When someone you love is working on their sobriety, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to support your partner while still maintaining a healthy relationship with them in a way that helps them on their journey.
Here are some ways you can help to support your partner as they work on their sobriety – even if you’re not sober yourself.
Create an open line of communication.
“Although specific topics related to your partner’s recovery may not always be easy to discuss, with patience and consistency, you will settle into a rhythm that feels natural for you both,” Rebecca Capps, licensed marriage and family therapist, wellness coach, and addictive behaviors treatment specialist, told INSIDER.
She adds that it’s important to establish open lines of communication because it reflects that you genuinely care about your partner and want to understand them to the best of your ability.
Pay attention to what triggers your partner.
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Dr. Kevin Gilliland, clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation360, told INSIDER that a great way to help your partner work on their sobriety is by helping them to avoid their drinking triggers.
Some might be more vulnerable to relapse during good times or bad times. Others may struggle with evenings or during special occasions.
“When you know those answers, you should occasionally check with them and see how they are doing,” said Dr. Gilliland.
Don’t let their recovery be the sole focus of your relationship.
When someone is living a sober life, every day can be a challenge. Because of that, it can be easy to make sobriety the focus of your relationship.
However, that is not a healthy way to live, Dr. Gilliland told INSIDER. Sobriety shouldn’t be your partner or your relationship’s sole identity.
“You are in relationships for a lot of reasons,” he added. “Enjoy those, grow in those, and talk about those.”
Don’t purposely tempt them.
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Though you may think that offering your partner “just one drink” isn’t that big of a deal, celebrity addiction specialist and founder of The Addiction Coach Dr. Cali Estes revealed that it could be much more to that partner in recovery.
“The biggest hurdle that a sober individual will face is a constant temptation for alcohol or drugs, so do not offer it to them,” said Dr. Estes. “If you are not in recovery or do not have an issue with drugs or alcohol and want to imbibe, please do so without them present and keep it to a minimum.”
Seek fun alternatives to your regular outings that include triggers.
Experts recommend finding new ways to have fun together while staying away from anything that could heighten their addiction.
“In early recovery, is imperative that you do not ‘go clubbing’, or go to a bar and ‘hang out,’ activities need to be focused around having fun, not around alcohol and drugs,” Dr. Estes told INSIDER. “Seek fun activities that are not centered around alcohol like miniature golf, hiking, yoga, bowling, etc.”
Don’t assume that you know why they are sober.
Though the word “sober” might make you think that someone has had a problem with addiction in the past, that’s not always the case.
Dr. Adi Jaffe, author and expert on addiction and mental health, said that you shouldn’t just assume you know the reason someone has chosen to be sober.
“Medical reasons, past struggles, and religious objections are all part of the potential reasons why someone would be sober,” he told INSIDER. “Don’t assume that you know why but do open up the conversation. If you can do so in a nonjudgmental way, it could give you some important information to know how to handle things.”
But try to respect your partner’s choice if they do not choose to share their reasons for sobriety with you.
Discuss expectations in the relationship.
When you’re in a relationship with someone that has chosen to be sober, your life changes, too. There may be new rules or expectations added to the relationship, which is why having them voice their expectations, and sharing your own, is extremely important.
“It is very important to have an honest conversation about your partner’s expectations and needs when it comes to your own consumption,” said Dr. Jaffe. “Some sober individuals don’t mind having others consume alcohol when they’re around, while others feel triggered, disrespected or simply uncomfortable … Leave space for a constructive conversation.”
Realize that every person who is working on sobriety is not the same.
Everyone who is working on their sobriety is not the same.
“An observation I found at Alcoholics Anonymous is that each alcoholic works a unique program around the 12 steps,” John G., author of The Daily Ponder and someone who has been sober for nine years, told INSIDER.
“[They work on] a program that works for them, which means none are identical. Moreover, just as every non-alcoholic person is unique and different, so is every alcoholic. We have different triggers and different experiences which guide our decision making.”
Be respectful of their decisions.
Although someone’s decision to be sober may not be easy for you to understand, one thing you have to do is respect it. So, if they’ve drawn their line, try not to cross it.
John G. said that being a sober partner or having a sober partner is all about respect.
“It’s also important to set boundaries for yourself and for those that you’re with,” John G. told INSIDER. “We are all valued people, and in order to value things in others, we have to value ourselves first.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline for support.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.