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Supporting a Sober Partner or Spouse

Supporting a sober partner can be stressful, but with proper boundaries, coping strategies, and communication, it doesn’t have to be. If you are not in recovery yourself, there are many ways to support your partner that don’t require you to be sober. 


Setting Boundaries

A study published in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly shows that helping someone else typically improves the helper’s own mental health. Even if this is true, helping can still be stressful or overwhelming, especially when the helper over-volunteers to the point that they are not taking care of themselves. Setting boundaries, which are officially defined as “a set of rules that protect the integrity or limitations of a person,” are crucial in supporting a sober partner. 

First, define your boundaries. This may include making a list, having a thoughtful conversation with your partner, and giving gentle reminders when boundaries are about to be crossed. Take the time to think for yourself what your boundaries are, and be assertive when you say what they are. It’s okay to give yourself room to breathe. In fact, the routine that accompanies some boundaries can be beneficial to your partner. 

While your boundaries will be unique to you, here are a few examples:

  • Deciding what to say to others. Decide together how you will respectfully communicate your partner’s addiction with others (family, friends, children, etc.). 
  • Taking time for yourself. If you’re overwhelmed, take a 30-minute break. Let your loved one know you will be back, but you need some “me” time. 
  • Setting expectations for your own activities. For example, if you’re not sober, you can say, “I won’t keep alcohol or drugs in the house, but I will be at the bar with my friends for a couple of hours on Thursdays. Can we plan a sober night here with your friends on Thursdays while I’m gone?”

Next, work together to define boundaries for your partner. After evaluating 300 people in two different types of sober living homes, a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs confirms that a person’s home and living situation is crucial in their success in recovery. Sober living houses have several key characteristics that make them successful. Here are a few sober living rules that you can use in your own home: 

  • An alcohol/drug-free environment for those who need to abstain. If your partner absolutely can’t have alcohol or drugs in the house, keep the house substance-free. In cases where they can, keep it locked away. Only leave it out if they are at a point in their recovery where it’s not tempting. 
  • Mandated or strongly encouraged participation in a recovery program. Helping your partner stay committed to their recovery can be as easy as supporting their choice of recovery group (Alcoholics Anonymous, etc.). Encourage them to attend meetings, therapy, and sober events. 
  • Required compliance with house rules. This means paying bills, following a chore schedule, and accepting boundaries. Keeping a routine in the home is helpful to those in recovery and reinforces a safe environment. 
  • An invitation to stay as long as they like, as long as they’re following the rules. Set a firm boundary that your partner must follow house rules, or they can go to treatment again. Kicking them to the curb is not an ideal threat for those in recovery because it may imply to your partner that you don’t care. 


Coping Strategies

Coping with addiction and recovery is most beneficial when you hammer out coping strategies together. Coping methods can vary by your household’s routine. When faced with situations that compromise a loved one’s sobriety, the most beneficial coping methods are often:

  • Behavioral: Engage in an alternate activity, escape the situation, refuse to drink or use, or contact your sober support person (sponsor, etc.). 
  • Cognitive: Think of the positive consequences of not relapsing compared to the negative consequences of relapsing, or remember the self-mastery and strength messages you have learned. 
  • Spiritual: Participate in relaxation/meditation or a spiritual practice of your choosing. Remind yourself of those mantras.

As you and your partner go through your daily life, you can determine which coping strategies seem to work best for you. 


Communication Strategies

Communication with your partner should be non-accusatory, open, honest, and from a place of love or concern when warranted. Using goal-specific language with your partner can be helpful as well. 

An important part of communication is understanding the cycle of substance abuse. A study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine defines the stages of relapse as emotional relapse, mental relapse, and finally, physical relapse. Being able to communicate with your partner and recognize the stages of relapse is crucial for relapse prevention. Express your fears for your partner, your expectations, and give them your love and support. 


If your loved one is struggling with addiction, it is common to feel overwhelmed. Supporting a partner or spouse in recovery can be stressful and scary, but you don’t have to go through it alone. At RECO Intensive, we understand that you need your own education and support to face your partner’s addiction. You are important to your partner’s RECOvery, and our tried and tested RECOvery response is available to you. At RECO intensive, our specialized staff and experienced alumni will create an individualized plan for you and your partner’s success. We offer a myriad of support programs and therapies that are meant to support you. Our state-of-the-art facilities and highly-trained staff can guide you and your partner through inpatient treatment or even outpatient treatment if your partner needs to stay home. We know that supporting a partner through RECOvery poses many challenges, and we are here to help. To learn more, call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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