A drug or alcohol addiction takes the addicted person and their loved ones on a tumultuous and unpredictable ride through a wide range of emotions and mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting circumstances. This can be very strenuous for your partner or spouse, and can many times wreak havoc on the very foundation that you’ve established and built your relationship on.
Recovery can be a difficult process, especially within the time directly following your sobriety. Just because a person is in recovery, does not mean that all of their struggles have resolved themselves. Recovery is a time when you continue to build off the work that you put in while moving towards your sobriety, work that also needs to occur within the context of your relationship.
An Addiction And Recovery Affects Both Parties
A healthy relationship is built on many things, but trust, communication, honesty, commitment, and patience are some of the most elemental practices within any relationship, but especially within those that have suffered the devastation of substance abuse or addiction. Inversely, these are in many cases the healthful practices that are most often compromised or broken by the ravages of an addiction.
This is a two-way street—the individual who suffered from the addiction and is now in recovery needs the support of those around them, while the partner or spouse wants the solidarity of having a sober and reliable significant other. Both parties need to be patient and realize that the recovery, though foremost to the past drug or alcohol user themselves, does also extend to the partner or spouse.
Now that you’ve become sober, you might be eager to rectify the damage incurred by your addiction. This includes wanting to repair the damage done to your relationship. In some circumstances, your partner or spouse may have stood by you through the entirety of your treatment and rehabilitation.
For some couples, the partner may have taken a step back, waiting until you’ve completed these things, and now might be the time that they’re willing to begin working on the relationship again. In other instances, the damage and stress of an addiction might be so great that your partner or spouse may not be as receptive or eager to delve back into the relationship as you might have hoped.
The Relationship Might Not Be What You Desire
In certain cases, you may find that following your rehabilitation, your partner needs to take a break or time away. This can be very difficult for you as it might force you to contend with a sense of loneliness, isolation, or blame—emotions that may have previously been linked to your drug or alcohol use. This transition may exert stress that if left unchecked could threaten your sobriety. Here it is important to utilize the coping skills that you learned within your treatment or rehabilitation.
If you became sober on your own, this can be another good time to reach out and seek the guidance of a therapist or support group so that you might learn how to manage the stress while developing and implementing constructive coping skills that will benefit you both now and in the future. Even if you have already learned these things, reaching out to one of these venues might refresh and re-instill these important beliefs and practices.
In any of these instances, you need to try and understand the amount of stress and emotional turmoil that your partner encountered during your addiction, and understand that they too need time to heal and decompress after everything they’ve gone through. Remember, while you may have had the opportunity to take time away in rehabilitation to get your life, thoughts, and emotions on track, they have remained in their regular life, feeling your absence, potentially balancing their responsibilities and some of yours, while quite likely not having had proper time in which to take a rest and take those same healing measures for themselves.
Remember, after an addiction, you in many ways need to essentially relearn how to become more selfless and aware of those around you. During the course of your addiction, as your substance use and abuse intensified, it is likely that you let your partner’s needs and the needs of your relationship fall to the wayside.
Dealing With Harmful Emotions
Negative emotions are something that you and your partner are likely very familiar with. These emotions may have led you to substance abuse in the first place, or resulted from it. For your partner, complicated emotions often arise as a reaction to the circumstances that your substance abuse inflicted on them.
Just because a person is in recovery, does not mean that they are free from these things. Quite the opposite—recovery is a time that can bring about new emotions and rekindle old ones. Fear, blame (both towards yourself or your partner), loneliness, and shame are some of the most prevalent. This often stems from the realization that your lives have been widely changed by your drug or alcohol abuse, and the overwhelming nature of the work that you yet have to put into it to rectify things.
This is why a good treatment and recovery program spends time teaching you how to balance, process, and cope with these emotions on your own. This is not to say that you shouldn’t rely on your partner for support, simply that you need to be mindful to not take more than they are able to provide at any given time within your recovery, as this can create the opposite effect and stir up even more damage and resentment.
Now that you’re within your recovery, and working towards strengthening both the relationship you have with yourself and your partner, you need to reinvest in healthy practices to protect you and your relationship against damage from these things.
Recovery Doesn’t Happen Overnight
For a newly recovered person, it can be tempting to want everything to get better all at once. You need to be especially conscientious about not setting unrealistic exceptions for yourself or your loved ones. Doing so can result in a potentially damaging situation down the road, one that might present you with emotions or conditions that are overwhelming or daunting to the point of threatening your recovery.
There is a reason you commonly hear recovery referred to as a journey—during the course of recovery, the recovering individual and their loved ones will continue to face challenges and stresses. Building a strong sense of self within these changed roles and a strong and open relationship are two things that not only help to ensure a greater chance of success for lasting sobriety, but also for the relationship.
Here we outline some of the more crucial practices that you can work on individually and as a couple to help ensure that your relationship is strong enough to contend with these challenges when and if they should arise.
Ask Questions: Things have changed. In some capacities you can’t go back, while in others it is important that you reacquaint yourself with your partner’s needs, interests, emotions, thoughts, and goals. While this experience has changed your partner, you have to remember that they might feel lost within the circumstances that have surrounded your drug use, treatment, and recovery. It is important that they feel seen and recognized. Ask them how they feel, what they need, and what you can do to make this transition easier for them.
