How to Support Your Partner in Addiction Recovery (Without Enabling)
Realizing your partner has a problem with alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, or any other addiction is a very painful reality. The best case scenario is that your partner also recognizes his/her addiction and seeks help in order to recover.
Unfortunately, recovery doesn’t go in a straight line. Most addicts struggle with denial, relapse, and changing long-standing thinking and behavior patterns. Recovery is a long, hard road for most. Not all relationships survive the fallout of addiction and recovery. If you’re committed to sticking around and supporting your partner through the ups and downs of recovery you need to be prepared.
Take care of yourself.
In my opinion, this is the single most important thing you can do to support your partner. If you’re codependent, it will feel counter-intuitive to put your focus on taking care of yourself. For so long you’ve focused your time and energy on your partner’s addiction, trying to get him/her to change, rescuing, and taking care of him/her. Saving your relationship means you need to get it back in balance. It’s time to acknowledge that you have needs and desires and goals. You can actually support your partner best when you’re meeting some of your own needs by seeing your friends, pursuing your goals, spending time on a hobby or exercise or just treating yourself well.
Seek support for yourself. While you and your partner can support each other through recovery, you’re simply too close to the problem to always be empathetic to each other’s feelings and experiences. Part of taking care of yourself is developing or strengthening relationships with other people you can lean on.
Work on your own recovery.
Recovery isn’t just for your addicted partner. Addiction has affected you, too. Working on your own issues with a professional or self-help program can help you heal from the trauma, anger, shame and isolation. Recovery can help you rebuild trust, hope, and self-esteem.
Recovery includes identifying your own feelings, accepting them and expressing them. It includes exploring why you’ve allowed someone to treat you poorly and learning to love yourself more.
Part of your recovery is to get very clear about your boundaries. What do you expect from your partner? What behaviors are acceptable and what will you no longer tolerate. If you’re wishy-washy, it’s easy to push back on your boundaries and allow more and more behaviors that really aren’t OK. Resentment, or worse, will follow. For example, is a relapse a deal breaker or can you accept it if your partner is honest? Only you can decide, but it’s essential that you set these boundaries before they happen.
Encourage and support recovery activities.
Sobriety isn’t the same as recovery. Sobriety is simply refraining from the addictive behavior. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “dry drunk”. A dry drunk is someone who is sober, but still thinking and acting like an addict. Alcohol or drugs or gambling isn’t really the problem. These are symptoms of deeper, unresolved problems. Recovery is a process of deep self-analysis (usually with the help of a professional or self-help program) that helps the addict change not only his/her compulsive behavior, but his/her thinking. Sobriety without recovery will be disappointing because the underlying problems haven’t been addressed (and will probably resurface).
You can’t be your partner’s only support. Encourage your partner to continue recovery activities such as support groups, after-care, therapy, clean and sober social events. You can encourage and support by helping to arrange time in the family schedule and budget for these activities. You can provide emotional support or transportation. Encouraging doesn’t mean forcing, manipulating, making ultimatums, or nagging.
Respect that your partner’s social life has changed.
In recovery, your partner has probably changed his/her social life. And consequently, your social life has changed, too. Addicts are often most successful staying sober when they avoid people, places, and things that trigger cravings and memories of drinking or using.
Supporting your partner’s sobriety means you need to communicate openly and be willing to compromise about the ways you socialize together. This might mean respecting your partner’s requests (such as not to keep alcohol in the house or to drink in front of him/her).
At the same time, you’re also working on taking care of yourself and speaking up about what you want or need. You don’t necessarily have to give up drinking just because your partner’s in recovery. It does mean that you need to talk about how alcohol fits into your shared life. Be respectful by being honest with your partner about what you’re doing.
Restoring balance to your relationship means you need to stop doing things for your partner. S/he is a grown adult and needs to act like one. Stop making excuses for him/her, minimizing or avoiding problems, and simply doing things that s/he can do for him/herself.
Staying together and creating a safe and satisfying relationship is possible when you’re both committed to change and the recovery process. You can be a support to your partner during his/her recovery, but this doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your partner’s recovery. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to control or manage your partner’s recovery. Part of your healing is to let go a bit.
©Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
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Other suggested reading:
Martin, S. (2018). How to Support Your Partner in Addiction Recovery (Without Enabling). Psych Central. Retrieved on January 23, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2016/09/how-to-support-your-partner-in-addiction-recovery-without-enabling/