How To Support A Partner In Recovery
These tips on how to support a partner in recovery are similar to the ones I’ve shared about generally supporting someone struggling with addiction, but things become a little more complicated when the addicted person is your partner. Whether that means you’re dating or married, living separately or together, addiction certainly complicates any of these situations.
Here are some of my best tips on how to support a partner in recovery. If you have any experience, please leave a comment below to help others who may be struggling.
Take care of yourself
Having an addicted partner not only affects them, but you. There are a myriad of emotions involved from betrayal to disappointment to deep hurt. Addiction is a disease that not only affects the addicted person, but everyone who cares about them. It can be easy to shift your attention to an addicted partner because you love and care about them and want to help them in their recovery. What often happens, then, is that your own needs are left unmet.
As much as you may want to help and encourage your partner in their recovery, you HAVE to take care of yourself. Just as they will need to be selfish in their recovery to make sure they stay clean and sober, you will have to be selfish in taking care of you own needs. This may mean that your relationship becomes more distant or more fractured for a period of time while you both work on healing.
It’s entirely appropriate for you to be angry with your partner during this time. You may wonder why you need to also do work when they are the ones with the problem. This is completely fair and normal. It can feel frustrating and unfair, and that’s something you will need to think about when supporting a partner in recovery. Places like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon are for families of addicts and alcoholics and you will likely find similar people to talk to about what you are going through.
For some couples, this may be a deal breaker and the non-addicted partner may decide that the relationship isn’t worth the work to put in. Whatever taking care of yourself looks like, make sure that’s your top priority.
Educate yourself about addiction
This is one of the most helpful things you can do to support a partner in recovery. Not only does it help you better understand the disease of addiction, but it helps them because you’re able to show support and offer more productive help. The more you learn about something, the less frightening it becomes and also the more tools you get to productively deal with the issue at hand. Some good starting points are:
Let your partner know that you’re there to support them in whatever way they need. This doesn’t mean participating in enabling behaviors, but it does mean that you stand behind them and can help them with things like rides to meetings or rehab or allow them space to do what they need to do for themselves.
Understand your relationship may change
Whether the addictive behaviors began before you were together or during the relationship, removing them is going to mean that your relationship will change. Trust has likely been broken and will need to be repaired going forward.
Figure out what YOU need to feel safe in your relationship. From there, figure out what your boundaries are and be willing to enforce them. Some examples of this may look like:
- physically separating if there is a relapse
- telling the truth (not covering for them if there is a relapse)
- not continuing the relationship if they stop the recovery process
If possible, individual and/or couples therapy can be very helpful during this process. Individual therapy for you as the non-addicted partner gives you a place to talk about your own feelings in a safe space. You’ll also be able to figure out boundaries and how to enforce them. Just because your partner is the one with the addiction problem doesn’t mean that there aren’t valuable things to learn about yourself in this process.
Couples therapy can help you work through a multitude of issues and find the appropriate way to go forward in your relationship. This will likely be a new relationship, which is something important to understand. You will both need to make the decision to continue and build a new base from which to grow. It’s also helpful to do this with an objective professional because often these issues can become emotionally charged and hard to deal with when it’s just the two of you.
If therapy isn’t an option, make sure to utilize the free services of any number of groups. There are both 12-step and non-12 step options to choose from. As the non-addicted partner, it is important for you to get help as well.
What are some additional ways that you can support a partner in recovery? Drop them in the comments below!