How to Help Your Partner through Recovery
If your partner decides to seek treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, you may be breathing a sigh of relief, thinking the hard part of supporting a spouse in addiction recovery is over.
But the decision to get treatment is a major one that doesn’t mark the end of your partner’s addiction story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter.
So you might be wondering, how to help your partner through recovery.
Just as addiction affects both partners, so does recovery. During my many years in clinical practice, I have found that the couples who successfully navigate the recovery period do so as a team.
The person in recovery has, of course, much work to do, but so does the partner. Your support can make a huge difference as you both undertake a new life where the goal is sobriety.
In my experience, there are certain do’s and don’ts for helping your addicted spouse. These tips can help make this transition period as smooth as possible for both of you.
Relationships can suffer incredible damage as a result of one partner’s addiction. Lies can easily erode trust, and codependent or enabling behavior can create a destructive atmosphere that doesn’t do either partner any good.
It’s imperative that you seek counseling with a clinical psychologist, both individually and with your partner. At many addiction treatment facilities, the latter therapy, often called family therapy, usually begins during the patient’s stay.
These sessions can help you both examine the issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, whether it is rebuilding trust, setting boundaries or learning how to communicate honestly and openly.
This joint therapy is vital, but it should also be supplemented with individual counseling, where you can focus on your behaviors, emotions and thoughts, so that you can process what you are experiencing and learn healthy coping strategies.
Regular counseling sessions can give you both the tools you need to keep your relationship on track during this time and start rebuilding and strengthening your bond with your partner.
Your partner has probably been encouraged to find a support group where he or she can meet regularly with others in a similar situation.
You too, should also consider joining a support group aimed at partners of people with addictions. These groups offer a unique and valuable avenue of connection for you.
Because everyone there is supporting a loved one dealing with addiction, you all have a common ground that can lead to an uncommon level of understanding—these are people who are walking in your shoes and know what you are going through in a deeply profound way.
Support groups are also a terrific way to gain insight on how to handle certain situations, based on the experiences and input from people who have already lived through them.
Finally, you can get educated on the mechanics of addiction—its effect on the brain and nervous system, physical side effects, how cravings develop, the hazards of relapse and more.
This education can give you an informed perspective on what your partner is dealing with in recovery and offer you ways to strengthen your relationship during recovery.
Create an atmosphere conducive to sobriety
Life in recovery is a time marked by many changes, and that includes lifestyle changes, too.
It’s extremely important to remove any triggers from your house that could lead to a relapse—for instance, if your partner abused alcohol, get rid of temptations such as bottles of beer or liquor.
Also, if you and your partner used to go out to wine-fueled dinners or nightclubs, you’ll want to find new pastimes that don’t revolve around substances. Couples can actually use this as a way to rebuild their relationship because they are finding new things to do together.
So, how to support a spouse in addiction recovery?
Perhaps you’ll go to the movies or plays instead, or plan outings where you can start new hobbies together, such as a cooking class.
One activity I find especially beneficial for couples to do together is exercise. Physical fitness is very beneficial for someone recovering from the detrimental effects drugs and alcohol abuse can have on the body.
Plus, exercise can release endorphins that make you feel good, and that mood boost can last throughout the day and brighten your outlook. Try an activity that is suited for couples, such as tennis or hiking.
The most important benefit of exercising, apart from physical fitness is that it helps cut back on stress.
If your partner turned to substance use as a way to cope with stress, it’s wise to provide alternative methods to release tension and promote a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
Physical activities that do a great job of stress reduction include yoga and tai chi, with their focus on deliberate movement coupled with deep, rhythmic breathing that slows the heart rate and calms the mind.
In addition to exercise, try mindfulness techniques that keep you focused on being present. Meditation, deep breathing, and gratitude journaling are all wonderful ways to relax and reduce stress.
Make plans and stick to them
When your partner begins recovery outside of the treatment facility, you will have to prepare for the new life you will be embarking on as a couple.
In addition to the steps above, you will also want to think about the boundaries you need to have in place in order to create a safe and sober home environment.
Perhaps you don’t want your partner hanging out with the friends who encouraged the use of drugs and alcohol, or maybe your partner used to have you cover for their unexplained absences from work.
Take financial and medical issues into consideration as well. You may decide to take charge of household bank accounts so you can track where the money is spent, or you may ask your partner to seek medical attention for any physical ailments that resulted from substance abuse.
Clearly communicate your boundaries and why they are personally important to you.
You will also want to talk with your partner and your therapist about what to do in the event of a relapse. Do you want your partner to immediately go back to treatment, or is the relationship over?
Again, open and honest communication will let your partner know where you stand, and ensures you are both on the same page.
Don’t forget self care
As your partner works through recovery, you will spend a great deal of time and energy offering support and encouragement. You can quickly become depleted if you don’t carve out the time to take care of yourself.
Make sure you are getting what you need for a healthy life—a nutritious diet, plenty of exercises and adequate sleep. Adopt stress reduction techniques that work for you, and carve out time for the things that can nourish you, whether it is a massage or a day at the beach.
When you are in good health and strong physically, you’re more likely to be strong mentally and emotionally, which makes you a more supportive partner for a loved one going through recovery.
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