Marriage in recovery

Marriage in Recovery | Steps to Recovery

Dana’s Perspective

If you’re familiar with 12-step recovery, you may have heard the suggestion from some members to stay out of new relationships within your first year.  While this is not a requirement to find or maintain recovery, there are some valid reasons why people often make this suggestion.  Relationships are not easy for most of us as humans and may be particularly more challenging for those in early recovery.  Not only are you embarking on a journey of learning about yourself, trying to love yourself, find forgiveness and peace, but your partner in recovery may also be trying to do those very same things.  Insert: complicated, confusing feelings.  After a long time of substance abuse, you may not even be able to identify your feelings let alone understand them or communicate them to your partner.  How do relationships work?  Effective, honest, transparent communication.


Why is this challenging in early recovery? 

Well, we likely don’t even know yet who we are as individuals, what we stand for or what’s important to us, not to mention the hole that addiction sometimes leaves in us.   Sometimes filling that hole is our only motivation, whether it’s sustainable or not.  We call this instant gratification.  Relationships based in instant gratification are sometimes detrimental to those in early recovery, and this is why we often hear this suggestion about staying out of relationships in the first year.


Building a Foundation

Okay so, had to throw the disclaimer out there to start with.  I can only write about my experience, and in my experience there’s a lot of mixed feelings about dating or being in a relationship with another person in recovery.

I met Ross when I had about 2 years clean.  By that point in my recovery I had a steady job, a network of people in recovery, some step-work under my belt, and had learned a lot of lessons (sometimes the hard way) from previous relationships.  Was I looking for a life-long partner?  No, not then.  I struggled with commitment and wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my independence or ‘freedom’.   Through the process of getting to know him as well as getting to know myself in a relationship with him, I learned a lot about the importance of honesty with myself and him, as well as transparent communication with him about how I’m feeling, where I’m at and what I need.  You see, I spent many years of my life (before, during and after active addiction) in codependent relationships.  I had to learn to live without being codependent before I could be in a healthy, committed relationship where both individuals have their own sense of identity.  If I had met Ross at an earlier time, I wouldn’t have been in the same position to have a healthy relationship with him.


Managing Recovery and the Relationship

What’s worked for us has been that we maintain our own recovery processes while still using the principles that we’ve learned in recovery within our relationship.  We’ve never attempted to ‘sponsor’ each other, and we don’t make demands or suggestions to each other for things that we may need to work on in our recovery.   We do, however, use principles like acceptance, powerlessness, tolerance, patience and love in our relationship.  When it gets difficult, or maybe we’re not getting along as well as we’d like to, we have the principles of the fellowship to help guide us in our individual journeys and ultimately, as a team.  My husband loves his recovery, and I love that about him.  It is not at all a primary motivator for me to engage in my own recovery, but there is something motivating about watching someone that you care about participate in their recovery.  At the end of the day, we understand each other’s needs and we give each other space to be individuals.  I wouldn’t have learned how to do this if it wasn’t for the foundation that I built in recovery prior to our relationship, and that same foundation that I stay committed to working on with or without him as my husband.


Ross’ Perspective

Dana and I are on the same page about the importance of why 12-step programs have suggestions related to relationships and recovery.   Relationships are a sensitive and important topic to discuss with anyone in early recovery, because they involve emotions and feelings which can be uncomfortable things for anyone.  Basically, I do not suggest getting into a relationship if you are just starting your recovery and I definitely do not suggest getting married if you are just starting your recovery.


What Works for Us

To keep it simple, I really believe that our own individual recovery looks very different for both of us and that’s why it works.  I could easily try and suggest or try and control what Dana’s recovery looks like, but I already know that wouldn’t work, so why try?


Now, on paper, our recovery may look pretty similar.  We both attend the same 12-step fellowship, sometimes attend the same meetings, have sponsors, we both sponsor other people, we both are actively working the 12-steps, we even both have the same homegroup, but our recovery looks very different.   The main reason my recovery looks very different than hers, we are very different people.  Like I said earlier, we have our own recovery which really means that I do not seek out her advice when I am looking for direction from my sponsor.  It also means that I do not try and make her recovery look like mine and she doesn’t try to make my recovery look like hers.


I do, however, believe that she helps me in my recovery all the time.  Living a life in recovery for me means that I am actively trying to change my attitude, perspective and actions so that I can be a better person.  It doesn’t have to do with drugs, because once I put down the drugs, now I have to change myself so that I do not go back to using drugs, which means to me that living a life in recovery is the way I choose to change.  Was that confusing?  All I am saying, is that Dana helps me in my recovery, because I live with her and love her.  I am constantly trying to practice my own recovery so that I do not act on my old patterns of behavior (destructive ones that were active while using).


