What to do if Your Partner Relapses

Dec 9, 2021

A partner’s return to addictive behaviors can create chaos and increase stress in a relationship.

While a relapse is a normal part of the recovery process for some people, you may feel unprepared for how to handle it. Without adequate help, your responses to the situation could end up creating more challenges for both and your loved one.

Here are some productive ways to prepare yourself for handling rapidly changing and unpredictable circumstances when a sober partner relapses and starts to drink or use drugs again.

How you respond to a sober partner’s return to alcohol or drug use is pivotal in helping them get back into recovery quickly. Educating yourself on how addiction affects a person’s brain, body, and behavior is an important first step.

It’s helpful to provide support while not enabling your partner to continue their substance use. Recognizing boundaries is critical too, so you avoid developing codependency. Look into treatment resources that offer appropriate care for your partner’s substance use and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Educate yourself on addiction

Any investment of time in educating yourself on addiction can be a two-step process. You can learn about substance use disorders in general. In broad terms, you can read about how addiction affects the brain, the body, and the behavior of a person.

The second step is researching the specifics of your partner’s individual addiction. Heavy use of marijuana, opioids, alcohol, and benzos each affect a person differently. Warning signs may be different. The impact they have on a person’s physical and mental health may be different as well. The experience of withdrawal will likely feel different, too.

Reviewing information is only the starting point for educating yourself on addiction. Another resource comes from people who have been in the same situation as your partner. Their stories, written or verbal, can help shape your understanding of how substance use affects a person. You may search for these stories online or read personal accounts of addiction in non-fiction publications.

Support groups can be another way to better understand addiction. In these group settings, you can gain insight into the experiences of peers who are living with someone who’s relapsed. This kind of support is also valuable in the rest of the work needed to help your partner return to working on their sober goals.

Be patient and supportive.

The journey back to sobriety can be a long and difficult one for many people. Even if your partner accepts responsibility for their relapse, it still requires a lot of work and commitment to start and sustain sober living. Your ability to be patient throughout the process is valuable.

Offering encouragement and emotional help is a key part of what you can provide for a partner who’s relapsed. Listening to what they have to say and remaining present can help remind them that they are being seen and understood. Giving them a safe space to express their emotions can lead to more authentic sharing in days and weeks to come.

Support can show up in a variety of ways. It can be shown in conversation, in sending an uplifting text during the day, or making a favorite meal for your loved one in the evening. Finding new ways to show support allows you to discover something fresh and possibly more effective.

Do not enable.

Support can have healthy limits, too. It doesn’t mean giving in to everything your partner wants to do. If you make it easier for them to continue to misuse drugs or alcohol, it’s no longer support and it becomes a form of enabling.

Enabling can come from taking on the responsibilities of a partner or protecting them from the consequences of their actions.

Speak and respond with love.

Consistency in how you approach conversations with your partner is crucial in helping them step back into sober living. Even if your message is meant to be filled with love, it can be offset by an inattention to a few key parts of communication. For a healthy and respectful exchange, you should be mindful about the tone, the volume, and the choice of words you use.

A loving, caring tone tells your loved one that their challenges with relapsing are not being judged. Using a soft-spoken volume shows a sensitivity to the person and the environment. Your choice of words should reflect how much your loved one matters to you and why you want to be there for them.

In a conversation about your partner’s relapse, you may be proactively speaking and reacting to what they have to say. If they’re hurt or angry, they may sound upset or hostile. It’s important to remain calm and continue to focus on responding with love. Letting them know that they are being heard doesn’t have to mean agreeing with everything they say or taking responsibility for their relapse away from them.

Know when to walk away.

Going into any interaction with an “end game” in mind can help you recognize when a conversation with your partner is over. Think about what you want to accomplish in this particular moment. It may be sharing one piece of information. It may be updating your partner on a new consequence of their substance use. It may be introducing the topic of treatment for the first time.

When you reach the moment where your information was heard, you can decide if continuing the conversation might be helpful. If your partner seems open to talking more, keep going. If they resist listening or stop communicating in a respectful way, it’s okay to pause the interaction and walk away.

A conversation about relapsing can become unproductive for a lot of reasons. Pushing your points with a partner who’s not ready to hear them will be ineffective and can create additional friction in the relationship. Instead of insisting the conversation continue as you envision it, tell yourself it’s okay to stop, change the subject, or simply walk away.

Get help for your partner if they have relapsed. Your role as the primary support person for your partner allows you to look for help in any form. Treatment can come from an inpatient program or outpatient. What’s most important is that the choice matches your partner’s immediate and long-term needs. That may include experiencing withdrawal safely through a medically-supervised detox.

If mental health is a factor in the relapse, you will want to find a program offering dual diagnosis treatment. Continuing care options beyond the treatment program also are critical in helping a person sustain sobriety. These options can be discussed as treatment commences.

Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561.841.1272.


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