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You Got Sober. Your Spouse Did Not. Now What?


February 12, 2018

Not all relationships survive when one partner gets sober and the other does not. However, that does not mean that all relationships where that happens are doomed. Some grow stronger with time and care.

Typically, addiction recovery works best when both the person with the addiction and the partner work on caring for themselves as a top priority. Only when that happens can a relationship be reconstructed with two healthy partners. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. For most people, though, it is well worth it.

Be forewarned, people who stop drinking or using through sheer willpower (also known as “ white knuckle sobriety” or being a “dry drunk”) without therapeutic recovery treatment tend to have far more difficulty reconstructing a healthy relationship with their partner. Addiction recovery is about far more than simply not using. 

Recovery, in Some Ways, Is a Joint Undertaking

Whether or not both partners choose addiction recovery, even the recovery of one partner is in many ways a joint process. In partnerships where one partner reaches sobriety, but the other, non-addicted partner chooses to continue low-risk alcohol consumption, resentment can build in both directions. 

Ultimately, the partner who is in addiction recovery must focus foremost on his or her own recovery in order to sustain it. Likewise, the partner of the person in recovery must be able to detach from the partner’s former addictive behaviors and accept that while sobriety can indeed be wonderful, it does not automatically “fix” a relationship.

Are You Losing a Major Common Bond by Not Drinking Together?

If you are the partner who is in addiction recovery, you have to ask yourself the painful question of whether you and your partner are losing a major part of your bond by not drinking together. Relationships do form over the bond of drinking or substance use, and in some cases, it is the drinking or using together that is the main thing that holds the partners together. It may be difficult or impossible for partnerships like this to survive one partner achieving and sustaining sobriety when the other does not. 

Do Not Focus on Trying to Change Your Partner's Behavior

Addiction recovery

As a person in addiction recovery, your priority must be your own sobriety. Focusing on the other person’s behavior takes away from that, and you cannot change that person in any case. Successful partnerships do not require that both parties are perfect, but that they are whole and unique individuals. You cannot will that for your partner, but you can work on that for yourself. Nagging and judging, or urging your partner to pursue addiction recovery, simply will not work, and you must ask yourself if you are willing to continue a relationship, especially if your partner has an addiction and will not acknowledge it or seek treatment.

Some Tips for Navigating a New Relationship Dynamic

Your sobriety is to be cherished and congratulated, but it does, in fact, change relationship dynamics, particularly if your addiction has been long-standing. Do not be judgmental toward your partner’s casual drinking or drug use, but focus on accepting yourself and sustaining your own sobriety. Remind yourself that your partner's drinking does not reflect on your resolve.

In more practical terms, be certain you have a sound backup plan for social situations and other scenarios that are triggers for you. Likewise, know what you will and will not accept in terms of your partner’s behavior. Some people in addiction recovery can live with a partner who engages in low-risk drinking, and others cannot. No one, however, should be willing to put up with abusive behavior by their partner. 

Your partner is involved in your addiction recovery whether he or she thinks so or not. Sobriety does not magically fix relationship problems, but changes the dynamic, sometimes in a very positive way, other times less so. In other words, relationships require work and commitment in recovery just as they did before you completed addiction treatment. The great advantage now is that you are making decisions from a position of strength rather than desperation, and that is a good thing regardless. If you have questions about addiction recovery, we invite you to contact us today.

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