How to Support a Sober Spouse or Romantic Partner

By Dominic Nicosia – February 14, 2022

Recovery is… a lot. There’s no question that it takes time, energy, commitment, focus and discipline, which can all be hard to marshal in difficult circumstances. This is true for both those who are in recovery from substance use disorder and those who have chosen to build a life with a sober person. 

The reality is that the recovery community is only getting bigger, and it stands to reason that their pool of romantic partners is also growing. Whether you’re with a newly sober spouse, a significant other or someone who has been in recovery for a while, here are some things you need to know. 

Recovery Is Not Just “Abstinence”

Yes, the primary goal of recovery is to build a life free from drugs and alcohol. No, it is not just about “saying no.” It means spending significant time and energy – sometimes years – rebuilding a life that has suffered in the wake of active substance use. 

This could be anything from working to overcome personal or sexual trauma to managing addiction-related medical or legal issues to simply trying to rebuild credit or finances. Be prepared to stand by your partner as they navigate these issues and help in any way you can. 

P.S. This often means giving them space to rebuild. 

Recovery and Romance: Strange but Frequent Bedfellows 

 The impact of addiction and recovery can show up in the sexual dynamic in multiple ways. For one, a person healing from sexual trauma or assault they sustained during active substance can lead to severe emotional scarring of which sexual partners need to be mindful. 

Another way substance use can affect sexual relationships is that it can often lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), whether it’s from high-risk behavior while intoxicated, use of unsafe equipment such as dirty needles or anything else. These issues can be effectively navigated if you and your partner are open and honest with each other about concerns, sexual history and other factors. 

Photo Of People Holding Hands.

Ex-Lovers Are a Thing; “Ex-Addicts” Aren’t 

 Recovery is never “done.” People may become more comfortable and established in their routine, but it’s always something that needs nurturing and mindfulness. 

Some people in recovery may never again be comfortable at a party where alcohol or weed is present; others may not even be comfortable around prescription drugs that so many people outside of the community take for granted. 

Be sensitive to these issues, and respect your partner’s boundaries. 

Accidents Happen, and So Does Relapse 

 Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that there will be bumps in the road along the way. It’s OK to get frustrated, angry and, if necessary, admit to yourself that it’s too much to handle. Misguided loyalty or fear of what separation will do to your partner is not a basis for a relationship. 

You need and deserve to be happy in your relationship, and if it’s one-sided with one person’s needs looming largely over the other’s, it will eventually lead to dysfunction and resentment. Most importantly, NEVER EVER do anything that will jeopardize your safety when your partner shows erratic or unpredictable behavior. 

It Can be Worth It… And Then Some 

There’s something special about people in recovery. They often have a level of life experience, emotional maturity and loyalty that can add a whole new layer of depth to a relationship. They care deeply and intensely and, with time, they become emotionally strong enough to weather a lot of tough problems that make some people bristle. 

Instead of fixating on their past difficulties, try focusing on their amazing self-discipline, perspective, wisdom and empathy, and ask yourself: “Are these not qualities I want in a partner?”


About the Author

Dominic Nicosia smiling at the camera.

Dominic Nicosia is a New Jersey-based journalist and content writer covering addiction care and mental health. He currently serves as Senior Content Writer for Recovery Unplugged Treatment Centers, a national addiction treatment organization that offers a full continuum of care and uses music to help people more readily embrace the treatment process.


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