Jennifer Garner isn’t responsible for Ben Affleck’s addiction, but we can learn from his comments, one expert says

Marital problems and addiction have a “chicken and egg” relationship, said psychologist John F. Kelly, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute. The lessons learned from the Affleck and Jennifer Garner story shouldn’t be pointing to blame, Kelly said, but rather the importance of coping skills in avoiding addictive behaviors and maintaining healthy relationships.

Affleck spoke to Howard Stern this week about how his marriage to Garner contributed to his alcoholism, saying that if they hadn’t split up in 2015, “I would probably still be drinking.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I started drinking,” Affleck told the star. “Because I was trapped.”

When his comments went viral, some people saw Affleck blaming Garner for his addiction.

“It’s not true. I don’t think so. It’s the exact opposite of who I am and what I believe,” Affleck said on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday, adding that he loves and respects Garner.

Addiction and relationships are difficult, complex issues, Kelly said, but there are things both addicts and those around them can learn from the controversy.


Garner or people in their position may have heard words like “trapped” and felt that they were blamed for creating the addiction, but loved ones are not to blame for the addictive behavior, Kelly said.

“She shouldn’t blame herself,” he said. “The responsibility would remain with the person using an ineffective coping strategy.”

There are many factors that cause a person to develop an addiction, including genetic predisposition, Kelly said. Repeated heavy use over time can also lead to addiction, he added.

Heavy use may be due to a lack of effective coping mechanisms, a pattern that may have been established long before an addict’s relationship, he said.

Blame is not helpful when talking about relationship conflicts and addictions, Kelly said.

“The point is to try to resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in relationships through honest and respectful communication, and drinking alcohol is an ineffective way of coping,” he said.

Coping Skills

In the short term, alcohol can feel like a very powerful way to deal with it, Kelly said. It can quickly and reliably resolve unpleasant feelings.

“Unfortunately, in the longer term, it can cause all sorts of other problems,” he added.

Everyone struggles with communication and human relationships to some extent, and many people are looking for ways to avoid trouble, Kelly said.

“Adding alcohol only makes things worse,” said Kelly. “People often resort to alcohol as their primary coping strategy because they don’t have the tools to communicate effectively.”

When problems arise in relationships we care about, we may avoid bringing up the problems or hope that if we feel unable to address them directly, they will go away.

The problems are then exacerbated when the use of Drinking to avoid the relationship conflict makes that conflict worse, which makes a bigger problem for the drinker to avoid while drinking, and the cycle goes on and on, Kelly said.

“We all have conflict in relationships,” he said. “The question is: how do we deal with it?”

Avoiding the situation or using substances to cope can ultimately lead to even more problems later, Kelly added.


We can’t exactly know the details of Affleck and Garner’s situation, but many people with an alcohol disorder who have relationship problems may find that they didn’t have the direct communication skills they needed even before they got into the relationship, Kelly said . But you don’t have to learn the skills yourself.

“Here things like counseling for couples and the like can of course be very helpful because they offer a forum in which people can communicate effectively and listen to one another.”

Talking to an unbiased friend or family member – or ideally a professional therapist if accessible – as a couple can help highlight the unspoken thoughts and feelings the addict is holding onto and shed light on the patterns of behavior between the couples and how they treat others.

Ben Affleck says he felt “trapped” in his marriage to Jennifer Garner

In addition to treating substance use, psychologists often use enforcement training for people with addictions so they can communicate effectively to “say what they mean without being mean,” Kelly said.

The goal is not to remove hardship and conflict from a person’s life in order to stop substance use, but rather to equip them with the skills to seek support to deal directly with whatever life throws in their way, and ” to face life on the terms of life, “Kelly said.

For a spouse or ex-spouse of someone who has been exposed to alcohol, “it is often very helpful to seek advice from a knowledgeable experienced therapist and / or group such as AL Anon Family Groups for support and objectivity in these intense situations to win, “he suggested.

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