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Is Your Partner Avoiding Recovery?

We all know people who call the doctor’s office frantically at the first sign of a sniffle or sneeze. Other people wait until they are sure there’s a real problem that isn’t going to disappear on its own. Then there are the people who will never see a doctor or health professional, no matter how bad it gets, even though they are feeling the negative impact of their illness, both on themselves and their loved ones. This last group falls into a category called “recovery avoiders.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what happens when you and your partner disagree about their need for mental health treatment. There’s no doubt that trying to convince someone that they need help is a delicate topic, especially if the person has not yet realized the impact of their illness. But when your partner acknowledges that yes, life is unmanageable AND they are not willing to do anything about it, that is a recipe for relationship disaster.

Why Won’t My Partner Get Help?

It can be difficult–if not impossible–to understand why someone who is clearly suffering would not seek help. There are several possible reasons for why your partner will not or cannot accept help:

  • Your partner may still be in denial about the severity of the problem
  • Your partner may be afraid of what treatment entails
  • Your partner does not recognize the self-defeating nature of their problem
  • Your partner believes that the situation is hopeless, and therefore, why go through the trouble and expense
  • Your partner may not feel they are worthy of getting better
  • Your partner has no incentive to get better
  • Your partner is worried about how your relationship will change if they get better

Examining the Excuses

  1. Denial about the severity of the problem: There can be a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that your partner may still be functioning in a way that outsiders don’t know anything is wrong, even though you as their partner do. You might be accommodating your partner’s needs, making excuses and taking over responsibilities, even though resentment is building that you have to do these things. Everyone has a “rock bottom” place where they finally realize that something needs to change, and your partner’s tolerance level for distress may be a lot higher than yours.
  2. Fear of what treatment entails: People who are in denial about their problems are not going to do research about how to fix them. Or perhaps your partner did look into treatment options and decided they couldn’t go through with it. Another possibility is that your partner had a previous negative experience with treatment, and is unwilling to go back, or they heard from someone else about a terrible outcome. Offering your support in finding appropriate treatment providers and being a support person can ease some of your partner’s anxiety.
  3. Not recognizing the self-defeating nature of the problem: Problem behaviors often become habits, and this happens for a reason: to protect the person from further harm. It may be that your partner cannot imagine a life different from the one they have now, and honestly, thinking differently is frightening. If the thoughts and behaviors were truly that bad (in your partner’s mind), they would have changed already. But that doesn’t mean that the thoughts and behaviors don’t have to change, especially if they are causing relationship problems.
  4. Feeling hopeless about the situation: If someone thinks that no matter what they try, nothing is going to change, why put the effort in? Or if they have tried before and failed, why should they try again? Your partner may be trying to convince you that this is the best it gets, and to take it or leave it. What you choose to do is up to you, but having a conversation that helps both of you get to the bottom of why your partner is avoiding recovery gives you more information to make a decision about what’s best for you, your partner, and your relationship.
  5. Feeling unworthy of getting better: This thought often comes with a history of trauma and abuse. People who feel that they are not worth being properly cared for are difficult to treat because they often will not engage with the treatment providers. These clients have trouble trusting that others want what’s best for them. As the caring partner, reinforcing the message that you love and care about them, want them to feel better, and will support them through the treatment process, no matter what, might help convince your partner to try treatment.
  6. No incentive to get better: As the partner of a person with a mental illness, you no doubt have made accommodations for your partner’s illness. That’s the caring thing to do…most of the time. When it crosses the line into codependence, however, your partner can get a little too comfortable with knowing that you will save the day on a regular basis. Your partner needs a concrete reason to get better, and setting some boundaries around what you are and are not willing to do can help reinforce the importance of recovery.
  7. Fear of how the relationship will change: When someone has a mental illness, expectations of them are often lowered. One of the reasons for the development of the illness in the first place may have been unreasonably high expectations from family, friends, bosses, or themselves. Your partner may be worried that if they get better, the expectations will rise too high again and they will never meet everyone’s demands. Your partner needs to know that you will support the growth that comes from the process of recovery, even if that means the relationship has to evolve.
Is Your Partner Avoiding Recovery?

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2011). Is Your Partner Avoiding Recovery?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 28 Jul 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Jul 2011
Published on All rights reserved.