6 Steps to Address Relationship Issues in Recovery

By Beth Leipholtz 02/13/18

Even in recovery, relationships will never be effortless. Whether it's family, friendship, or romance, navigating the ups and downs can be hard, confusing work.

Two women sit at a table, holding hands and drinking coffee
Like recovery, relationships require work to thrive.

Relationships are difficult—that’s a fact, no matter what stage of life you may be in. Whether it's family, friendship, romance, or simply a surface level acquaintance, navigating the ups and downs can be hard, confusing work.

In sobriety, resolving potential issues that arise can become even more difficult. But, as is the case in most aspects of life, there are also benefits to being sober and working on relationships. Being sober means you are able to be fully present and have a clear mind, while also being very self-aware of your own role in the relationship.

There are a many ways to approach relationship issues in recovery. Here are a few that I've found especially helpful in my own relationships:

  1. Consider the situation from afar. Before delving right in to whatever the issue may be, take some time to think about it before addressing it. One benefit to having a clear and unaltered mind is that you are able to think through situations and possible outcomes before sitting down to have a serious conversation. Take the opportunity to outline what you’d like to say and what your concerns about the relationship are rather than risking an impulsive conversation during which you may say things you don’t mean. Stepping back and assessing the situation as a whole is always a good idea, and being sober and present allows you to do that.
  1. Come up with a game plan. After spending some time reflecting on the situation, decide what your next steps should be. What do you want to address in the relationship? Does the other person have any idea that there may be issues in the relationship? What is your ideal outcome/resolution? The answers to these questions may impact how you want to approach the conversation. While it’s not wrong to have a conversation without putting forethought in, it does increase the likelihood that things could get heated and confrontational, which may not result in a positive outcome for either party involved.
  1. Let the person in question know you’d like to have a conversation with them. I appreciate when people let me know they want to talk to me about something rather than when they catch me completely off guard. It shows respect for my time and feelings. If you want to have a serious conversation with someone, give them a heads up. Shoot them a text or phone call and ask if they would be willing to talk to you and when they have time to do so. This makes them feel involved in the decision to talk, rather than attacked and caught off guard, which can lead to them being defensive. More often than not, the person on the other side will agree to sit down and talk to you. If not, just remember that their decision speaks to who they are, not who you are.
  1. Know what you’d like to discuss and consider how you’ll present those ideas. It’s never fun going into a conversation, especially a difficult one, and having no idea how to express what you are feeling. Having a plan with talking points doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get out a pen and paper and map it out (though that can work for some people). It just means that you should put some thought into what you would like to say about the issues the relationship is facing and why those issues are problematic for you. This will make the conversation more productive and the other person will not feel like it is a waste of their time, as they may if you haven’t collected your thoughts well enough to express them.
  1. Make sure to listen and own up to your own faults. Just like you feel like you have important points to make, the other person in the relationship probably has valid things to say to you as well. When working to resolve an issue, it’s important to consider both sides. This may mean admitting to your own shortcomings, which can be difficult to do. But part of the process of recovery as a whole is recognizing the role your own actions and decisions may play in a situation and taking responsibility for them. Rather than become defensive, try to be open to hearing how another person is feeling and what they think about the role you play in the relationship. If you disagree, express that respectfully and calmly rather than going on the defensive or reacting in anger. Doing so will result in a more productive dialogue.
  1. Determine what comes next. In some situations there may be clear next steps, while in others the road forward may be uncertain. The truth is that there isn’t always an ideal outcome when a relationship is facing problems. Sometimes two people are better off parting ways than trying to repair damage. But it’s up to the people in the relationship to assess the situation and decide what is best for everyone involved. Obviously a relationship is a two-way street and both people have to be on board when it comes to wanting to repair any damage that has been done. If this is the case, talk through what you can do differently in the future to avoid ending up in the same situation. Make a plan about how to address it if you feel the same situation begins to creep up on the relationship again.

The truth is that even in recovery, relationships will never be effortless. Maintaining healthy and open relationships takes work and patience. Sometimes the process will be frustrating and confusing. But remaining sober through the ups and the downs will leave you better equipped to confront and work on the relationships that are important to you.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.