made it this far. Here’s what I know for sure. You’re ready to hear this. If you were not ready to hear this, you would not still be here. So let’s say what’s next. Now being convicted. Now I feel it. I feel what Heidi is saying. I know my children have asked me that question before. Why are you staying? What are you doing? We see, what is this? What the fuck is this? Now, what are we going to do? I want you to go to and I want you to get your hands on that program that explains addiction.  Explains enabling.  Explains all these family roles.  Explains how to help them. What’s helping? What’s hurting? What to do with their relapse? If they don’t relapse, how to get them into programs?


Everything you ever need to know is in this program. It’s broken down into modules.  Bite-sized pieces of information. So get it. It’s going to benefit you and the whole family. Even if it’s a high class alcoholic, which there is no such thing. A high class addict, there is just cocaine. You guys have plenty of money and everybody’s buying all sort of… To think that your children do not see mom passed out with Xanax or think dad is not like hyperactive and acting weird and speeding around even though there’s money and there’s food on the table and everybody has stuff. That’s a kid that still feels like, well, they gave me the financial stuff and they supported me.


But emotionally and psychologically, they abandoned me and weren’t there because they were high. That’s going to be their story. You gave him the stuff, but you weren’t home. The parent gave the stuff, but they weren’t home. They were checked out. They were focused on other things. They were always fighting and we didn’t matter. The other kids going to say we weren’t provided for emotionally, financially, physically. All ways. What’s better? It’s all trauma drama waiting to be unfolded in the office of a therapist or a coach down the road. Let’s break that cycle. Let’s find a way to do the work that’s needed to do. Even if you’re going to stay, that you could sit with your children and at least in a nighttime conversation go, I know I’ve heard.


You might be thinking this. Is this true? Are you wondering why I stay? Can I communicate with you what I’ve learned? Can I tell you that you don’t always have to be achieving and succeeding to be loved? Can I tell you, you don’t have to take care of your siblings, that’s my job? Can I tell you, I see you up in your room hiding?  Can I sit with you while you play your video games? I love you. Let’s give a good first step. Go ahead and get that program over at It’s a standalone program. If you want to upgrade to come into that group, that’s also affordable monthly membership. We can be within a support system month after month asking your questions. Every Wednesday night at 7:00 PM Eastern time. I have a group that runs that you come in and we hash it out. I love you. Take excellent care of yourself. And I will see you inside my group.


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