Tips for Building a Relationship in Recovery

Building a relationship in recovery is just as important as building a relationship outside of recovery.  A problem occurs when a recovering addict or alcoholic only focuses on his/her sobriety, yet neglects a relationship with a partner.

Granted, recovery is important and should come first, because, without your sobriety, chances are your relationship may struggle.  You may have already experienced relationship problems due to alcohol or drug use. Now that you’re in recovery, you probably want to continue building a relationship that’s healthy and has a strong foundation.

Here are some tips and tricks for building a relationship that flourishes:

Understand rules and relationships

In order to have a healthy, committed relationship, couples oftentimes have to set boundaries, or rules to foster a good relationship.  Sometimes these boundaries are set while still in the dating stage, but other times couples discuss them once a formal commitment has been made to the relationship.  Sometimes the boundaries may not always be in place and because of this conflict can arise.

For example, if a man and a woman decide to commit to a relationship, both of them probably have friends of the opposite sex.  Before the commitment, there was probably not a lot of discussion or conflict about each of them hanging out with friends of the opposite sex, but once the relationship is committed to the scenario could change.  Many men do not like their girlfriends hanging out with men and vice versa.  In this case, a discussion ought to take place about each person’s feelings concerning this and boundaries set.

It is also important that a double standard does not apply to a relationship.  If a man thinks he is allowed to hang out with women, but his girlfriend is not allowed to hang out with men, he has set a double standard and that can cause a relationship to be unhealthy.

Taking responsibility

Maybe your relationship hasn’t always been set upon a firm foundation. Maybe when you were in active addiction, the boundary lines got crossed quite a bit. Healthy boundaries ought to be set in a committed relationship for each person and the relationship to grow.  Setting boundaries in relationships means that each individual is taking responsibility for his/her part in the relationship.  They help draw lines concerning what is all permissible in the relationship.

In building a relationship, both parties need to realize that it is all right to say no to something that he/she is uncomfortable with.  People with low self-esteem seem to struggle more with boundaries in a relationship, as they tend to dread conflict so they allow their partner to control the relationship so that no conflict will arise.  They may hold feelings and emotions due to fear and this may seem fine on the surface, but over time the relationship will become unhealthy.

Each couple ought to sit down and discuss rules and boundaries.  This will create order and trust in the relationship.  Creating a list of boundaries is a good idea to serve as a reminder for each partner.  Periodically the couple can re-evaluate the rules and modify as necessary.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

It is important to be able to set clear boundaries in all of your relationships.  Boundaries help us in taking care of ourselves and sometimes others.  For some, setting boundaries comes easy, but for others, it is more difficult.

Boundaries help people to regulate how far or close they want others to come to them and help so that people do not get taken advantage of.  For those that have a hard time saying no, learning to set boundaries is a big deal in building a relationship.

If you have a difficult time setting boundaries, you will notice that you take on a lot of projects that you don’t really want to do, but you feel bad if you say no.  You feel like the person asking might be upset with you or you may feel some rejection.  It is important to realize that it is all right to say no. It is all right to set boundaries and take care of yourself first.

If you don’t set boundaries, chances are that you and others won’t respect you.  If people are taking advantage of you because you have difficulty setting boundaries, they are not valuing you as a person.

For example, if you are a mother and your grown children are always asking you to do things for them because they know you will say yes, they are taking advantage of you and you are letting them.  Sometimes it is all right to help out your adult children, but if you are performing tasks that you really don’t want to, but do out of guilt or obligation, it is time to begin thinking about setting boundaries.

Practice setting boundaries

It’s not as difficult as you think and the more you do set boundaries, the easier it will get.  Practice what you will say ahead of time the next time someone asks you to do something and you don’t want to.  You can say, “Thanks so much for asking, but I think I’ll pass”, or “Give me some time to think about that and I will get back to you”, or simply say, “No, thank you.”

For intimate relationships, you can discuss boundaries in issues such as hanging out with the opposite sex or engaging in any physical or emotional contact with another person.  Be clear about your boundaries and be sure that you understand your partner’s boundaries as well.

Boundaries concerning recovery

Talk to your partner about boundaries when it comes to recovery. Do you want your partner nagging you about your recovery efforts? What about sneaking around to see if you’re drinking or drugging?  Let your partner know that it’s your responsibility to take care of you and his/her responsibility to take care of him/her. You keep your side of the street clean and allow your partner to do the same.

