Confronting alcoholism is a challenging process, both for those abusing alcohol and their loved ones. As the partner of someone in recovery, it can be confusing and overwhelming. Perhaps you have just discovered that the person you love has a problem with alcohol and needs your help.
But where do you begin if you want to learn how to support your sober partner? How do you live with an alcoholic?
A relationship with a recovering alcoholic does not necessarily need to change in a major way – remember that your partner is the same person they have always been. That said, there are some simple things you can do to support your partner, streamline their recovery, and strengthen your relationship.
This guide outlines how to support a recovering alcoholic spouse and how to connect them with the care they need to combat alcohol use disorder.
11 Strategies on How to Support a Recovering Alcoholic Spouse
How to support a sober partner in recovery? The first thing you can do is keep an open mind and try to be understanding. People confronting their addiction are likely feeling a lot of guilt or shame already. As their partner, the last thing you want to do is add to that. Research has shown that addiction is better understood as a disease than a choice. Let them know that you understand this is not their fault, and that you are here to help them get through it like any other health issue.
CREATE A PLAN
Open communication is the foundation of every good relationship. Beginning your partner’s recovery journey as a team means talking about it openly and coming up with a plan of action. Having clear goals and a routine is hugely helpful for addicts in recovery. Sit down and define exactly what you both expect from each other, and what your boundaries are. This will set you up for success and avoid future pain and conflict.
EXPLORE TREATMENT OPTIONS
As the partner of an addict in recovery, it is important for you to recognize whether their recovery is going well and decide if you can handle the burden without help. For some addicts, the support of family and loved ones is enough to get through early recovery and into a sober life. If your partner is severely addicted or has failed to get sober in the past, it may be necessary to explore treatment options, like Gratitude Lodge. Not all addicts will enter treatment willingly. You may need to give them the push that they need.
BE AWARE OF THEIR TRIGGERS
The most common cause of relapse for addicts is being exposed to triggers. For some addicts, that can mean moments of emotional distress or loneliness. For others, it can be a party or family event. It is important for you to talk to your partner and identify their triggers so that you can be aware of them. That way you can help them to avoid them where possible and recognize times when they may need additional support from you.
SUGGEST SOBER ACTIVITIES
Finding new activities and habits to enjoy is essential for addicts to have a healthy and lasting recovery. However, often addicts in a relationship will feel guilty about limiting the options of their spouse or partner. A great way to support them in their recovery is to be proactive and research fun sober activities that you can enjoy together. That way they will feel less like a burden and more like a partner in a loving, supportive relationship.
TRY COUPLES THERAPY
No couple is perfect, and adding addiction recovery to the mix can put your relationship under considerable strain. Couples therapy can be hugely valuable to even the healthiest of relationships, so why not when you are going through addiction recovery together? One of the best things you can do to help your partner in recovery is finding ways to keep the foundation of your relationship strong. Therapy might just be what you need to help you do that.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
We won’t sugar coat it. Sometimes supporting someone through recovery can be difficult, particularly in the early stages of recovery. Addicts going through withdrawal are prone to mood swings and may lash out at those close to them. It is important for you to remember that these outbursts don’t reflect their true feelings. Try to focus on the positive moments. With that being said, when they cross a line be sure to communicate your feelings and do not accept abusive behavior.
TRY TO KEEP A SOBER SHARED SPACE
Just because your partner is sober, it doesn’t mean that you have to be. However, drinking or using other substances around them can be a difficult temptation for them to resist, and make them feel unsupported. Particularly in the early stages, try to keep your shared space sober-friendly. Research has shown that addicts in early recovery are much more likely to be successful if they live in a sober space.
REMEMBER TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
With all of your focus on your partner’s recovery, it can be easy to forget to look after your own needs. You won’t be any good as a partner in their recovery if you are not in a good place yourself. Remember that it is okay to get angry and express your emotions with your partner. It can also be very helpful to have someone else to talk to about your experiences. Consider finding a therapist to talk to, or joining a sober partners support group.
