Navigating relationships while in recovery can be challenging, but you can rebuild trust and repair bonds. Here’s how.
If you’re recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) or you love someone who is, you know just how challenging it can be to heal the harm that may have occurred. This can be especially true when it comes to repairing relationships.
But there’s hope for mending broken bonds and repairing any damage that may have been done.
Although the road to recovery can be long for everyone involved, it’s possible to make amends with those you might’ve hurt or lost in the past due to SUD.
For those in recovery, it may also be beneficial to build — or rebuild — a community of healthy, loving relationships. A support network can enhance:
- quality of life
- hope for the future
If you’re in recovery for SUD, here’s how you can try to make amends with loved ones whose trust was bruised during addiction.
“Addiction can affect nearly every part of a relationship,“ says Kelly E. Green, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Relationships in Recovery: Repairing Damage and Building Healthy Connections While Overcoming Addiction.“
According to Green, this may include:
When substance use becomes your top priority, family members, friends, and loved ones can pay the price with:
- increased stress
- frequent arguments
- financial concerns
- trust issues
- experiencing cheating, stealing, or lying
- concerns about health or unsafe behaviors
- aggression or abuse
Partners of those living with SUD experience their own fair share of relationship challenges.
Work, caretaking, and other shared responsibilities can fall to the wayside, which can lead a partner to have more worry about:
- paying bills
- children’s well-being
- the longevity of the relationship
- mood disorders
- anxiety disorders
- victimization, including domestic violence
“When you love someone with [an] addiction, you’re on a constant rollercoaster of hope and disappointment,” says Green. “You may feel betrayed or abandoned, which is particularly devastating to intimate or romantic relationships.”
Without honest communication, both people can end up feeling misunderstood and mistreated, she adds.
Domestic violence help
If you’re experiencing domestic violence, support is available:
- You can call the the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for free, confidential, 24/7 care and support.
- You can call loveisrespect.org at 866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522 for support if you think you could be in an abusive relationship.
In addition, you can visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a domestic violence prevention advocacy group with a list of resources for relationship abuse help.
This cycle can be hard to break, but it is possible with the right recovery strategy for you and your partner.
“Someone in active addiction will typically have more difficulty empathizing with their partner or reflecting on the impact of their actions because their attachment to the substance compromises their ability to do so,” explains Vanessa Kennedy, PhD, director of psychology for Driftwood Recovery.
Being with someone with an active SUD can commonly feel:
But stable and loving relationships are possible with someone who’s in recovery.
Repairing relationships is a critical part of 12-step programs and one of the four supporting pillars of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
SUD treatment programs, like Al-Anon or rehab, might aid in mending relationships by helping increase:
- healing during recovery
Ultimately, your loved ones must be willing to reconnect and try to rebuild your relationship, which can be a vulnerable decision if they’ve been hurt in the past. There’s a chance that your loved one may not be open to it, depending on your history.
For the person living with SUD who feels rejected, Green notes that this isolation can make it more challenging to receive the emotional support needed during recovery.
Your experience is just as valid as theirs. Respecting everyone’s boundaries and feelings can be key.
Those in recovery often realize that their actions during active SUD can have long lasting impacts on relationships.
To support recovery and build hope for the future, it‘s important for the person in recovery to try to repair the damage done to relationships.
According to Kennedy, someone recovering from SUD will typically build self-forgiveness by:
- working through difficult emotions and resentments
- taking accountability for actions that may have harmed others
- making amends to those they may have hurt
“They can also begin to rebuild trust with their partner through this process, which involves increasing transparency and honesty, as well as taking steps to build healthier behaviors,” she adds.
Trust is a fundamental part of every relationship, and it often takes a big hit during periods of substance use. Rebuilding lost trust can be a priority when repairing connections during recovery.
It’s important to try not to be discouraged if anger, resentment, and distrust pop up along the way. Instead, Green recommends looking at things from the other person’s perspective: Is their emotional reaction understandable given your history? Can you see why they’re hurt, worried, or angry?
When resentment comes up, Green suggests the following tips for navigating the situation:
- Find ways to validate their reactions.
- Avoid minimizing or discounting their experience.
- Let them know that you truly see and hear them.
- Reassure them that you’re trying to respond to their needs in healthy ways.
“When you’re dealing with addiction recovery and relationship recovery, it can be a really tough road,” says Green. “But it’s totally worth it when you’re able to repair and rebuild relationships so they meet your needs more fully, allow you to meet the needs of your loved ones, and improve your overall quality of life.”
Your SUD recovery may benefit from the social support and closeness, too.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. There are tips and resources available to help you along your SUD and relationship recovery journey.
Here’s a list of expert-backed strategies that can help you mend your relationships and rebuild emotional safety with loved ones going forward. You can try:
- putting yourself in their shoes
- listening to and validate their experiences
- respecting feelings that come up
- working on rebuilding trust
- improving your communication skills
- following through with commitments and promises
- talking openly about your recovery journey
- joining support groups
- reading self-help books
- listening to recovery podcasts
If you need further help or support during the relationship recovery process, consider speaking with an individual, family, or couples therapist.
Repairing relationships while recovering from substance use disorder can be challenging. But it’s important to not give up hope. It may take time, but you can recover from SUD and the relationship issues that stem from it.
Creating strong, healthy bonds again is possible. With hard work, patience, and love (for yourself and others), reconnecting with the people you care about most and building new, stronger relationships is totally possible.
If you’re ready to get help for SUD but don’t know where to begin, you may be able to find treatment in the United States with SAMSHA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator or the United Kingdom National Health Service’s finder tool.
If you’re navigating a complicated relationship with your parent or partner due to their SUD, you have options for support of your own, including: