your relationship’s been stuck, mired in muck under the shadow
of alcohol or other drugs.
you’ve started getting unstuck. Life isn’t perfect, but at least
your recovery has begun and things are less messy.
optimistic, and hope your relationship problems will vanish,
now that you’ve stopped feeding them drugs and booze.
You know about
the effects of chemical dependency on the family and you and
your partner are both committed to a program of recovery. Now
you won’t have to fight, blame, accuse, or pout. All you need
is love, right?
So you wait
— three months, six months, nine months. And the magic still
doesn’t happen. Nothing seems to grow, in fact, but tension —
You rub each
other the wrong way. You argue or suffer through silences that
are worse than war. And often, even when you aren’t angry or
hurt — on your best days — you still don’t have much to say
to one another.
You begin to
feel isolated, lonely. You wonder if the struggle’s going to
be worth it.
— and one we want to help bring into better focus in this pamphlet.
can be a slow process, which is never more evident than in the
lives of a couple recovering together.
Lives are uprooted
emotionally, and often sexually. Love is often scattered.
now is on your individual recovery, and on cleaning up garbage
from the past.
So when, you
may even begin to ask, does the “happily ever after”
part start, anyway?
..Forests & Trees
number two. Because it points out two of the main threats to
both relationships and recovery: impatience and unrealistic expectations.
How do you
avoid them? You don’t. But you can whittle them down to manageable
size by knowing how they creep up in recovery — and the rest
with impatience — because for a good many recovering couples,
impatience is a flame looking for something to burn.
And like a
fire, impatience can destroy everything it touches.
How do you
beat it? You can start by expecting it. And end by not letting
it burn you.
We all know
that after a forest fire, it takes a while for patches of green
to peek through the rubble. Recovering relationships are like
recovery follows a predictable path. During its initial phase,
a recovering person needs to focus almost exclusively on staying
straight or sober and changing basic behaviors.
can make life easier for the spouse, but since at first they’re
only surface changes they won’t heal ancient scars or fill deeper
So be patient.
Remember that even though Rome wasn’t built in a day — it could
be destroyed in one.
minefield for relationships during recovery are the expectations
that partners bring to the process. Disappointment here can be
just as deadly as impatience.
unrealistic expectations can both cloud our vision and fuzz our
Let’s try the
forest fire analogy again. If I drive out to a just-burned forest,
hoping to see it green and fully grown, I’m going to be disappointed.
But if I’m willing to see what’s there — to notice the birds
and plants and trees that survived — I might be a little less
It’s the same
with a relationship. If we pay attention to what’s there — rather
than only noticing what we think should be there — we’re more
likely to be encouraged.
day at a time, without expecting our relationships to be perfect
tomorrow, gives us the psychological space to appreciate growth
as it happens. And it will happen, if we keep our thoughts out
of the way.
..Ashes To Ashes
are some things you can do to encourage growth in your “new”
past in the past creates space for a new start. It may require
forgiveness and it does take time, but it is possible when you
learn to look only at today.
When old resentments
creep in, talk them over with someone outside the relationship
who understands chemical dependency. Recognize resentments for
what they are — ashes from an old fire. They’re only dangerous
if they’re still smoldering.
When old behaviors
try to push their way through, treat them like you would a weed.
You don’t stand
back and yell at a weed, or blame it for being what it is. You
get down on your hands and knees and pull it out by its roots.
The same rules
apply to mental “weeds.” Don’t get upset when you notice
something ugly poking through. Accept it for what it is and do
what you need to do to get rid of it. And don’t be surprised
— or angry — if something else ugly or unpleasant pops up in
If you both
accept responsibility for change in yourselves and can work to
encourage change in each other, then periodic “weeding”
will be a minor fine-tuning — not a major meltdown.
