10 ways to improve your relationship with someone in addiction recovery

Addiction leaves many relationships broken, so what can you do? Discover the DO’s and DONT’s that will help you mend and improve your relationship with a recovering addict after rehab is over.

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If you’re reading this, someone you know and love is probably now in recovery. Maybe you are in recovery yourself. And, most likely the relationship is neither-here-nor-there at the moment. It’s in a state of limbo,with distrust and hurt on both sides.

What pro-active steps can you take to improve the relationship and become closer than ever?

We will be explaining several aspects of relationships in recovery in this article, as well as the DO’s and DONT’s. We invite you to read this article and then join us for some Q&A in the comments section below where we try to answer to your inquiries personally and promptly.

Looking for some guidance?

Note first that mending relationships takes time and effort. Family therapists and counselors are great at giving guidelines, but you are looking for more answers on what to do or not to do when your loved one is in recovery from addiction.

So, if you have a family member or a friend in addiction recovery and wondering what you can do to improve you relationship, you’ve come to the right place.

5 things TO DO and help improve your relationship

1. Understand. In order to repair relationships that have been harmed by substance abuse, you will need to understand the condition. Educate yourself about addiction, the underlying causes, triggers, and its treatment. There are a lot of books that you can read to help guide you through the process of brain changes in addiction. Be open to learning and accepting new things, practice new ways of thinking, and ultimately to understand the chronic brain condition of addiction. HINT: It helps to start by learning how certain drugs affect the brain, and then to go from there.

2. Communicate. All relationships require communication, and the process of rebuilding relationships involves the reopening of those communication lines. Simple communication on your end can help open up the line of connection. If you are too hurt to make the first move; a part of Step 9 for people in recovery is to make amends to people they have hurt, so your conversations and talking points may hit it off after a sincere apology on their behalf. Then, you will be given the opportunity to fully express how you feel. Establishing respect after addiction, however, is part of the growth process. Be honest and tactful in your communication regarding your beliefs, admit when you were wrong, and allow different perceptions to exist.

3. Be Patient. Patience is vital for anyone hoping to rebuild relationships. Expecting too much too soon will always lead to disappointment. If the person in recovery is not ready, feels ashamed, or guilty, you may need to wait until they are in the clear. When they are ready they will come to you, or things will simply fall into place. Also, reconsider your wants and goals. A person in recovery moves at their own pace and sometimes you may not even get what you desired or envisioned. Sometimes, it comes later.

4. Open Up. When your recovering loved one is back home you may have welcomed them warmly and congratulated on their achievement to become sober. Yet, there is a sense of wariness and that completely normal! Years of hurt cannot suddenly be put right. But, be open to see the effort this person is putting into becoming better and appreciate when they are doing their best. Also, outside help is always available to help couples and families get past issues. Consider seeing a marriage counselor, family therapist, or individual psychotherapist to help process the changes. In the end, be open to love them as they show you day-by-day that they have really changed, and don’t be scared to show that love.

5. Support. Support your recovering loved one’s goals as honestly as you can, even if sometimes you don’t agree – this doesn’t mean you need to surrender your integrity, desires or views. Attend support group meetings, arrange events around recovery activities, and encourage new relationships with other people in recovery. Also, practice moral support and express appreciation frequently. This doesn’t mean you need to flatter the recoverer. Honesty is important, so you can work to find or rediscover the things you really value about them, and acknowledge them for small things. It will make you feel better (and them!), and such an atmosphere naturally leads to better relationships.

5 things TO AVOID and improve your bond with someone in recovery

1. Don’t expect or require perfection. We all make mistakes! An addict in recovery also has the right to be wrong and to learn from experiences and errors. Recovery means that they are working on the flaws, and so should you. There should be no high expectations or pushing! Your recovering loved one is still an error-prone human, and making mistakes doesn’t have to mean that they are going to relapse or destroy everything.

2. Don’t nag, preach or lecture. In recovery, addicts usually go through the shame, guilt, and embarrassment by soberly thinking about all the damage and hurt they have caused. They are now trying to find a way to forgive themselves and to make amends to you. By acting in such a way, you may only increase their need to lie, make promises they cannot keep, or expand the gap between the two of you.

3. Don’t enable. Behind many addicts there is usually someone who unintentionally, out of love and care, enables the addiction or addictive behaviors. The key is to be emphatic, but not enabling. Allow your loved one to experience the consequences of their own behavior. If a person can make something better which they have made worse, they should be obligated to bring positive change. By continually excusing behaviors, the recovering addict won’t have to take responsibility for their actions. When you stop enabling you will allow the person in recovery to learn from mistakes and resolve them with their own effort.

4. Don’t think you can do it all alone. Seek couples therapy, family therapy, or group therapy specialized for addiction issues. Many drug addiction and alcohol rehab centers offer such types of therapies. Therapists can work with you to help you work together to deal with stress and promote sober living. They are great for rebuilding relationships because many times issues that are obvious to the counselor are overlooked by the people affected. Having a professional intervene, guide you, and teach you new communication and action strategies can be invaluable.

5. Don’t lose yourself. We understand that having a recovering addict in your life can be consuming. However, you cannot be a watchdog and devote yourself to the other one’s needs. Your job is to be supportive, but also put your needs first. Get involved in activities that will be useful, enjoyable, and that will help you replenish yourself. Al-Anon meetings, individual therapy, spending time with your friends, enjoying hobbies are just a few ideas.

Professional help for relationships in recovery

So, who can you turn to for professional help and guidance when trying to improve relationships with someone in recovery? There are several ways you can find the right professional help for you, your family and the individual in recovery. Here are a few ideas that can help you in your search:

  • American Psychological Association – APA has an online tool called ‘Psychologist Locator‘ which makes it easy for you to find licensed psychologists in your local area.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors – Their search tool helps you find a national certified counselor in your area. NBCC’s Counselor Find directory identifies those individuals who have satisfied the certification standards.
  • Psychology Today – This print and online publication offers you a vast listing of licensed professionals nation-wide. You can find detailed professional listings for psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, group therapy and treatment centers in the US and Canada.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) – If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, therapy with a marriage and family therapist (MFT) can help. Find many professionals trained in relational therapy, that practice under the standards established by the AAMFT Code of Ethics.
  • American Family Therapy Academy – AFTA’s directory allows you to search by geography, professional roles, areas of interest, and more. They promote health, safety, and well-being of all families and communities.
  • American Counseling Association – Finding the right counselor takes some research. ACA offers some valuable information to help you find the right one.

Mending relationships in recovery questions

We hope this list helped you reflect on or realize what things you are doing right or wrong when trying to fix things with a recovering loved one. If there is more you’d like to know, feel free to post your questions in the section below and we’ll try to reply personally as quickly as possible.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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