Another good boundary to set has to do with telling the truth. If you value honesty, tell your friends and partner how important it is to you.  If someone lies to you, tell them there will be some sort of consequence, such as a loss of trust or walking away from the relationship.

Take some time to evaluate what your boundaries are. If you feel like you need to set some boundaries with people, take the time to do so. Relationships are wonderful and rules and boundaries enhance relationships.  Without them, there may be confusion, jealousy, anger, and so on.  Learning to create boundaries and saying no is an important part of a relationship.  As conflict arises, couples can discuss the issues surrounding that conflict, such as jealousy, control, or manipulation, and set appropriate boundaries for each particular situation. As couples learn to do this, the level of health in the relationship increases.

What are you tolerating?

Many of us have learned to tolerate a lot of things in our lives. Tolerations are things we deal with, agree to, put up with or permit that are less than desirable for us personally. We don’t really want to, but we do. Tolerations are things that often hinder us and tend to drain us physically, emotionally or both.

Tolerations include things like unmet needs, crossed boundaries, and incomplete activities. We find them in our home, community, and work environments. Specifically, they include things like abusive friends, unfinished home projects, debt, living in an undesirable location, missing the “spark” with your significant other, one-way friendships, difficulties with neighbors, demanding family member, addictions, working for a difficult boss, inadequate pay and more. The list can be infinite and may change at different times in your life.

If you are like most people, you are likely tolerating more than you think, so as you commit to building a relationship that’s healthier, gaining some insight will help you out. Take a few minutes to list the things that you sense you may be tolerating. You don’t have to do anything about them right now. Just becoming aware of them is a great place to start.

Building a Relationship: Live your truth

As you’re set on building a relationship, it’s likely that you want to feel safe in your relationship and in order to do so, it is important to center your life around truth, assertiveness, and boundaries. When you do this, you will be paving the way for a deeper intimacy, which will take your relationship to levels you never thought imaginable.

Living your truth: What does it mean?

Living your truth means to live according to your needs and desires, not in the sense that you are most important, but with the understanding that you are certainly important. To have a strong relationship, each partner must have a strong sense of self and be able to advocate for his or her needs accordingly in a loving way.

Assertiveness in the making

In order to continue building a relationship, or anything for that matter, you must learn to be assertive.  You will be your own best advocate and realistically, you can’t count on others to go to bat for you.  Getting your needs met in your marriage will make you feel happier, which will benefit your marriage greatly.

Are you good at drawing boundaries and letting your partner know what you like and what you don’t like? What is acceptable to you and what is not?  When you can be assertive and draw clearly defined boundaries, there will be no guessing game on your partner’s end and your relationship is more apt to flourish.

For example, let’s say that you don’t like it when your husband grabs your butt and pulls you in hard to him when giving you a hug. It makes you feel like a piece of meat and it doesn’t feel romantic at all.  Is he aware of this? Have you told him how you feel?  Living your truth means that you be upfront about your feelings and then set a boundary. If you let your husband know how you feel and he continues to do this, be assertive and tell him that he is breaking your boundary and it is not alright.  Additionally, as you do tell him how it makes you feel, let him know what you do want. What does feel romantic to you?

It is understandable to sometimes resist being assertive because we tend to dislike potential conflict it can create, yet by letting things go you weaken the strength of your relationship because you are settling.  That settling can turn into resentment before you know it, and resentment for some can lead to a relapse. Learning how to communicate your needs and desires in a positive and loving way is such a huge factor in helping relationships flourish.

Remember, it’s not about you

By you and your partner allowing each other to be who you are, you realize it’s not necessarily all about you.  It’s alright for you or your partner to feel upset. It’s alright to sometimes get annoyed or act irrationally. Sometimes getting angry and reverting back to childhood antics just happens. Relax. Support your partner and let them feel what they feel. Don’t take it personally. It’s not all about you. You’ll be surprised at how short-lived conflicts are when you just relax and love unconditionally. No power struggles. No feelings hurt.  Just allowing, which can certainly lead to deeper intimacy.

When you are able to own your truth and be confident in who you are, it’s easier to allow your partner to be who he is. This is a great way for building a relationship that lasts. It’s alright for the both of you to disagree or think or believe differently. No marriage is without disagreement at times. Decide now how you will react when such experiences occur. Will you take it personally and try to win the argument? Persuade him to side with you? Or will you agree to disagree and love him unconditionally?  It’s important to make the decision ahead of time.