Want to really
focus on your relationship? Set aside quality time to spend with
take on the job of reseeding a national forest between trips
to the grocery. You shouldn’t try it with your relationship,
either — if you want to be successful.
taken on a big job. Your lives are busy and your schedules are
full, but you need to set a time — if it’s only an hour a week
— as your time, for just being together.
It can be a
time to share what you need to share or to work on what you need
to work on. But even if you just sit quietly on the back porch,
it’s important that you do it together.
Keep your expectations
low, enjoying the minutes, one by one. Allow silences if they
come up, but don’t fill up the minutes talking about stuff —
other people, places and things.
Make it a time
alone, with no distractions, no kids, and no TV.
And since it’s
a time to get to know each other as you’re beginning to be, try
to keep the focus on verbal sharing rather than sex. Too often,
couples fall into bed as a way of avoiding real emotional intimacy.
sex, it isn’t a coincidence that we left it for last. We held
it back on purpose — because it can be the trickiest problem
there’s so much room for things to go wrong. And feelings get
so distorted when they do.
dysfunction. After cleaning up from chemicals, many dependent
persons — particularly men — find that they’re unable to function
be frustrating — for both partners. It can trigger a flood of
self-loathing in a man and a current of tension and self-doubt
in a woman.
If it happens
to you, don’t panic or take it personally. Impotence usually
isn’t a major crisis. Time, understanding, and simple communication
almost always make it better.
sex in a chemically-dependent relationship can become a sort
of surrealistic playground for participants.
fantasies, and frustrations from the past can all intrude on
the present. And what used to be a simple pleasure can get awfully
just beginning to understand the sex-pleasure connection in neurochemistry
and the role it plays in chemical dependency.
we use sex for the same reasons we used chemicals — to feel
better about ourselves, to feel accepted, to exercise power,
to get even, to cover up guilt, to manipulate others. And the
same psychosexual dynamic that contributed to our original addiction
often continues without drugs and alcohol.
answer? There isn’t one Big Answer. There are only a lot of little
answers — and they all start with you being honest about your
Sex is so personal
that it’s often difficult to talk about it openly. But keeping
bad feelings bottled up can keep good feelings trapped.
If sex becomes
a problem for you, do what you need to do to resolve it. Talk
it over with your partner. See a therapist if you think you need
that sex can be the glue that holds relationships together.
Don’t let yours
fall apart for a lack of it.
As you begin
the process of opening up with one another, real love can start
to grow again. The process of focusing on here and now, on experiencing
each other in this moment, can be exhilarating.
not always enough, in and of itself, to guarantee the success
of both your relationship and your program of recovery.
If you’re one
half of a couple in recovery, you may have already gotten used
to the idea that you can’t go back to the way your relationship
used to be.
And you should
realize that both your own and your partner’s recovery may depend
on the quality of love and mutual support you’re able to generate
in your relationship now.
So take time
for each other. Bury the past. Welcome the present. Feel and
share the joy and pleasure of being together without chemicals.
Trust yourself — and your partner. See the forest — and the
that, in both love and recovery, practice really does make perfect.
..Sidebar | Balancing
share with each other — talking to, rather than at one another
— may take some practice.
When you talk
(and want to be heard) use sentences that begin with “I”
and talk honestly — about yourself and your feelings. Open yourself
up. Let yourself be vulnerable.
It takes courage,
because risking vulnerability in a relationship that’s operated
on crisis and conflict is like walking into a fire to put it
out. It’s necessary, though, if you want to develop intimacy,
because unless you know and accept each other as you really are,
you can’t have more than a superficial relationship.
may also come up. One of you may find it easier to be open when
straight or sober than the other, or feel the need to force intimacy.
Balancing out conflicting needs here can be tricky.
You may want
to cultivate new friends who can share and provide some of your
needs for emotional closeness. You may also need to focus on
what your partner is able to share today and remember that honesty
is sometimes relative.
on relationships and recovery? The Beatles said it as well as
it can be said, a long time ago: “And in the end, the love
we take is equal to the love we make.”