How does the “No Intimate Relationships During the First Year of Recovery” Apply to Couples?

I just wanted to some marital advice on whether you think it is wise to try to repair damage done by 3 years of relapses in early sobriety (first 60 days)? While I was in treatment my husband served me with divorce papers and a restraining order against unsupervised access with our child so we both have issues.

I have never been involved with a partner that is more emotionally shut off and inaccessible. I am left begging for change and communication only to face grim options when an attempt to express feelings and initiate dialogue around the topic is made. Inevitably, I face rage at me for being angry, thus deflecting attention and invalidating my attempt or yet another shut door or exit or closed eyes while talking, etc. or leaving the house without notice of whether he will return at all and no apology or explanation of thought process. I have never seen a heartfelt recognition or desire to work to change emotional behaviors.

Should counseling begin after longer period in sobriety so there is a basis of trust or can we learn new behaviors in communication from the beginning? We actually do love each other and we have a 16 mo. old. However, I do not know if we have ever experienced an emotionally nourishing relationship with true intimacy in our 4 yrs. together. Also, neither one of us has a basis of emotional health in previous relationships.

Response from Daniel?

(At what stage of recovery are you right now? How much time was spent with your husband and family sober?)

You are speaking to what may be the number one challenge couples in early recovery face: Exercising healthy self-care and self-interest in a relationship when you don’t know how, never did before, and have no role models. After sustained stabilization, the next stage of early recovery is intensive self-care, however long it takes to develop the relationship with oneself. The challenge heats up when you’re just realizing a relationship you’re in isn’t working when you’re just learning what having a relationship with yourself means and just learning how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The latter part of this period of intensive self-care involves getting through what we may aptly refer to as the ‘co-dependent crash’ — when the illusion you’ve been hanging onto for dear life shatters. After intensive self-care is a stage of relationship training.

We’re talking about a process of re-prioritization — putting yourself first — breaking out of the deeply ingrained pattern of considering others before oneself and relying on others who provide little or no emotional support rather tapping the infinite resource we call your self. Intensive self-care readies you for the next stage of recovery where the focus in on your relationships because you’ll being entering into any relationship situation able to define and represent yourself. What distinguishes healthy from unhealthy relationships is whether both people are operating from within themselves, not depending on each another to provide what’s been missing.

How do you balance between your recovery and the relationship?

If both of you love each other and want to rebuild the relationship, ongoing individual therapy for both of you, probably for several months, then accompanied by on-going couples therapy, preferably with an addiction/relationship specialist is recommended.

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author Daniel Linder
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