Using Haley's concept of complementary and symmetrical relationships, we intensively studied the role relationships of 28 male heroin addicts and their spouses. These couples had no symmetrical role relationships, but had an alternating sequence of two complementary role relationships. These complementary roles sequentially alternated from a compliant child with a nurturing mother, when the wife would deny her husband's drug abuse; to a rebellious son with a policing mother, when a financial or legal crisis would force her to confront his addiction. After this crisis, the couple entered treatment in the unstable complementary roles of contrite child and policing mother. During treatment, the wife was educated and supported to confront early signs of drug abuse, thus avoiding its denial, and the couple was encouraged to develop symmetrical roles by beginning to share minor responsibilities.