The Importance of Relationships in Recovery

One of the most devastating aspects of addiction is the damage it causes to relationships with intimate partners, family, friends, or colleagues. Many treatment programs recognize the important role of relationships in the healing process—especially within the family.

Kelly E. Green’s new book Relationships in Recovery is a comprehensive overview of the crucial role relationships play in the battle against addiction. Through her work with hundreds of clients, the psychologist and addictions expert has learned that social support is a key aspect of the recovery process.

“Most people enter recovery for substance abuse problems hoping not just for improvement in their addiction but also for improvement in their relationships. That’s because the majority who seek treatment report having interpersonal problems and relationship distress,” Dr. Green writes, “in many cases, substance abuse has both caused relationship problems and become a way of trying to cope with them.”

In many important aspects, addiction is a relationship disease and not simply misuse of substances. “The idea that recovery should be wholly an individual journey reinforces the idea that addiction is solely a character flaw,” says Green. “That idea has been disproven by loads of research, and although individual recovery is critically important, so is relationship recovery.”

Relationships in Recovery aims to help people in recovery “improve a broad range of relationships and relationship skills.” It is a guidebook that provides readers with many worksheets to discover what impact their substance use had on their relationships and what impact their relationships can have on their recovery.

Dr. Green emphasizes that recovery is primarily a process of change to improve health and wellness, rather than just achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Why the focus on relationship skills in recovery? “The impact of our relationships on our quality of life can be profound. Most of us tend to feel better when our relationships are doing well.”

What kind of relationships are we talking about? “All kinds of relationships are important in life, and all kinds of relationships are important to your recovery.” Interestingly, her checklist of possible relationships starts with “relationship with God or spiritual being(s)” before listing romantic partners, relatives, and other relationships.

Many of Dr. Green’s clients ask her questions like “How do you repair relationships that have been damaged by addiction?” and “How long does it take?”

Toxic relationships can indeed be a big problem. “An essential skill for recovery is finding ways to minimize the harmful effects and maximize the helpful effects the relationships in your life have on your addiction recovery efforts,” writes Green.

She cautions her readers not to fall for certain myths about relationships:

Myth #1: Relationships automatically improve when recovery begins
Myth #2: Recovery starts as soon as you’re sober
Myth #3: Apologies fix relationships
Myth #4: The support of loved ones is always helpful

Number 4 is especially important because sometimes loved ones will engage in what’s known as enabling behavior. While trying to help, friends and family members may actually make the situation worse by protecting the addicted person from the negative consequences of their actions, thus delaying the decision to get help for their substance use disorder.

An effective treatment program explores the unhealthy and healthy aspects of their clients’ relationships, ideally with the participation of affected family members, so the whole family can heal.

As Dr. Green explains, this requires developing effective communication skills, rebuilding trust (by being honest with one another), and setting healthy boundaries. An “important goal of healthy interpersonal boundaries is allowing you to connect with others to build meaningful healthy relationships.,” explains Dr. Green.

All of this requires a lot of work. “Addiction recovery is hard,” warns Green. “Relationships are hard. Relationships, while you’re overcoming addiction, are extremely hard.” Nevertheless, people in recovery and their loved ones should not be discouraged and use the skills and strategies outlined in the book to keep working on their recovery and “strive for progress, not perfection” as they improve their “quality of life through recovery and reconnection.”

Harmony Foundation has long recognized the importance of family involvement in the recovery process. Due to the COVID pandemic, Harmony is currently offering a modified family engagement workshop that is available to all families of current and former clients.

The virtual education group has two goals. The first is to educate family members about the disease model of addiction and how it can help them understand their loved one’s condition. The second is to give family members time to express themselves and begin to heal their own pain, while also engaging in self-examination. The three-hour session is facilitated by a licensed therapist.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.