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The Bergand Group – August 2015 Newsletter

Couples in Recovery

By Dr. Jerry Hunt – The Bergand Group

Dr-Jerry-HuntIt is generally recommended that those beginning recovery from substance and/or behavioral addictions not start new romantic relationships. However, many men and women entering recovery are already in a relationship.

Sometimes, only one member of the couple has been using, sometimes both members have been using. Sometimes both enter recovery, sometimes only one member enters. Each of these situations present its own unique challenges. However, any of these situations, is a “new ballgame” for both partners in the relationship.

Both Enter Recovery

This is the best case scenario for both persons, whether or not both have been using. Each must work his or her own program; keeping them separate as best they can. They can offer support to one another, but keeping clear boundaries is essential.

When both have been using, each person should enter their own recovery program with their own meetings, sponsor and “recovery buddies.” If only one person has been addicted, it will be of great help to both if the non-addicted partner can enter his/her own recovery via the “Anon” groups joined to the major Twelve Step Programs. Often spouses and partners do not feel they “need a program of recovery.” They believe the addict is the “sick one” in need of help and they are OK.

This perspective fails to realize the impossibility of having a close relationship with an addicted person without experiencing negative effects. Addicts often require a lot of attention and accommodation and, in doing this, their partners and spouses are drawn into difficult and often destructive patterns of relationship. Their own self-care often suffers at the expense of “helping” their addicted partner. Unrealized anger and resentment may develop and characterize the relationship. The “Anon” programs can be of great help here and can aid the healing of the relationship.

Sometimes people “get sober” because of others who are important to them. While this helps in the short term, it will fail as a long term strategy. The ability to “hold on to one’s self” and at the same time being emotionally connected to another person is a tricky requirement for all couples. It is essential for those in relationships attempting recovery.

One, But Not Both

One member of a couple entering recovery while their partner does not can present difficulties for both the person beginning recovery as well as his/her partner. The world of recovery has its own demanding requirements, its own values and understandings and even its own language, jokes and slang. Spouses and partners not in recovery can often feel left out. They may also resent the time and effort that recovery requires, feeling it takes away from them and the children if they are parents. Spouses and partners may have hoped and prayed and gone to great lengths to move their loved one into sobriety only to have them apparently swallowed up by the demands of the recovery effort. They may feel even more abandoned than before.

Persons entering recovery may feel they are doing their best to do the right thing and, if not met with some support and understanding from their spouse, can develop their own resentments. This can often lead to feelings that “it just isn’t worth it,” and relapse.

The “Anon” programs can be very helpful here as can sessions with individual therapists and marriage and family counselors with a background in addiction and recovery.

Drinking/Using Buddies

When both parties have been drinking/using together and only one enters recovery, great challenges arise for the recovering person. They may see their former drinking/using buddy apparently having “fun” with friends or former friends and feel left out. Resentments may arise. They may want their buddy to share the benefits of their new-found recovery experience only to be told their partner neither feels they need nor desire it. Their home, once a safe and happy place, may now be filled with obstacles to their recovery. Temptations, resentments, and confusions may be their daily companions.

The person not entering recovery may or may not believe they have a problem. They will probably miss their drinking/using “buddy” and sometimes make efforts to get him/her back. This may occur in both overt as well as covert ways and whether or not they outwardly support their partner’s recovery efforts.

For the person in recovery, reliance on sponsor, friends in the program, meetings, prayer and “putting one foot in front of the other” are essential for getting through this difficult period. “One day at a time” and “giving time, time” are also good mottos for coping. We can’t change other people, and someone else’s’ choice to drink or use is not our business. But when it is someone close to us with whom we are living and with whom we used to use, it can be a big challenge to our getting well.

Again, the “Anon” programs for the person in recovery can be vital. Some persons add sessions with an individual therapist and, if both partners are willing, consultation with a marriage and family therapist with a background in addictions and recovery can ease the path.

The challenges for each of these situations is great. However, relationships can be strengthened and people in them can emerge stronger for having worked together to meet them.

Dr. Jerry Hunt
The Bergand Group

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