RECOGNIZE THEIR PROGRESS
Recovery is an incredibly difficult time and is often accompanied by feelings of shame and depression. Choosing to enter into recovery is a brave decision and staying committed to it takes a lot of dedication. Rebuilding self-esteem is a critical part of recovery. It may sound simple, but letting your partner know how proud of them you are and how much you appreciate their efforts can go a long way.
As much as you might want to get back to your normal life, you have to accept that it won’t happen overnight. Recovery takes time and one of the most helpful things you can do is try your best to be patient. Relapses are common and they do not mean that your partner has ‘failed’. There will be ups and downs but, if you are willing to put in the work and get through the difficult early phase, then you can have a normal, happy life with your sober partner.
Common Marriage Changes After Sobriety
Marriage is a union between two people that involves a strong emotional connection, commitment, and a shared life together. When one partner struggles with addiction, though, this can significantly affect the dynamic of the relationship.
Substance abuse can create a rift between spouses, causing trust issues, communication breakdowns, and financial strain. This means that when someone enters recovery, it is not only a personal journey but also a journey that impacts their loved ones and their closest relationship.
Here are some common changes that occur in marriages after sobriety:
- Open communication: One of the most telling changes that can occur after sobriety is more open communication. During addiction, it is common for people to lie, manipulate and hide their substance abuse from their partner. In recovery, it is vital to be honest and open about your thoughts, feelings, and struggles. This newfound honesty and vulnerability can help to build trust and improve communication within the relationship.
- Rebuilding trust: Trust is a fundamental aspect of any relationship, and addiction can severely damage it. After entering recovery, it is possible to start rebuilding trust with your partner. Start by being consistent, reliable, and following through with commitments. Rebuilding trust may also involve being accountable for past actions and working to make amends.
- Shared goals and aligned values: When one partner struggles with addiction, their values and goals may differ from those of their spouse. After entering recovery, you may find that your values and goals are more aligned with those of your partner. Discussing shared interests and aspirations, setting joint goals, and working together to achieve them can help to create a stronger sense of unity and purpose within your relationship.
- Improved intimacy: Addiction can significantly impact physical and emotional intimacy within a relationship. However, after entering recovery, you can work on improving your emotional and physical well-being, which could lead to improved intimacy with their partner. Strategies may involve working on self-care, prioritizing mental and physical health, and building a deeper emotional connection with their partner.
Getting Help for Your Alcoholic Spouse
If you have an alcoholic spouse, seeking help promptly will protect the safety and well-being of you and your family. Here are some actionable steps you can take to get help for a loved one who is abusing alcohol:
- Educate yourself about alcoholism: Discover as much as possible about the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, the effects of alcoholism on individuals and families, and the treatment options available. This knowledge will help you understand your spouse’s behaviors and enable you to provide support appropriate for their needs.
- Talk to your spouse: Voice your concerns and highlight the impact their alcohol abuse is having on you and your family. Encourage them to seek help but be prepared for resistance and denial.
- Seek professional help: Consult a healthcare professional like a family doctor, a therapist, or a counselor. They may provide advice on how to manage the situation and may also refer your spouse to a mental health professional or addiction treatment program.
- Attend a support group: Joining a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon designed for the families of those abusing substances may provide you with the emotional support and coping strategies you need to deal with your spouse’s alcoholism.
- Consider an intervention: If your spouse refuses to seek help, consider staging an intervention. This involves gathering loved ones and a professional interventionist to confront the individual and encourage them to seek treatment.
- Focus on self-care: Caring for an alcoholic spouse can be emotionally draining. Make certain to take care of your own physical and mental health by eating well, exercising regularly, and seeking support from family and friends.
Remember that alcoholism is a progressive and incurable disease but recovery is possible. Encourage your spouse to seek help and be patient and supportive throughout the process. When you are ready to take action, we can help you at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California.