One of the most common requests I get for counselling is to help people with their relationships in recovery from addiction. This can mean anything from repairing current relationships to developing healthier connections in the present and future. Sometimes the threat of losing a partner can be the catalyst for getting into recovery. Whatever the starting place, ultimately it is the addict’s desire for a better life, including healthier relationships as a center piece that will sustain their recovery.
There can be no doubt about it, relationships are hurt by addiction. From the constant fear of losing a loved one to addiction, and possibly death, to financial chaos, and the loss of trust and intimacy, addiction drives a wedge between loved ones. Partners of addicts often talk to me about the difficulty overcoming feelings of betrayal, as it seems like their loved one has been ‘having an affair’ with their substance or compulsive behaviour of choice. The secrecy and lies that are a hallmark of addictive behaviour compound that sense of being cheated on. Addiction results in a loss of intimacy as the energy that was formerly invested in the relationship is stolen by addictive behaviour. From my experience, rebuilding trust in intimate relationships can be one of the biggest but most rewarding of recovery challenges.
What are the steps to rebuilding relationships in recovery? There are parallel paths for people in recovery and their loved ones.
For the recovering person:
- As with the addictive process itself – avoiding minimizing and denial of the problem. Acknowledging that their addiction has hurt their loved ones, even if they have trouble seeing this clearly due to memory being clouded by addiction, can be the first vital step towards healing the relationship
- Apologizing for the hurt, and listening empathically to loved one’s concerns, fear and anger
- Realizing that it will take time to rebuild trust and, therefore, cultivating patience
- Learning new communication skills, including being direct about what you feel and need.
- Defining a vision of your life together and how to get there
- Seeking counselling to overcome psychological difficulties that led to addictive behaviours, and leave you vulnerable to relapse
- Becoming a more active parent
For loved ones:
- Understanding that your hurt is normal. Build hope by focusing on your long term goal – i.e. to reconnect positively with your loved one in recovery
- Learning helpful communications strategies, including being assertive, setting limits, and stopping any enabling behaviours such as overcompensating for your recovering loved one
- Refocusing on yourself. Pursuing individual and family activities that are a source of fulfillment and happiness
- Talking with your loved one about your hopes for your future relationship, and taking steps to get there
For both the recovering addict and loved one’s, staying committed to the overall well being of oneself and the relationship is key. If the going gets tough, consider attending couple and/or family counselling to rebuild, stabilize and strengthen your relationship.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor (BC), is a Canadian based Psychotherapist who specializes in Substance and Love Addiction Recovery, Couples Counselling, Relationship Challenges, Low Self Worth, Anxiety, Depression, Complicated Grief, Family Abuse Recovery.