Sober, Party Of One: What Happens When You Get Sober, But Your Partner Doesn’t?

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If you’ve quit, can you stay with a partner who isn’t ready to get sober?

When one spouse drinks but the other doesn’t

It takes two to tango, but you can’t make your partner recover with you. If you’ve gotten sober but your significant other isn’t ready to quit, setting healthy boundaries and communicating clearly are key to successfully staying sober.

In an ideal world, everyone around you would be supportive of your plans to quit or moderate your drinking, smoking, or drug use. Ideally, drugs and alcohol would disappear from this world once you decided to quit.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in reality. And in reality, you’ve probably been hanging out with people who used drugs, drank, or smoked like you did. And just because you’ve decided to make a change, doesn’t mean they will.

So how can we make our sobriety fit into the real world? What if the people we love drink or use drugs in a way that we don’t love anymore?

When relationships hurt your sobriety

I was with a guy on and off for much of my young adult life. We got in a lot of trouble together. When I came home from rehab, he had moved out of his own apartment, was living in my apartment since he didn’t have a home of his own, and was growing weed there (and smoking it every night).

He didn’t support my recovery program and got jealous of my new friends. Despite my best intentions to stay sober, I began smoking weed with him in the evening, and eventually went back to my hard-partying ways (I didn’t even like weed!).

It isn’t easy to cut people out of your life, but if you’re newly sober and people surrounding you are heavily involved in unhealthy behaviors, how will maintaining a relationship with them in sobriety serve you?

And my story isn’t rare. Often when we’re using substances in an unhealthy way, we’re using people in that same way. We have unhealthy boundaries, and building healthy relationships in recovery takes time.

“Often when we’re using substances in an unhealthy way, we’re using people in that same way.”

Understanding triggers: A crucial key to early sobriety

Triggers are internal feelings or emotions, or external people, places, or things that cause cravings for drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. I still have songs that remind me of dancing all night high on drugs. If I glance at an ad of a drink, presented in a certain way, it will look good to me. For just a second. Those songs and alcohol ads are triggers.

It’s very likely that if you’re an ex-smoker, being around cigarette smoke, and people smoking, will be a trigger for you. If you were an opiate user, seeing people snort pills or shoot heroin could be a trigger. If it’s not triggering for you, another possibility? It could make you really, really annoyed.

This is why boundaries are crucial, especially in early sobriety. Know your triggers, but also know that you might not yet understand everything that triggers you. Be smart, set healthy boundaries, and set yourself up for success.

Want to know more about your external triggers, like the people around you? Check out this Workit exercise, unlocked from the Workit program just for you: Homies, Haunts, and Habits.

Clear communication: Ask your partner for what you need

In early sobriety, it’s hard to know exactly what you need from other people. Why? Because it’s hard to know what you need from yourself. This is why dating is often discouraged if you’ve just gotten sober. It takes time to figure out who you are and what you need without chasing a constant buzz.

But what if you’re already in a relationship? The best thing to do is communicate honestly about what you need, with no expectations for them to change their behavior. Use “I” statements, and set clear boundaries. Once you set those boundaries, stick to them.

Don’t stew in silent resentment while your partner drinks or gets high as usual, because you aren’t sure if you should speak up. They might have no idea it’s affecting you or making you uncomfortable. To them, it’s business as usual.

“Your partner might have no idea it’s affecting you or making you uncomfortable. To them, it’s business as usual.”

Questions to consider: How is your relationship with your partner now that you’re in recovery?

  • Are you able to connect with your partner now that you’re in recovery? Or did you need booze or drugs to feel butterflies?

  • Is your partner putting you at physical risk, or participating in any sort of criminal activity? If so, this directly affects your ability to stay safe, happy, and healthy.

  • Do you and your partner have fun doing things together other than drinking or doing drugs?

  • Are you able to communicate with each other sober?

  • Could either of you be struggling with other mental health issues? Many people who struggle with addiction also struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles.

Mull over these questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Talk to a trusted coach, counselor, sponsor, friend, or family member (other than the partner themselves) if you need a second opinion about what is going on. You can go to a 12-step meeting or an online support group and share about the situation. People have been there, and will be able to relate.

Solution strategies: Ways to cope with a partner who is still drinking, using, or smoking after you’ve quit

  • Clearly communicate the support you need from them.

  • Set a boundary of what you are able to be around, and leave the situation if those boundaries aren’t honored.

  • Ask them to quit, or slow down, but remember you have no control over another person’s behavior. Don’t expect them to change because you have.

  • Consider seeking further support for their addiction. Having a loved one struggling with addiction is hard – Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or ask your Workit coach for Workit Health courses around family.

  • Kick them to the curb. Sometimes, you outgrow relationships in recovery. And this doesn’t need to be a bad thing.

A future free of addiction is in your hands.

Recover from addiction at home with medication, community, and support—from the leader in virtual addiction care.

As Workit Health’s Senior VP of Growth & Brand, Kali Lux leans in to the culture gap between addiction, recovery, and medicine. She’s interested in finding solutions that work for substance users better than drinking or drugging does, and believes Workit is one of them. She’s written extensively on her own experience through addiction into long-term recovery. You can connect with her on Twitter @kalireadsbooks.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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