Does Your Partner Resent Your Recovery?
Recovery is not a journey for the faint of heart regardless of your relationship status, but if you are in a relationship when you begin that journey, you may encounter some unexpected hurdles.
When I began my own recovery journey I had been married to my husband for five years. He had been begging me to get help for quite some time, so once I finally did, the last thing I expected was any resistance from him. In the very beginning he was supportive and praised my decision to get help. It wasn’t until a couple of months into my sobriety that the whole “recovery thing” started getting to him. At the time, I didn’t realize that a successful recovery for me meant a lot of sacrifices for him.
Recovery is a very selfish time for the individual going through it, and it has to be that way. If you’re not putting your recovery first, then you are decreasing your chances of success.
I was eating, sleeping, and breathing recovery. I was going to intensive outpatient treatment every night after work and after that I would usually hit a meeting. Time at home was spent with my nose in the Big Book or other like literature. When I would take a moment to chat with my beloved, I tended to dominate the conversation with recovery speak and stories about all the new friends I was making. I couldn’t help it, I was just so excited! Soon it was quite obvious that my husband’s enthusiasm for my recovery did not come anywhere near matching mine. In fairness to him, my recovery ramblings may have gone over better if he was not utterly exhausted by trying to maintain the house, our three children, and his own full-time job, virtually alone. It didn’t occur to me that anybody would feel put out by my newfound sobriety.
Sensing his disdain for my level of commitment to the program, I became furious! Angry thoughts quickly manifested into angry words: “You wanted me to do this! I’m doing this for our family! Are you really asking me to go to less meetings? Maybe I should just start drinking again and then I’ll always be at home, right where you want me!” These were all truly unfair things for me to say to him, but in the moment, it was how I felt. Looking back, I wish I had taken some time to reflect upon the ways my new lifestyle was impacting my husband.
The entire dynamic of our relationship was shifting. My years of alcoholism had transformed our romantic partnership into a twisted parent-child dynamic, and I was changing into a completely different person who no longer fit into that dysfunctional pattern. This is not to say that my husband wanted that dynamic back, but he was having trouble navigating the transition. He didn’t have the pink cloud that I did to carry me through.
The solution to our problems was not for me to go to less meetings, to become less engaged in my sober support network, or to focus on my recovery any less. Nor was the solution for my husband to leave his frustrations completely unaddressed for fear of shattering my vulnerable sobriety. The solution was for me to have a greater awareness and understanding of what my partner was going through.
As it turns out, this predicament is not uncommon. If you’re starting to feel like your partner is less than enthused about your recovery, the following suggestions can help ease some of that rising tension.
- Recognize ALL the ways your partner supports your recovery and thank them often. Take some time to really consider what sacrifices your partner has made for the sake of your recovery. My husband didn’t want me to stop doing what I needed to do to get sober, but he did need some recognition for the extra weight he was pulling on the home front. A supportive partner isn’t just somebody who says they support you. When your partner makes sacrifices of time and effort to facilitate your recovery, this is a gesture of support, and not a minor one. So, make sure you let your partner know how much you appreciate their support in all forms, and let them know often. It doesn’t take much effort to do this and it lets your partner know that you see them and their struggle.
- Engage in two-way conversations. This can be hard to do in early recovery. You feel like you’ve been reborn! You’re seeing the world in a whole new way. You just want to share it all with the one you love, and that’s ok, but you need to keep it in check. Most people don’t want to have a one-sided conversation and your partner is probably no different. Ask your partner how they are doing on a regular basis and make sure you speak and listen in equal measure.
- Don’t try to impose your personal changes and revelations on your partner. When I started to become involved in AA, I felt like I had been given a road map on how to live life and I wanted my husband to use the same map. I became critical of how he conducted himself whenever his behavior fell outside of my newfound guidelines for life. I also tried to push my Higher Power beliefs on him. Imagine how this must have felt! The girl who spent most of the last decade blackout drunk is suddenly trying to shove her moral compass into his hands and claiming to know God’s will! In early recovery we are susceptible to becoming overly judgmental towards the people around us. It almost feels as though we have learned the secret to life and anybody who is not in recovery is out of the loop. Resist the temptation to verbalize these feelings. To do so would be unfair and based on a misguided notion. We enter recovery to change ourselves, not those around us.
- Seek counseling. When in inpatient or intensive outpatient rehab, it is likely that your counselor will want to include your spouse or partner at some point. Do your best to facilitate this. Having an objective voice to mediate exchanges between you and your partner can be extremely beneficial for both of you. Couples counseling is also a great option. Couples counseling differs from having your partner attend a session with you in that the focus is on the outcome of your relationship rather than the outcome of you as an individual. If you decide to go this route, you should continue any individual counseling you’re currently involved in, unless otherwise advised by a mental health professional. Another option is to encourage your partner to receive individual counseling (if they are open to it). You are both going through a lot during this time, but it is unlikely that your partner is receiving the same level of support that you are receiving from your recovery community.
- Remain aware of the fact that change is hard for everybody. Recovery is an intensely transformative process, and it can be easy to lose sight of what that means for your loved one. Your partner may be feeling insecure about whether the “new you” will still love them or vice versa, they may struggle with a newly emerging relationship dynamic and how to fit into it, and most likely of all your partner will just flat-out miss you. If you find yourself butting heads with your partner over your recovery, resist the impulse to become angry. Instead, consider the very real possibility that their feelings are born out of fear for your future as a couple. It can seem as though they are being unsupportive, but it is in those moments that we need to ask ourselves how supportive we are being of them.
Realize that removing your drug of choice from the equation that is your relationship does not necessarily result in peace and harmony. Some of your relationship problems will disappear with your sobriety, some will remain, and some new ones will crop up. Maintaining a healthy relationship in early recovery is a balancing act where both parties are constantly making adjustments to keep the relationship centered. It can be a struggle, but if you both exercise patience, understanding and commitment, you will be rewarded with a relationship that is rich in shared experience, mutual respect, and a bright future.
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