Ask an Expert: Where Can I Get Relationship Help After Addiction?

By Jay Westbrook 02/05/15

Today's question is on where to relearn relationship skills after a long period of addiction and recovery.


I lost it a few years ago to booze and coke and went down the usual tunnel and ended up broke and jobless. Then I got into Debtor's Anonymous, a really great program, and some not very good social services level rehab and have made my way back to being a reasonable functioning adult though I still have cravings (which I handle) and am certainly not getting rich. I get by and am much less on my own case than before. The issue now is I have fallen in love and am not really skilled in relationships and it is triggering very intense feeling and insecurities and fueling some craving. Clearly I need some help with this and can't yet afford a private therapist and DA and the steps don't seem to be the answer and, much as I dig the steps. AA I have found is not for me for some odd reason even though DA has been, and I can't see AA helping with relationships. So where do I turn? All help appreciated. Thank you. - Carl


Jay Westbrook: I’m so impressed with your willingness to admit that you need help with relationships, and that you’re willing to ask for that help. I’m also pleased you found someone you care about enough to look for tools. 

I was married for decades, to the love of my life. She died from cancer in 2012, and we both had over 23 years sober when she died.  We always loved one another, but the marriage was certainly better and more loving and harmonious after we got clean and sober. 

For both of us, the most important tool was to translate “loving feelings” into “consistent loving behavior.” That means we behaved in a way that was honoring, honorable, passionate, compassionate, playful, forgiving, supportive, kind, loving, unconditional, patient, tolerant, and imaginative.

We ran most of our decisions through the filter of Tradition 1 associated with the 12-step programs: does this strengthen or weaken the common welfare, and does this lead to unity or to separation. It’s amazing how powerful this one litmus test or filter can be in guiding us to behavior that strengthens the relationship. We also learned how to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

It’s also vital to let go of being a victim and to let go of score-keeping (remembering every bad thing they’ve done and every good thing we’ve done). Holding on to being a victim and practicing score-keeping are two of the most corrosive behaviors in which members of a couple can engage.

Because how we do anything is how we do everything, it also became important for me to look at my behavior outside of the relationship. If I cheat at sports and cheat on my taxes, it would not be surprising to cheat on my wife; so I don’t cheat, period. If I drive aggressively, disrespectfully, and with a sense of entitlement, I’m likely to bring those same postures into my home, and not leave them in the driveway; so I drive respectfully.

I don’t know if you attend a church or not, but many churches and temples offer classes for new couples, to provide them with tools to help address problems with communication, intimacy, money, fighting, decision-making, etc. These can be very valuable.

There is also a great annual workshop called the Couples Communication Workshop, held each June in Lake Arrowhead, CA.  It’s for couples that have at least one member in a 12-Step Program.  You can get more info at Nancy & I attended it every year for 23 years, and it was invaluable to our relationship. There’s no therapy or confrontation or professionals – just couples sharing their experience, strength, and hope on how they stay together, grow closer, have fun, and deal with the situations life throws at couples. I strongly recommend it.

Finally, there are a zillion books out there. As someone who cultivated a loving, happy, highly successful romantic relationship, the two I would most strongly suggest for you are: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman & Nan Silver, and Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson. They are both relatively short, readable, and most importantly, useful.

I hope these help, and please let us know how things are progressing.



G Jay Westbrook, M.S-Gerontology., R.N, is a multiple award-winning clinician (Nurse of the Year), Visiting Faculty Scholar at Harvard Medical School, speaker and author who specializes in both substance abuse recovery and End-of-Life care and is an expert in Grief Recovery©. He has both consulted to and served as a clinician in multiple treatment centers and hospitals, guiding clients through their grief, and working with them and their families on healing broken relationships. His lectures to physicians and nurses include trainings in When Your Patient is a Substance Abuser: Currently or Historically. He can be reached at [email protected].    Full Bio.

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