Early Sobriety and Marriage

When a person commits to sobriety, it is the first step on the lifelong path of addiction recovery. A person in recovery may feel like they are on an endless roller coaster of emotions and not even realize the enormous impact sobriety has on their spouse or partner. To assume everything will be fine after years of substance abuse is naive. In marriages, the recovery path may be influenced by many issues related to past baggage, current circumstances and external factors. For example, the nondrinking spouse may have been an enabler of this behavior, so when the drinking spouse is in the early days of sobriety, both may feel lost and not know how to act around one another.

Anger, guilt, hurt, resentment, dependency and blame may have typified the past relationship, and this doesn’t necessarily change with sobriety. The nondrinking spouse may have trust issues from past broken promises and not truly believe their mate can stay clean. Bringing up past transgressions can keep couples stuck and increase the recovering person’s risk of relapse.

Co-Occurring Issues

Frequently, drugs and alcohol are used as a means of coping with underlying issues. In early sobriety, these problems may come bubbling to the surface. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues must be addressed. If you attended a 12-step program (e.g., Nar-Anon or Al-Anon) while your spouse was in treatment, it is important to continue going to discuss problems as they arise. Professional psychotherapy or counseling for both spouses is paramount to maintaining abstinence and rebuilding trust.

In some cases, a person in recovery may be with a spouse who still drinks. Getting and staying sober is complicated by a spouse or significant other who drinks or uses drugs. This behavior can trigger cravings that could lead to relapse. Multiple studies indicate couples with different drinking patterns (e.g., one is a heavy drinker) are unhappy compared to those with similar alcohol habits, and also have higher divorce rates. You know what it takes to stop drinking or taking drugs, so you could suggest a support group or stage an intervention, but regardless, you need to put your sobriety first. If your spouse continues this behavior, think seriously about counseling and setting and enforcing boundaries.

Rebuilding Intimate Relationships

Sobriety destabilizes the status quo, but it also opens the door to healthier relationships. Sexual intimacy is impaired by the emotional lack of intimacy that accompanies alcoholism and drug use. It takes time for couples to rebuild trust and confidence. The following tips from a newly sober woman may help you get through difficult periods and embark on a new chapter in your marriage:

  • Journal about your issues, concerns and feelings to deal with problems constructively
  • Attend couples therapy as well as individual counseling and support groups
  • Remember that addiction does not define your spouse
  • Admit you are powerless over your spouse’s drinking or drug use
  • Look at your own behaviors before criticizing your spouse
  • Live in the present and stop regretting the past
  • Take time for simple pleasures either together or alone (e.g., movies, hobbies, exercise, reading, cooking or long baths)

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