The Early Stages of Recovery Relationships

When we emerge from the miracle we will see the roles that others around us have played for what they truly are. We will learn to be quick to correct the enabler, lovingly silence the persecutor, and seek the wisdom promised to us in our new paradigm. Our loved ones will be challenged by our new way of being. We have to understand that we answered yes to the call to be well but those around us may have had other ideas about what a healthy version of us will feel like. They may pray for the idea of a healthy spouse, but resent the fresh opinions, evolving spirituality, and upside down view of the world that comes with it. There is no single answer for this relational perplexity. Each situation will have its own unique dynamics and what will happen in each scenario will vary from case to case.

The Challenges of Early Recovery Relationships

It is important to note that if you must stop being you so that someone else can stay them we have a huge problem. Many in early recovery feel that the tension in the home which comes with early sobriety is their fault, and they question the personal progress they’ve made individuating from their marriage if it causes any conflict or consternation for the spouse. The presence of conflict doesn’t mean that there is blame to be placed on either partner. It simply means that the relational playing field is plowed up and everyone is learning a new game. Fresh sobriety and recovery relationships are fraught with this specific conflict more often than not. This is why family work is so important in the recovery process and why I stress working with the family members of all my substance abuse clients.

This relational dissension is not exclusive to spouses and partners but can also be true of employers, siblings, children, and anyone who holds deep relational equity in our lives. The process of exerting ourselves is the same regardless. It is reasonable on their part to expect us to go about rebuilding trust and demonstrating a very humble point of view as we re-enter their world. However, whether it is addiction, an affair, a death, or anything that has upset the relational applecart, we have to remind ourselves over and over that the old normal is gone.

How We Can Overcome These Challenges

In order to thrive from here we must be able to address our truest needs and model what our new role in the relationship is going to be. We have to retrain the people around us in the same way we have had to retrain ourselves. If we resort to performing in our old role in the relationship just to make an insecure partner feel safe instead of respecting our new boundaries and addressing our needs, it is only a matter of time until we will relapse into our old way of acting and thinking, which will almost inevitably result in a relapse of our substance disorder. It is imperative to continue to think soberly as well as live soberly. Every relapse starts in our thinking and our behavior, not when we pick up our first drink after rehab.

*Adapted from, “After the Miracle: Illusions Along the Path To Restoration” by, David Hampton/Morgan James Publishing, New York, NY. Used by permission.

  • Author — Last Edited: September 25, 2019
    Photo of David Hampton
    David Hampton
    David Hampton has lived in the Greater Nashville, Tennessee area since 1988, where he enjoyed two staff writing deals with major Nashville music labels. David served as the Director of Worship Arts at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN for nearly two decades. David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker (represented by and the author of two books, Our Authentic Selves: Reflections On What We Believe and What We Wish We Believed (Lighthouse Publishing), as well as his most recent book, After the Miracle: Illusions Along the Path to Restoration (Morgan James New York). David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast available on iTunes and Spotify, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with Nashville area treatment centers, nonprofit recovery organizations, and consulting with faith-based groups trying to bridge the gap between the recovery communities and faith-based organizations who wish to understand addiction.

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