Supporting partners play a vital role in their loved one’s recovery. Here’s how to support your spouse in addiction recovery.
This is a guest post by Phoebe Bardot who knows first hand how to work together with your spouse during addiction recovery. See her bio at the end of the article.
Watching the person that you love grappling with addiction is heart-wrenching. You see the beautiful qualities they have: the potential, kindness, intelligence, humor – everything they were before the problem.
Everything they were before all the ugliness. And your heart breaks in half. If only that person found their way back to you, all the fog-filled days, sleepless nights, shells beneath your feet, tear-drenched pillows, all the fear, isolation, and disconnection would be worth it. And when they finally commit to treatment, you feel hope again that they just might.
For the first time in a long time, you feel like you can breathe again, and it’s only natural that you’d do anything to protect that. To help you do that,The Healthy Marriage gives you seven strategies to support your spouse in addiction recovery.
1. Let them prioritize their sobriety
It’s said that a person in recovery risks losing anything they prioritize over their sobriety. So, if they put their jobs, partners, friends, or family first and ahead of their sobriety, they risk losing all of these things (and more!) by relapsing.
Therefore, the most important thing you can do to support your partner in addiction recovery is to allow them to focus on working through their program, talking to their sponsor, and attending recovery meetings and counseling.
That may take quite a chunk of time. So, yes – you may sometimes feel left out and even jealous. The addiction stole away a great deal of precious family time. Now it seems like this next stage takes the same or more time away.
But you must understand that recovery is a complex process, and, for a while, it needs to come first. So, try to be supportive, but don’t get too involved – if they want to share how they’re doing, they will. And if it becomes problematic for you, talk to your partner about attending open meetings or scheduling some quality family time.
2. Be there for them
Staying sober requires a lifelong commitment, determination, and a lot of inner strength on their part. And this stage point, the support and encouragement from those closest to the person in recovery become the backbone of their recovery platform.
Your loved one needs to know that you’re there for them, whether they need to talk about what they’re going through or just keep them company on a walk through the neighborhood. Ask them what they feel like doing, or suggest new, sober activities and habits you can enjoy together. It’s okay to make the first move. In reality, it’s encouraged.
Nevertheless, like everything else in life, this, too, requires some delicate balance. You can be there for them and make yourself available, but be careful not to overextend yourself. Being overly selfless is beautiful until it becomes suffocating for you and your recovering loved one.
It depletes you both emotionally and physically and eventually breeds resentment towards them. In addition, checking in more frequently than you normally would lead to the same feelings in your significant other. They may feel like they’re being monitored and like they’re unworthy of your trust. You and your partner need support – but you also need some space to breathe. So, find that sweet spot.
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3. Don’t compound their self-doubt
Getting them to open up might take some time, given how most addicts wrestle with guilt, shame, and stigma. So, when they finally do, just think about how much courage that must’ve taken. And try to keep an open mind. These people are very much aware of their shortcomings, personal weaknesses, and mistakes.
So, the last thing they need from you, as someone they may see as one of the few they can rely on, is adding to those dark and heavy feelings and compounding their self-doubt.
Instead, express your honest belief in them, and acknowledge their progress. It takes a lot of daily work to remain clean and sober. And having someone notice this would mean the world to them.
To keep pushing forward, validation of their struggle, acknowledgment of even seemingly small achievements, and continued positive affirmations can be tremendously helpful in getting through each day sober. It helps them feel known and seen and reminds them that they’re more than just the addiction.
4. Take care of yourselves as a family
Seeing someone you love struggle with addiction, you may become consumed with loving them back to health. You give one piece of yourself after another until your strength is exhausted and stripped back to bare, and there’s nothing else to offer.
“In sickness and in health,” you agreed on, right?
With all of their focus on their loved one’s recovery, people often forget they also are going through a recovery process of their own and completely neglect their feelings and needs. So, it’s crucial to find ways to support your spouse in addiction recovery without falling victim to the devastating ripple effect of the disease.
Plus, how will you be able to help anyone else when you, yourself, aren’t at your very best?
- Pay attention to your feelings. Now that things are somewhat less chaotic and overwhelming, you’d be amazed at the negative emotions that start bubbling up within you. Working through these negative emotions and learning how to verbalize them is essential for your entire family’s recovery from your spouse’s addiction.
- Establish healthy boundaries. Loving an addict comes with blurry boundaries and conventions. Blinded by the mess and desperate to help, we are often far too willing to empathize and see things through the addict’s eyes. And, thinking we are doing them a favor, we unintentionally do things that keep their addiction alive – and hurt ourselves in the process.
- Attend counseling. By getting help, you can learn to work through your negative emotions, create a self-care plan, identify any behaviors that need to stop, and set healthy boundaries instead.
- Create a self-care routine. Enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, journaling, hobbies, socializing, meditating, and yoga. These are all activities and practices that support your health and well-being.
5. Create a relapse prevention plan together
Another way to support your spouse in addiction recovery is to have a relapse prevention plan. Whether your partner approaches you directly for help as they work toward the completion of their treatment or shares their plan with you upon returning home, your role is to be receptive and supportive.
Of course, chances are that they may not tell you when they’re feeling triggered. That mainly happens due to the guilt, shame, and other dark feelings they may face. So, it may be essential to learn to recognize your partner’s triggers and early signs of relapse.
What’s more, these exact feelings may be a part of what triggers your partner, meaning they may need your help to control overwhelming emotions during addiction recovery. And that’s precisely the reason why communication is vital here and why lack of it may pose an issue. The best you can do is to let them know you’re ready to talk when they are.
Addiction is episodic, which means there may be a few bumps along the way. These bumps may bring a lot of pain, but remember that people sometimes relapse. However, this doesn’t mean your partner has ‘failed’—just something to keep in mind.
6. Keep your shared space sober-friendly
When their loved one is in recovery, supporting partners often worry about whether they can recreationally partake in substances. They’re afraid that their use might become one of the triggers and cause their partners to slip back into their old habits and create a division in their relationship.
Especially in early recovery, ensuring the environment is substance-free will be a crucial part of your and your recovering loved one’s relapse prevention plan. That includes:
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- trying your best to abstain from use, particularly in your partner’s presence,
- ensuring that your shared living space is free of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and alcohol,
- encouraging them to avoid places and people that might tempt them to relapse.
7. Educate yourself, and don’t take it personally
Making an effort to learn and gain some insight into this disease and recovery is essential if you want to support your spouse in addiction recovery. It sends clear signals to your loved one that you care.
Next, it helps you recognize their triggers and early signs of relapse, employ relapse prevention techniques, and help them build good coping skills. But one of the first things you’ll learn is that addiction is a disease of the brain. It’s compulsive and, therefore, not a choice.
Understanding the nature of addiction helps you focus on the problem rather than the person. It teaches you not to take anything too personally. This way, you know that it’s not your fault when bad things start happening (old, harmful habits, and even relapse).
Although your partner’s recovery involves you, their sobriety is about them. It’s their battle, and your role is to support and encourage them to keep fighting.
Patience is key
Things might not go back exactly to the way they were, but they definitely can get better. It may take a lot of time and even more patience. However, do your best to be patient and keep that hope alive. Continue to support your spouse in addiction recovery as best you can.
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If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.