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Rebuilding Relationships After Rehab

Rebuild Family Relationships On PsychotherapyYou’ve done it. After years of denial, after suffering many losses (people, jobs, money), you finally looked at your life of addiction and said “Enough.” You went into rehab to quit the addiction and to start a new life. Give yourself enormous credit for that. Making the decision to do it took courage. Staying in the program took commitment and determination.

Now you have to meet the challenge of returning to the life you left. You have made major changes. But chances are that the home you are returning to hasn’t.

A good program will have included planning for the return home. Rehab isn’t recovery. It’s a jump-start — often an excellent one. But recovery, if it is to be real and lasting, takes a commitment to lifestyle change. And lifestyle change involves the other people in your life. How can you get the folks at home to support your recovery?

It’s important to have realistic expectations. Don’t expect them to see only the “new you”. They’ve lived with the “old you” for a very long time. They are probably happy to have you home but it makes sense that they are on guard. Let’s look at the various relationships in your life and what is reasonable to expect.

Your spouse or significant other:

Reestablishing a loving and trusting relationship with your spouse or significant other isn’t going to be easy. From her or his point of view, you’ve had an “affair” with the bottle or drugs. You’ve been more committed to your addiction than to your relationship. Anger, hurt and resentment are a natural response — even though she or he continues to love you.

You may have come home energized, excited and convinced that you are going to stay clean and sober. Your partner may not share that optimism at first. If you add disappointment in your partner’s reaction to his or her feelings of rejection and hurt, you will only grow further apart. Instead, do your best to be understanding. Be willing to talk about the damage that was done by the addiction. Apologize from the heart. Ask for compassion while you recommit to working on staying clean.

Recognize that while you’ve been doing your addiction, your partner has probably been doing double duty. He or she has been both mom and dad for your kids or may have taken on all the household chores or has been making and/or managing the money to keep the family afloat. One of the many ways to go from talk to action is to take back the chores, willingly and without complaint, certainly without looking for “credit”. Just do them and do them well and maybe your significant other will start to believe you again. If you haven’t been a good partner in making and managing money, do your share.

Your relationship with your children:


Things aren’t going to get “back to normal” with your children because today’s “normal” is different from when you became more interested in substances than the family. While you’ve been involved with your addiction, your kids have been growing up. They have gotten so used to being disappointed by you, they may have stopped looking to you for involvement. Take the time to observe, to listen, and to understand. As with your spouse, they will probably come around when you have been really present in their lives for enough time for them to risk believing it.

Your relationship with friends:

Your rehab program probably already included conversations about the company you’ve been keeping. It’s important to separate from people who you just know will not support your sobriety.

Healthy friendships will help keep you healthy. Find ways to spend time with those healthy folks doing healthy things. Maybe someone will be a gym buddy. Perhaps you can join in making a difference in your community by joining in a project where the focus in on doing good. You need places to go and people to see who are deeply committed to positive things.

We live in a culture where drinking is often seen as part of what makes an occasion celebratory. But you probably have more concerns about being a non-drinker than the rest of the people at the party do. As one of my clients said wryly, “When I said I just wanted a tonic and lime, the party didn’t stop like in one of those freeze frame commercials.” If you feel pressured by anyone, change the subject or have a sudden need to find the restroom. If you still get pressured, leave. Your sobriety is more important than pleasing someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Support for Change

Give it time: The only antidote to people in your life being on edge is to show them through your behavior that you really are working your program. I’m often asked how long it will take for family members to trust again. The answer is “One more day than you think it should.”  Other people are not necessarily on your timeline. But as you show folks that you have really turned over a new leaf, most will eventually come around.

Get outside support: You do need support and encouragement but you may not get it (or get enough of it) from your immediate family and friends — at least for now. For that reason, it’s important to find a support group and/or a substance abuse counselor who can meet with you regularly. Some rehab programs have a partial program or continuing care support group. If so, take advantage of it. AA works for some people, but it depends entirely on the health of the members of the particular group. If you can’t find a helpful AA group, look for other options. A therapist or counselor who specializes in substance abuse can also provide ongoing support. Equally important is that a therapist you trust she can help you regain your commitment if you start to slip.

We are all aware of celebrities for whom rehab is a revolving door. They’re in. They’re out. They’re in again. They seem to want rehab to work some kind of magic so they’ll stay clean and sober. Unfortunately, there isn’t magic to be had at even the best, most pricey or most popular program. The “magic” lies in a person’s decision to follow through. Going to rehab can be an important first step toward a better life. But it’s only a first step.

Rebuilding Relationships After Rehab

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

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APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Rebuilding Relationships After Rehab. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 30 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.