You and your significant other may have survived the throes of addiction, and that’s great! But can your relationship survive early sobriety?
Congratulations! You’re sober—and the relationship you were in before you got clean has somehow survived. There are no statistics on how many relationships stay intact while one partner hits bottom and then gets sober, but it’s clear that many couples are able to do just that.
The first year of sobriety, however, can prove as great a test for a relationship as the years and months that preceded it. From the very early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, the problem was clear: if one partner got sober, then the entire relationship had to change or there was trouble ahead.
If both partners are active addicts and only one gets sober, the problem is obvious. Either the active addict will undermine the sober partner’s recovery, or the active addict will also have to get sober. It’s simply impossible to sustain a healthy romance for long with one person actively using and the other working a program of recovery.
More commonly, though, one partner isn’t an addict—at least not in the way that that term is understood. That person may not believe that they have anything about themselves they need to change; they’ve often stuck it out wishing and hoping the addict would get clean. And now they have! A dream come true!
The problem is that working a program transforms an addict/alcoholic in unexpected ways. Frequently, the non-addict partner may be bewildered or frustrated by these changes. For example, an addict who was very dependent and easy to manipulate before getting sober may gradually become more independent and responsible. This can scare their partner, who may fear losing the recovering addict to someone new.
Sometimes, without even realizing they’re doing it, the non-addict (“normie”) may sabotage their partner’s recovery. The unstated and often unrecognized goal is to return the addict or alcoholic to their former state of dependency.
The best chance a relationship has of surviving and growing through your first year of recovery is if you, the addict, put your sobriety first, and your non-addict partner focuses on their own growth rather than yours. Each of you should expect to change.
A healthy relationship is like a child’s mobile—touch one part of the mobile, and all the other parts move. Similarly, if one partner transforms for the better thanks to a program of recovery, the other can expect to be challenged to change. If they’re ready for that change, hooray. But if they resist that change, or worse, undermine it, then the newly sober person will have an uphill climb to stay on track.