At the end of the day, we both understand that we need to allow each other to be individuals.  And with that comes the understanding that we’re going to be human sometimes.  We continue to help each other grow both inside and outside of our marriage and allow each other the space to grow as humans too.  Does this mean we’re perfect and our marriage is perfect?  No, as we said we’re human too.  But we do feel as though what we’ve learned in our recovery thus far helps us understand each other a little more and offers us to have more empathy for each other.  We both do our very best to live our lives by the principles that we’ve learned in recovery, and we’re on the same page about teaching those same principles to our daughter as she grows up.  In any marriage, not just ones in recovery, the principles of love, forgiveness, compassion, patience and honesty are so important.  We’re both very grateful to have learned these practices in recovery so that we can use them, not only in our marriage, but in our lives as individuals, children, siblings, employees, friends, sponsors and parents.

How to Salvage Your Marriage in Recovery

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One of the casualties of addiction is usually relationships. If you are married, the relationship is likely to have suffered a lot of damage due to the substance abuse. In some cases, the harm caused by addiction is too much and the marriage becomes unsalvageable, even though it may continue to limp along for a few years after you become sober. In many cases, the marriage will be salvageable though, but it is likely to require effort from both you and your partner to put things right. Here are a few tips for how you can begin to heal this relationship.

Don’t Make Your Relationship a Pre-Condition for Sobriety

Trying to save your marriage may have been one of the reasons why you decided to quit alcohol or drugs, but it is vital that this does not becoming a pre-condition of your sobriety (i.e. you intend to relapse if the marriage is not repaired). Getting sober will improve your life, but this is something you do for you – sobriety only works if you make it your number one priority in life. If your recovery depends on fixing your marriage, it is not going to be a strong recovery.

Consider Couple’s Counselling

There is likely to be many unresolved issues related to your substance abuse, and these can continue to have an impact on the state of your marriage. A good option is to seek the input of a devoted professional. Couple’s counselling can provide a safe environment from which you can sort through the mess of the past and start building a better future.

Suggest Support Such as Al-Anon

Groups such as Al-Anon are a great resource for the partners of those in recovery. It is important not to be too pushy about getting your husband or wife to attend, but it is certainly something you should support if they want to do this.

Don’t Have Unrealistic Expectations

It is great that you have taken a positive step to improve your life, but you have to have realistic expectations of what is going to happen now that you are sober. Your partner will likely be delighted that you have made this change, but it is unfair to expect a clean sheet right away. You have to win your partner’s trust again; it takes time to prove that you have really changed. If you have expectations that are unrealistic, it can just lead to resentment and disappointment; this then becomes an excuse to relapse.

Understand There Will Be a Period of Adjustment

Humans can adapt to even the most miserable of conditions. There is comfort in the familiar even when this involves a lot of pain. Your partner will have developed habits that allowed him or her to cope with your behaviour but, now that you are sober, it can be like living with a stranger. It will take time for your partner to get used to this new you and adapt to living in this new way.

Give the Relationship Time to Heal

You need to be patient and give the relationship time to heal. It is unlikely that the problems in your marriage happened overnight, so it is unreasonable to expect everything to be hunky-dory right away. There may be times in sobriety when you feel your partner is being unfair by not letting go of the past, but as long as you keep on doing the right things then your marriage should become stronger and stronger. One mistake people can make when they get sober is giving up on their marriage too quickly – give it time and it may still be salvageable.

Is it true that marriage is good for health

A successful marriage is a good way to improve your health and live to be 100 years old!

Vera Ermakova




Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Mutual love and a happy marriage is also a great opportunity to improve your health. Studies confirm that happy spouses live longer and get sick less often - maybe because they want to enjoy happiness as long as possible? Here are some health problems that a happy marriage can solve. nine0003

Spouses have a lower risk of age-related dementia

One in three older people may be at risk of Alzheimer's disease, experts from the Alzheimer's Association say. If you want to get to the other two, get married or get married: according to some studies, married people have a 43% lower risk of developing this disease than their single "colleagues".

Married people have lower blood pressure

Hypertension is a real scourge that affects people in old age. High blood pressure is very dangerous as it seriously increases the risk of heart disease as well as stroke. Happily married people have lower blood pressure than their unmarried peers, according to a Brigham Young University study. nine0003

Family members have lower levels of stress

Chronic stress seriously increases the risk of developing diseases that directly affect life expectancy: diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. At the same time, those people who are happy in their family life have significantly lower levels of everyday stress - and this is logical: after all, the opportunity to talk about their problems and receive unconditional support helps to relieve any stress.

Married people have a lower risk of lung disease

A study published in the journal Health Psychology found that being in a long-term relationship improves lung function in older adults. Want to take deep breaths? Marry, gentlemen, marry!

Marriage increases the chances of successful cancer treatment

Unfortunately, marriage does not affect the chances of getting cancer, but the creature increases the likelihood of successful treatment. Thus, the study, the results of which were published in the journal Cancer, confirmed: marriage increases the chances of curing cancer by 27% in men and by 19%% among women. First of all, due to the fact that attentive spouses can notice the first signs of cancer in time.

Marriage improves heart health

Firstly, marriage helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and secondly, marriage increases the chances of a successful recovery after a heart attack.

Married women are less likely to experience mental disorders

Depression, anxiety disorders and other diseases of this type - married women experience all these troubles less often than their unmarried girlfriends. But only in one case: if the marriage is happy, and the spouse gives enough support and attention. nine0003

Marriage helps fight cancer |

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