Addiction Recovery: Supporting Partners
We have discussed how to support friends in addiction recovery but supporting romantic partners can be much more complex to navigate. Whether you are yourself in recovery or have no experience with the sober community, here are a few of our suggestions:
What to Know:
Reflect before rushing into a relationship
Many in early recovery are not ready for romantic relationships, for a myriad of reasons. Early romance lights up the same parts of the brain that addiction does. It releases similar hormones and has been shown to follow a similar pattern of addiction.
You do not want to serve as a distraction from recovery, or as a replacement addiction. Furthermore, healthy relationships require a level of emotional stability that is hard to achieve early in recovery. If either of you is not emotionally ready for a romantic relationship, it is time to re-evaluate.
Embrace that it is not your journey
Are you the type of person to take responsibility for someone else’s issues? Do you frequently find satisfaction from taking care of someone else? Are you inspired to help someone in recovery? Would friends say you are a “fixer”?
If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, you may be at risk of developing codependent behaviors, which are not helpful for anyone. It might be healthier to take some time to work on yourself. Consider individual therapy before embarking on a relationship with someone in recovery.
Revisit your relationship with substances
What is your relationship with substances? If you are a regular user of anything, take a hard look at whether you would regularly be introducing triggers into your new partner’s life. This is a conversation to have with your prospective partner, but know that for many this is problematic. Your partner has to put their addiction recovery first in many ways—make sure you aren’t a challenge for their continued sobriety.
Avoid controlling behaviors
Things your partner may ask for help with may include being an ally at parties, etc. Behaviors that are much less helpful include monitoring texts, constant hyper-vigilance for any perceived triggers, or unasked-for monitoring of their recovery journey. Relationships are built on trust and you need to trust your partner.
Be mindful of what you say
Unsolicited advice is not helpful, in part because your partner has likely been overwhelmed with advice over the course of their recovery journey. It is best to leave advice-giving to the experts unless specifically requested to do otherwise. This is true even if you are also in recovery—your partner’s journey and experience of emotional sobriety will be different from yours.
Secondly, avoid probing into trauma whenever possible. If there is something traumatic they want to discuss with you, that will come with time.
Establish good boundaries
Have a conversation with your new partner about their recovery. Some important things to address include ongoing triggers, party protocol, how long they have been in recovery, what they want and need from you in their recovery, and what they don’t need from you in their recovery.
Maybe your partner is okay with you having the occasional cocktail on a night out. If you are both in active recovery, you may need to navigate ways to support one another without stepping on each other’s toes. Either way, these are conversations that need to happen.
Plan for missteps
One thing that can be helpful is to discuss a relapse prevention plan, to protect you and your partner and designate rules to be followed. This is an agreement designed to establish safe boundaries and a plan of action if relapse occurs.
This will be highly dependent on you and your relationship, but it can be helpful to have a plan that you have agreed upon together. Relapse is sometimes part of a person’s addiction recovery journey.
Encourage their passions
Your partner may light up about photography or love fitness challenges. Maybe your partner has a burgeoning love of blogging or aspires to design clothing. Whatever it may be, support, encourage and help them find these passions. Where possible, join in on the activity. Create new experiences and memories together that revolve around their new sober lifestyle.
Have hard conversations
Consider attending couples counseling to establish good communication in a safe environment. Make sure you discuss the hard things most couples will grapple with, including finances, future goals, and where you see the relationship going. Your new life together will not revolve solely around your partner’s recovery, and neither should your conversations.
Your partner has been through a lot to reach this stage of their addiction recovery journey. It is powerful to know that you are in a relationship with a person who is resilient, strong, and honest with themselves.
Every romantic relationship will have challenges, but you happen to be with someone who knows all about conquering challenges.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions for romantic relationships in recovery. If you do have any further concerns, strongly consider working with a couples’ counselor to discuss the specifics.