The journey toward recovery is a trek that couples need to make together. Despite all variables, if the relationship is to last and gravitate towards positivity in the long-run, both partners must be willing to transition into a new normal. While many people think that a significant other going to treatment and entering recovery will fix all things wrong between them, it's not always a straight shot. You see, addiction drags relationships through various cycles that break down the basic constructs of interaction between couples. Recovery is an adventure that is best taken as individuals, and as a couple. It's A Family Disease.
Recovery is a process that brings individuals back from the dark side of addiction. In relationships, this means that families, and primarily significant others, must accept that this spurs changes throughout the family system. Finding out where each partner fits into the new, changing landscape of the life is vital to improving healthy, loving relationships that can endure in the months and years ahead. Everyone changes, and despite the initial discomfort, the affects are needed, profound, and hopefully lasting. If family systems work together toward the positive, everyone can make pivotal changes that lift each other up. Just as addiction drags families down, recovery will be a progressional growth back upward.
Phase One: Crisis
The tipping point from addiction into recovery usually happens when a family member's focus becomes totally fixated on using. In response, significant others typically have to shift into overdrive to compensate and keep family life afloat. This transition into overworking and under-working family roles can only be temporarily sustained, and often creates compounding issues of guilt, resentment, and disconnection. When one partner absorbs the bulk of life responsibilities as the using partner declines, it creates a recipe for disaster. Relieved of the pressure of responsibilities and obligations, the addicted partner has more time to use, yet they increasingly begin to feel like that are constantly being harassed, hassled, and bullied into doing things that they (for whatever reasons) don't want to do. In turn, the over-working partner's emotions commonly descend into desperation as they become worn down and misinterpret their counterparts behavior as innate laziness, dishonesty and uncaring. Unfortunately, for everyone, it is rare that either side is properly interpreted as hurt feelings heighten and snuff out any effective communication.
Phase Two: Change
Like much of the communication that transpires between loved ones prior to treatment, the expectations of what sobriety will do to, and for, the relationship is often off base. More often than not, by the time that a person enters treatment, the ins and outs of that relationship have been heavily affected and sometimes, forever altered by the progression of the addiction. Still, the jumbled mess of emotions that are uncovered with sobriety are the only effective launch pad for healing. Be ready and willing to work just as hard as your loved one in treatment. Addiction isn't fair to anyone but recovery is the way back to the ideal relationship that you both want. It will take some time to sort it all out, but it's worth it. When both partners are willing to take accountability, the relationship has an opportunity to change and grow beyond the idealized state that participants often glorify. You can't go back, but you CAN go forward.
Phase Three: Readjustment
The benefits of sorting out relationship problems are exponential. When an addict is clean, their mind and body are released from the fog of preoccupation that kept genuine communication at bay. Hope begins here. However, addicts and their partners experience vast changes to feelings, routines, and mindsets during the early stages of recovery. Many people find themselves discouraged when they realize that sobriety wasn't the magic wand that everyone had hoped for, however, this is a normal experience. Be patient. Restoring relationship balance takes work on everyone's behalf. Newly sober 'under-working' partners are often excited to reclaim their personal power while 'overworking' partners are hopeful, yet reluctant to hand some control back over. Trust is reliable, generous, and consistent; all things that will need to be regained by both parties over time. In the long run, the partnership will have to work through emotions, responsibilities, and communication difficulties many times over.
Phase Four: Maintenance
Couples usually find some kind of rhythm in the early stages of recovery that allows for daily life to move forward, even with hesitance, until a natural new normal develops. This is a time period in which everyone is finding their feet again. The more education, communication, and support that both parties receive during this process, the better for everyone involved. As readjustment settles, couples can better assess where to go from here. Sobriety doesn't fix relationship problems but it paves the way toward healthy, happy individuals that are capable of strong intrapersonal relationships. In order to correct lop-sided relationships, both partners need to work towards clearly communicated common goals.
Recovery IS Possible!
Maegan Glidden, MS, NCC
INFO Brenda Schaeffer Is It Love or Is It Addiction?
PODCAST Esther Perel Where Should We Begin?
Remeber, It's A Family Disease.