Be prepared for their answers, as they might not always be what you expect or what you want to hear. Honesty is one of the most important precepts of recovery, and if your partner expresses something to you that is hard to hear or makes you uncomfortable, remember to react in a way that is conducive to healing, while striving not to react in anger or shutting down.
In turn, be open when your partner asks you questions. Strive to answer them to the best of your ability. The more your partner senses your openness, the easier it will be for them to develop trust and forgiveness.
Communication: We cannot stress enough how important proper and healthy communication is within any relationship, but especially one that is encountering the pressures and changes of recovery. An addiction can bring many changes to a person’s life and their relationship; so can recovery. As much as you both might want to move forward and put your past behind you, it is important that you both are open to discussing the past and examining the ways that the addiction impacted you.
This is essential so that you can heal and find forgiveness while building the honesty, trust, and boundaries that are elemental in providing both a healthy framework for you, the person in recovery, and for your relationship. You both need to give each other ample time to communicate, which means you each need to strive to become good listeners.
Forgiveness: This can be one of the hardest elements of recovery within a relationship. This extends to each person—your partner has encountered the impact of your addiction in a way that has changed their life and made it more difficult, while you might feel that they did not stand by you or support you in the way that you needed.
It can be easy to blame each other, but remember, this is a very counterproductive emotion, one that can continue to cripple you instead of helping you both to move forward and be closer together. Communication is essential for forgiveness. You’ve both likely done things to cause offense or hurt the other, and as tempting as it might be to sweep things under the rug, in order to truly rebuild, you need to achieve as much resolution as you can.
In the process of seeking forgiveness, you might encounter memories, emotions, or conversations that make you both uncomfortable. They might make you feel like you want to shut-down or push your partner away. Previously, while you used drugs or alcohol, you may have done just this—instead of dealing with a situation, you might have numbed yourself by self-medication. Now that you’re sober it can be very overwhelming to deal with these things on your own. This is why you both need to be patient and take things slowly.
Honesty: When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they may have many times slipped into dishonest behaviors—this can include, lying, stealing, or hiding the substance itself. Sometimes during an addiction, the addicted person may say something and truly believe it or mean it only to find that they fall prey to the addiction and do not follow through on their word.
Honesty is not only important between you and your partner, but with yourself. Just as you probably made and broke many promises or good intentions to your partner, you’ve likely done the same with yourself. For this reason, your self-confidence and morale might yet be low. If you want to achieve the most success within your recovery, it is important that you maintain honesty foremost with yourself, which will in turn make it easier to be honest with your loved one.
Sometimes, you might want to protect your partner by not burdening them with how you’re feeling mentally, physically, or emotionally. Keep in mind, if you’re shielding these things from your partner, they might misconstrue your evasiveness or lack of forwardness as dishonesty, instead thinking that you’re hiding substance use. Remember—they might be conditioned to think these things after encountering similar patterns during your addiction. It is to your benefit to be forward with them and dispel any notion of this before it gets out of control in their mind and creates an obstacle between the two of you.
Trust: This can be a difficult transition for the recovering person and their partner. Now that you have sobriety, you’re likely experiencing a desire to move forward in your life while continuing to make more positive changes. You might feel very hopeful and full of possibility now that your addiction isn’t in the way to hinder your progress.
As much as your partner might want to believe you, they may struggle with doing so. This can be very hard for you to deal with. During the course of your addiction, you may have been dishonest, either intentionally or unintentionally, so now, even though you are sober, it may take quite awhile before you establish a new track record so that your partner can begin to trust you anew. Many times, an addicted person may lie about their substance use or frequency of use, or lie as a means to obtain more. This, for instance, can be claiming that they need money for gas or food, when in reality the money is for drugs or alcohol.
For these reasons, it might be hard for your partner to trust you. You will have to understand this and realize that it might take some time before you establish new, consistent, and healthy patterns that they recognize before they can learn to trust you again.
Boundaries: Sometimes when a person is newly sober, they or their loved one might want to rush headlong into their “new life.” Though it is crucial to maintain a sense of hope and enthusiasm, it is also important to take things slowly while being conscientious of the other person’s needs and limits. As much as you need to reacquaint yourself with one another, you will also have to learn how each other has changed from the addiction.
Too much too fast can actually be detrimental to the success of your relationship, as well as to your recovery. If you move too quickly, you might overlook certain foundational elements that you need to invest in in order to develop your relationship in a healthy direction.
During an addiction, the boundaries within your relationship were likely blurred or entirely disrespected. Many times when a relationship encounters an addiction, a certain level of codependency may arise or the sober partner may have unknowingly enabled the addicted partner. While in the throes of the addiction, the addicted individual may have ignored or failed to see the needs of their partner. Either way, within recovery, it is a necessity for both parties to have ample time and space to evaluate how these changing circumstances are making them feel, while asserting their needs and boundaries to a receptive and respectful partner.
