Recovery from addiction means that an individual has become aware that he/she has a problem with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, love, or another compulsion and begins the process of sobriety. Couples who enter into recovery from addiction are beginning a new phase in the relationship. In order for this transition to be successful, couples must learn about maintaining their relationship in the context of recovery. Why is this important? We know from research that the following is true:
- A positive long term committed relationship promotes better physical health.
- A supportive couple relationship increases an individual’s ability to recover from addiction.
- A supportive intimate partner relationship can reduce risk to relapse.
John Gottman, PhD and Neil Jacobsen, PhD, were able to identify key factors in whether couples stay together or split. They were able to identify the following traits in relationships that were headed towards dissolution:
They found that using their indicators, they could predict within 91% accuracy whether a relationship would succeed or fail within 5 minutes of observing a conflict!
Why do couples in recovery struggle with these behaviors?
1. Emotional regulation: Early in recovery, emotions are much more intense. Resentment and emotional reactions often create a negative “filter” in which the couple views events with each other with a generally negative perspective.
2. Baggage: Couples entering into recovery are plagued by baggage occurring due to addiction, including affairs, dishonesty, lack of faith, dissolving social support, negative memories, and distance and isolation. This baggage will contribute to relationship instability.
3. Different recovery programs: Therapists often split couples up and send them to their own recovery support systems, without providing any direction for maintaining a couples connection through the recovery process. Over time, this contributes to distance and isolation from one another.
4. Lack of communication skill: Couples in early recovery have difficulty with identifying feelings, expressing their thoughts, and listening to one another. Because addiction often stifles emotional systems, a recovering person is generally “thawing out” or learning to feel their frozen feelings.
So, what can you do to overcome these problems?
1. Stop the Damage. Stop communicating criticism and contempt to your partner in your daily interactions. Don’t say things like “you never”, “you always”, or make accusatory statements about your partner’s personality.
2. Don’t argue. In early recovery we are more susceptible to emotional highs and lows. If you find yourself angry because of something your partner said or did, take a 20 minute break before bringing it up. Don’t confront them right away. Find someone outside of the relationship with whom you can talk about your feelings.
3. Stop being harsh. When you do have something you want to bring up, say it in a softened way, such as “Do you think we could talk about keeping the house clean? I just wanted to see if we can find a way to make that work for both of us”.
4. Appreciate. Find something about your partner or something that they did that you can appreciate each day. Create a ritual each night and exchange things that you appreciate about your partner with them.
5. Learn. Set aside time for you and your partner to attend educational forums, informational settings, or to just read about addiction. This can build cooperation about dealing with addiction.
In addition to these things, Trahan Counseling can assist you with creating a better relationship with your partner even in early sobriety. For more information, see our website, http://www.trahancounseling.com/marriage-counseling-houston, or phone us at 281-935-0865.