Addiction and Relationships
Understanding the unique challenges of addiction and relationships is something that is not often spoken about publicly. Of course, during addiction recovery treatment, threre’s a great deal of discussion that goes on behind closed doors, both in therapy and among the couples themselves.
No one can deny that when a spouse or partner is struggling with addiction or substance abuse, it can be destructive in many ways. While enrolling in addiction recovery treatment is an important step, there will still be highs and lows both during recovery treatment and afterwards.
Even when a loved one is living a life of sobriety, there will still be challenges. When normal relationship conflicts arise, there is a tendency by the sober partner to somehow look at the recovering addict’s past and blame them for whatever problems arise throughout the relationships.
If you’re a partner or spouse of a recovering addict, there are some things you can do during the recovery process to help lay the foundational groundwork for a healthy relationship once your partner has completed addiction recovery treatment.
- Understand that they need to work their Program
The first thing you must understand is that your partner must put their sobriety first, above all other priorities. This may mean that your partner is less willing to put himself/herself into social settings that may be a potential trigger for relapse. Your job as a partner of someone in recovery is to support such decisions. Your recovering addict partner may also develop new friendships and partake of new activities.Your job is put aside any feelings of jealousy and to encourage your partner to explore new things, new people and new places. Anything you can do to encourage them or facilitate their participation in activities that allow them to work their program is a good thing. Show you support in anyway and every way you can. You can be supportive in this. Try not to tag along or to forcibly include yourself in these activities.
- Remember to take care of your own needs
One of the challenges of addiction and relationships is that sometimes, the partner of a recovering addict forgets to take care of their own physical and emotional needs. Understand that you may have pent up feelings as result of the addiction and you are entitled to seek counseling and care for yourself. Dealing with family problems sometimes means you need to get some support and guidance from a professional. There’s no shame in that and if you resist, you do so at your own peril. Family support programs are often available and experts agree that the hurt felt by families needs to be addressed. Sadly, in most homes where alcoholism or drug addiction is evident, dysfunction, unhealthy roles and boundaries are symptoms that are often overlooked. By getting help for yourself you can learn to create healthy boundaries and establish the roles of your spouse. Al-anon can support you in your efforts. Continuing in personal therapies and couple therapies can also help you with communication in the relationship.
- Work on restoring trust and rebuilding bonds
Trust, once lost, is difficult to regain. Both parties need to work on reestablishing trust and boundaries need to be discussed and established. It will take time to heal the wounds but with open communication, both parties will eventually get back to a mutual trust. As you enjoy life experiences with your spouse, it can help with the adjustments that come with addiction recovery. In time, hopefully it can help to heal past wounds and struggles.
- Dealing with emotions and conflict
In some cases, a partner will bring up past misdoings as a fallback during conflict. This is neither healthy nor wise. Placing blame isn’t a healthy way to move forward, especially if you’re attacking past habits in a new conflict. The goal is to develop a process of conflict resolution. This starts with boundaries and is complemented by an agreement on how to address issues. One thing you will learn by going to Al-anon is how to handle your own emotions when it comes to your loved one’s addiction recovery. You can’t take it too personally, because you will be faced with problems in the process. Your relationship will change to some extent with a sober partner. Down the road there may be complications, but you should never pass or assume blame or take these changes personally against yourself. Your spouse’s recovery does involve you, but their sobriety really is about them. When bad things begin to happen, old habits and even relapse, you have to understand the nature of addiction. It is not your fault. Continue to try to support them and encourage them to get the proper help they need.
- Be patient
Even with a spouse in addiction recovery, they may not become the person you were hoping they would be right away. It can take time and your patience can be the key. It might be a process for them to live up to your expectations. There can be a period of adjustment to go through after they have completed addiction recovery treatment. Patience and understanding will come with time and emotional maturity on the part of both parties.
Other tips for handling addiction and relationships
Although it will take time and effort, it is possible to establish and maintain a healthy marriage while a spouse is recovering from addiction. If your husband or wife is currently completing a drug and alcohol rehab program or has recently completed one, here are eight strategies that may help you address the challenges of living with an addict in recovery.
Participate in family therapy. In family therapy, you and your spouse will work with a clinical counselor to address communication, family roles, and other social issues as you learn to communicate more effectively and support one another. During therapy, you’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions and receive professional advice about how you should handle situations that arise at home.
Participate in individual therapy. In many instances, it can be very helpful if each spouse participates in individual therapy as well. This can provide a healthy outlet to express emotions like anger, frustration, and hurt as each person deals with the challenges of living life with a recovering addict. It is also a great way to address codependency issues.
Educate yourself. The more you learn about your spouse’s addiction, the better off your marriage will be. Educating yourself on the science of addiction, how it impacts the brain, and what you can expect from treatment will help you manage your expectations as your loved one continues his or her recovery journey.
Maintain a substance-free living environment. Supporting your spouse in his or her recovery may also mean that you and the whole family also need to make a lifestyle change. Removing all addictive substances from your home will help create a living space where your spouse will feel supported, safe, and accountable. If in the past, you and your spouse spent most of your leisure time drinking or spending time in places where drug and alcohol abuse is frequent, it would be wise to encourage your spouse by suggesting other sober activities, such as going to the movie theater or going for a hike.
Be prepared to handle relapse. Every person in recovery needs a relapse prevention plan, but this need also extends to the spouses of addicts in recovery. If your husband or wife has a lapse, it’s important that you both have a plan for how you will handle the situation. This may be something you can discuss with your therapist or at your next Al-Anon meeting.
Prioritize self-care. Just as it was important to do this while your spouse was in rehab, it’s still just as important to take care of yourself now. Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and doing things you enjoy are all things that will help you maintain your overall wellness, which in turn, will equip you to face the challenges of everyday life.
Find support in the recovery community. If you are not already attending recovery support group meetings for loved ones of addicts in recovery, you are missing out on a fantastic opportunity to give and receive support, talk with other individuals who have experienced similar life circumstances, and share your experiences with marriage and addiction.
Be patient. Addiction recovery takes time and long-term rehab and treatment are a part of the journey. Try to be patient as both you and your spouse adjust to a new lifestyle.