Recovery Relationships: How Long Should You Wait?
Most addiction treatment programs insist recovery relationships are a barrier to sobriety. In fact, a majority recommend people in recovery keep their romantic distance for at least the first year. A noted licensed clinical psychologist named Kelly E. Green argues quite the contrary. She not only says relationships can actually aid the recovery process, but that they may just be a key to sobriety’s long-term success. Green is so sold on recovery relationships, she’s even put her argument in print.
The book is called Relationships in Recovery: Repairing Damage and Building Healthy Connections While Overcoming Addiction (Guilford Press). From what we gather in the EurekAlert tipsheet, it’s a comprehensive build-out of the theories Green practices. That is, it establishes a solid foundation, then provides constructive methods for both building and rebuilding relationships during recovery. And while Green’s basic tenet might run counter to AA recovery relationship recommendations, the book is completely compatible with 12 Step and non-12 Step alike.
Green’s revealing approach to recovery relationships doesn’t rack until July, but we say when a learned someone graciously offers to guide and advise let’s let them. So we’ve culled some of Green’s guidance and advice, threw in a scramble of our own outside research and merged accordingly. Is it the be-all to end-all? Of course not. It should however hold you over till the book arrives.
Everyone knows that addiction destroys relationships. In fact, it’s pretty much a given. After all, addiction is all-consuming. So there’s definitely no time to consider a partner’s wants and needs, let alone their cares and feelings. Believe it or not, two active addicts together generally have a little better luck. At least until the money runs out anyway. Thing is though, their relationship is based solely on drugs. Oh, it may have begun as something else. But once that addiction takes hold — that’s the proverbial that.
And that proverbial that is why Alcoholics Anonymous has its so-called “one year rule.” If an alcoholic or addict truly wants to get sober, cautions AA, their first year must be fully devoted to sobriety. Relationships are a distraction, says AA. Worse, they leave a recovering addict prone to relapse.
That’s especially so if both romantic partners are in recovery. Sure, two sympathetic forces can be much better than one. And most romance-in-recovery relationships begin just that way. In fact, between the kinetics of the new romance and the clarity of the new sobriety, they often begin with even more passion and enthusiasm. It generally doesn’t take long however before real life calls for some kind of buffer or a stroll down memory lane ends up leading straight to the dope man.
Dating someone outside of recovery sometimes stands a better chance. There too, however, a variety of complications arise. Is the fully sober partner familiar with addiction and recovery? If so, to what extent? Have they been through a program? Or are they one of those so-called “normies” who can either take alcohol or leave it? If so, do they intend on taking the occasional drink?
Someone unfamiliar with recovery programs and parameters may not understand the need for strict adherence. They may also lose patience while their paramore attempts to work through and/or restore physical and psychological damage. Conversely, their “understanding” and “commitment” may be considered a sort of “sacrifice.” That, in turn, engenders resentment. On both sides. Especially if said sacrifice implies some kind of victimhood, of either party.
Hence the one year rule. AA believes a full year of full focus sobriety will provide enough distance and clarity to healthily enter into a new romantic relationship. That, by then, not only will the risk of relapse have sufficiently subsided, but the likelihood of co-dependence will also have diminished. Mostly though, the one year rule is meant to give people the time necessary to establish a solid foundation from which to operate.
(Note: AA’s 365-day advocacy doesn’t include relationships with family, friend and/or colleague. The building and/or rebuilding of those relationships is addressed in the Steps.)
Relationships in Recovery
Like we said, Green, not only believes romantic recovery relationships are possible, but that they can also help someone achieve long-term sobriety. It’s what she tells clients. It’s what she tells students. (Green’s also an associate professor of Psychology at Austin’s St. Edward’s University.) and it’s what she writes in the forthcoming Relationships in Recovery.
It’s also what Green advocates in the EurekAlert. But just as Green’s theories are designed to be compatible with various programs, the skills she provides can often be applied to various relationship types. That’s right. Just as life isn’t limited to romantic relationships, neither is her book.
“Although romantic relationships may or may not play a critical role in your life, it’s important to recognize that other types of relationships also impact your recovery efforts,” Green said. “When I work with addiction clients, they need help dealing with relationship issues with their family, children, bosses, probation officers, friends.”
Green began recognizing the significance of that need while working at the Boston VA Healthcare System. In fact, she designed the Relationships in Recovery group therapy program specifically to help the clients in her addiction recovery classes. It is now utilized at several medical centers across the U.S.
Green designed the evidence-based workbook however to be compatible with a variety of other programs and therapies. Then again, why wouldn’t she? Relationships are universal. So it only makes sense to be compatible with the gamut. Why not include those who prefer 12-Step Programs or cognitive-behavioral therapy? Embrace those on spiritual and non-spiritual-based recovery paths? It also makes sense to not be inextricably tied to abstinence. (Though many might argue that point.)
Perhaps most importantly, Green’s book puts the onus on the recovery clients themselves. Consequently, it leaves no room for anyone to indulge in the blame game.
“The goal of the Relationships in Recovery program is to help people improve their relationships even if the significant others are not willing to participate,” Green said. “If you change your own behavior, it’s going to translate into relationship changes even if the other person isn’t an integral part of that relationship change effort.”
Here’s a snapshot of what Green’s guidance and advising looks like.
Three Ways to Improve Relationships at Every Stage of Addiction Recovery
Strive for Interdependence
Enabling and codependent. Green thinks they’re among the most overused terms in recovery. She’s probably right. She’s also right to think it’s wrong to persistently warn people to watch out for them. Why? Because it often prevents them from seeking support or building connections. The goal should be healthy interdependence, insists Green. One where both people are able to give and receive support. People in recovery don’t need punishment. They also don’t need to be taught a lesson. Sure boundaries are critical. So is being supportive when people make healthy choices and compassion when they stumble.
Provide and Seek Validation
Validation is a specific communication tool that demonstrates respect and compassion in a non-judgmental way, says Green. In fact, she’s devoted a whole chapter to it. You don’t have to agree with or encourage someone’s experience to validate it, she adds. You just have to find a genuine way to demonstrate understanding, especially within the given context. Seeking validation is a way of being assertive. It’s also a way of demonstrating self-respect.
Don’t Let the Addiction be the Sole Focus
Addiction has a way of dominating a relationship, says Green. It usually manifests with a combination of increasing negative interactions and decreasing positive interactions. So partners must try to rebalance that ratio. Look beyond the addiction and instead focus on relationship strengths and attributes. Remember, someone struggling with addiction is much more than their addiction, so don’t let that be the sole focus.
Cause & Applause
Healing Properties wholeheartedly applauds Kelly E. Green’s efforts on behalf addiction recovery. We also wholeheartedly congratulate her on Relationships in Recovery. The book’s quite the achievement, for her personally as well as professionally. And it’s a cinch that achievement will be recognized by the recovery community. Speaking of which, we’d also like to caution everyone to approach Green’s book with an open mind. Like we said, it’s compatible with all kinds of programs. It’s keen for peoples’ views to be compatible too.
How about you? Have you been helped by recovery relationships? Harmed? Are you perhaps engaged in one right now? And? Or maybe that’s not even an issue yet. Are you battling addiction itself? Seeking recovery? Would you like some help? No, Green’s book won’t rack till summer. But help is available right now. No foolin.’ All you’ve gotta do is call.
(Image: Relationships in Recovery (Guilford Press) cover detail)