Advice

How to Support your Partner in Recovery

One of the keys to successful and sustainable recovery from alcohol addiction is having a good support system and as a loving partner, you’re one of the most valuable players in this system.  There’s a good chance you’ve been feeling powerless, frustrated, or scared with your partner’s drinking. Those feelings might then turn to hope, relief, yet worry when they tell you they’re ready to quit and get help.  So how can you support them through this journey?

Photo by Curtis Pittman

Educate Yourself

The more you learn about what your partner is going through the more you’ll be able to support and understand them.  Learn about the impact alcohol has on the brain in active addiction and in recovery, read other people’s recovery stories, and look up what to expect in the early stages of detoxing and recovery.  Having this knowledge not only helps you know what to expect, it can also really help your partner. 

Listen Openly

Someone quitting alcohol and going through recovery is dealing with a lot of emotions and a wide array of negative physical effects.  When I was in early recovery I remember having so many emotions all at once with the two most intense ones being guilt and fear.  Early recovery is a really scary time and I know for me, drinking was a coping mechanism I used for years.  It was easier to drink and forget than to feel emotions and talk about my thoughts and feelings.  So when I first got sober I had to learn how to feel everything without numbing and talk about everything in order to heal and overcome.  The guilt also comes in strong once someone starts to “sober up” and realize some of the damage they’ve caused. Please be patient with your partner.  Listen when they express their fears, frustrations, dreams, and anxieties.  Let them vent, let them cry, encourage them to express themselves however they feel in that moment (and trust me, that can change by the minute).

Be Aware of Triggers

Some triggers are obvious- like alcohol.  If you still drink you really shouldn’t do it around your partner or keep it in the house if you can help it.  Communicate with your partner to come up with a plan that works for both of you.  Other triggers might be Friday and Saturday nights so maybe plan a movie night or go for a long drive to the ocean and let them know early in the week so they have the new mini adventure to look forward to.  Everyone is different in what triggers them and this can change a lot in the first year of recovery as one gets stronger.  Communication is essential and there’s a good chance your partner might not know what triggers them yet so help them listen to their gut.  When something makes them feel sad or anxious or like they want to drink see if there’s a way to avoid that situation.

Understand that their Recovery is their Responsibility

No one can make someone get sober- that has to come from within.  It’s also impossible for someone to stay sober long term when they’re doing it for someone else.  You can’t make them not want to drink anymore, you can’t watch them 24/7 to ensure they don’t drink, and you can’t make them go to therapy.  Plus, you wouldn’t want to do these things because once you start having to force it you’ll know it’s not genuine recovery.  Not drinking and working on their recovery is your partner’s responsibly, not yours.  They just need you for support and love.

Find Support in the Community

Find an Al-Anon meeting near you and go!  Al-Anon is a great support for loved ones of alcoholics either in active addiction or recovery. If that’s not your jam search for some online support groups.

Look after You

Go easy on yourself and realize that getting sober and working on recovery is not only hard on your partner, it’s hard on you too.  Worry and anxiety over your loved ones physical and mental state takes a huge toll on your mental health too!  Set boundaries to ensure your partner’s recovery doesn’t become your world.  Remember to eat right, get adequate sleep, exercise, and set aside time for stress management activities.  It’s really hard to show up and be the loving supporting person you are when you’re stressed, overwhelmed, and running on empty.

Be Patient

Your partner is going through some really tough times and it’s going to take a lot of work and time to move past a lot of their issues, road blocks, and insecurities.  You may not see the fog lift for a while but know that it’s coming.  Your partner didn’t become an alcoholic overnight and it will take time and patience to begin to unlearn bad behaviors and reckless coping mechanisms.  If your relationship is worth it stick with them, love them, encourage them, and support them on this journey.  They’ll remember it for the rest of their life.

2 Comments

  • Graham

    Very good information. Great to see younger people assume such an important aspect of life through recovery. Some of the younger generation cannot always see their story in an older recovering alcoholic. Yet our stories are all so similar. I remember early in my recovery how I couldn’t necessarily believe some of the old timers sharing. Very inspirational to see and read. I hope you and this site continue to provide an alternate form of education to those that need it and want it. Very well done. Keep us informed as you site develops.

  • Grant

    Thanks for doing this most wonderful and worthy project. I am an alcoholic. I have stopped, but it was hard. I watched your interview on Global 2 mornings ago, and your brief story inspired me to do more about my sobriety. Thank you again.

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