Drugs or alcohol may have dampened or reduced your libido. Thus, many recovering people find that this is reawakened now that they are sober, or that they desire to renew a sexual relationship with their partner to rekindle their intimacy. This is an area you especially need to move slowly in, practicing all the aforementioned concepts so that each partner is being respected and taken care of.
Sometimes, the partner of a person in recovery might not be comfortable engaging in a physical relationship of this sort. In fact, some people might not be ready to engage in other physical acts, such as kissing or cuddling. It is important to remind yourself that though they might not yet be there in this way for you, they are there in other ways and the longer the two of you work steadfastly towards developing these other things, the greater chance you have of finding this intimacy again.
Get Involved: While you’re moving forward in your recovery, it can be useful to consider the direct impact your addiction had on the everyday life of your loved one and consider what you can do to counter the damage that was inflicted or illustrate that you are committed to living the change that you have proclaimed.
This is something that you need to walk intentionally and mindfully within, because if you are not careful and striving to be proactive, looking back on these things might foster shame, self-blame, or other damaging emotions which would be counterproductive to your goals.
A good example is if you continuously promised your loved on that you would be home after work in time for dinner, and instead, stayed out later than you promised while you indulged your drug or alcohol use. Now, as you’re striving to reconnect with you partner, you can place a renewed emphasis on this—be adamant with yourself about holding true to this promise and take the time to make or pick up dinner for your partner; be there on time when they do the same for you—or even better yet, try to do things like this together. This shows them that you value them and that you are taking time out of your day to meet their needs and the needs of your relationship.
We use this as an example because it is something that covers a basic need that occurs every day. Sometimes these are the hardest things for a person to cope with as their partner withdraws deeper into an addiction—the seemingly small necessities, routines, and patterns that made up your life together. Reinvesting your time, interest, and commitment to these can illustrate your dedication to your recovery, and ultimately to your relationship.
Not only may you have shirked your day-to-day responsibilities, but you’ve also likely disregarded other things that go above and beyond the essentials that speak of your love, interest, and recognition of your partner. Recognizing these needs might be as simple as buying a bouquet of flowers or offering to give them a back rub, or planning an afternoon or evening where you go out and do something that they really enjoy.
Gratitude: If your partner has stood by you through the duration of your drug or alcohol use, treatment, and newfound recovery, it is likely that somewhere within the process, they have let their own needs slip away while they sought to look after yours. Due to the nature of these circumstances, at many points the focus may have been on you, leaving them in the shadows feeling unrecognized or underappreciated.
Take the time to say thank you or acknowledge that you realize the impact that this has had on their life and that you are thankful for what they have done. As you journey in your recovery, acknowledge even the simple things that they do for you—preparing a meal, doing the laundry, or paying the bills—and realize that for them, these activities may not be as innocuous as they seem.
While you were overtaken by your addiction, they may have been very overwhelmed and embittered doing all these things on their own, so they might yet associate these tasks with those feelings. Take the time to help them with these things, taking care to shoulder an equal part of the responsibilities that you incur as a couple.
Patience: When you consider the amount of time that the drug or alcohol use absorbed, the length of time it took from initial use to the progression and eventual termination of use or sobriety, you must then consider that it will take a fair amount of time to unravel the damage and conflicted emotions that rose from these circumstances.
It is unfair of either party to expect that things will remedy themselves overnight or as soon as someone becomes sober. Keep in mind, as much as your life changed from the addiction, so did theirs. Even though your sobriety is the best outcome, it has nonetheless changed the scope of your partner’s life. As your addiction progressed, their role changed to accommodate the impact it had on your lives. Be patient with your partner as they again learn to restructure their life, while learning to trust, forgive, and accept you on your new journey.
Having a strong relationship can be one thing that can help safeguard you against the threat of relapse in the future. On the other hand, having a relationship that is strained and lacks solidarity can be something that puts the recovering individual at a higher risk for relapse. At this point in time, if you went through a treatment program, you might both be familiar with therapy. One mistake that people in recovery make is thinking that since they are sober, they no longer need this outlet or support.
Therapy can yet be a great resource for both you and your partner as you traverse the unique terrain of your recovery. As much as you both might want to succeed within your relationship, in some cases you might not know the best way to go about things, or one or both of you might yet be so overwhelmed by emotions or resentments surrounding the addiction that you are unable to do so in the most healthful and helpful manner.
Individual or couples counseling, either alone or in conjunction to each other, can be a great resource to help you overcome these hurdles while learning the skills that can help you to become better communicators.
In addition to therapy, various support groups exist that can help each of you stay on track while providing you with a venue by which to glean insight and support from others who are going through situations that are similar to yours. In addition to other choices, these include Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous for the recovering individual, as well as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon for the partner or spouse.
Let Us Help You Rebuild And Reinvest In Your Relationship
Rebuilding a relationship after an addiction can be one of the most difficult aspects of recovery. It can be a very overwhelming process for both people, one that with guidance, can be more successful and fulfilling. If you’re uncertain about how to best communicate with your loved one at any point before or during recovery, we at DrugRehab.org can help. We understand the unique needs that you both are faced with, and our compassionate staff can help direct you in how best to confront the challenges you’ll face together, while building skills towards a more stable and sober future. Contact us today, we are here to help!