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Should a Relapse End Your Relationship?

Author: Justin Mckibben

Relationships in recovery are a touchy subject, especially with so many people with so many different experiences and opinions. This is the types of article you write where someone somewhere is going to disagree, and someone might even get their hopes up, or their feelings hurt. But as always this is just my own experience and opinion. This problem is one I have only been on one side of so far, but I have seen this situation through close friends, with several different outcomes. To break-up, or to not break-up; that is the question.

Some people might say these outcomes varied because of the different circumstances and the way each individual relationship was handled from start to finish. Personally I believe that relationships are always tested through time together, sometimes it works out, other times it does not. People recovering from drugs and alcohol are no different. So when asked if the person you are dating relapses should you end it or not, the answer is never so cut and dry.

Every relationship is different

Of course relationships are too personal and unique to make blanket statements about if your relationship can survive a relapse. It will always depend on the personal connection, and the aftermath of the relapse. So in essence, the answer to the initial question, in my opinion is ‘NO’. A relapse is not necessarily a legitimate cause for a break-up.

When I relapsed, I was in a relationship. The person I was with was not an alcoholic or drug addict. She did drink, but had not exerted her life to the unmanageable and hopeless extent that I had. Despite the fact she was aware of how I behaved in active addiction, she was still supportive of me when I relapsed, and wanted to be there for me to help me get back into treatment.

Unfortunately, I was not done drinking and I went on for a while before making the choice to commit to change again. Others have experienced similar and different results from a relapse in a relationship, so my case was based on my decision to continue drinking. Some make a different choice and get help before it ruins their relationship, and some decided that a relationship will stand in the way of their recovery.

When They (or You) Want to Stop

If you are someone in recovery dating someone else in recovery, it may be very conflicting if a relapse happens. You may be worried whether or not they (or you) will continue to drink, and if that will affect the still sober persons sobriety. The best thing is always to ask your sponsor, ask your sober supports, and communicate openly with your boyfriend or girlfriend about your concerns.

In my opinion, if you are desperately worried that your relationship ending will cause you (or them) to relapse as a result, you may not need to be in a relationship at all. Recovery from drugs and alcohol cannot be dependent on your relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend, it has to be grounded in a lot more than that. Co-dependency is probably a clear sign you should take the time to reassess whether or not you can be in a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the best thing anyone can do when a girlfriend or boyfriend relapses is the same as if it were a close friend, you stand by them and show support and love. They may need you now more than ever! If they think that people in recovery are so quick to abandon and judge them, they may not feel too inspired to come back. How can we speak of humility and acceptance if we are unwilling to help the alcoholic or addict that we love who still suffers?

Still, protecting your sobriety is important, and if the other person is hurting than you should not stand in the way of them getting the help they need for themselves. Either way maintaining your recovery should come first, supporting their recovery without making an attempt to control it or force it on them can come second, and may be a huge advantage for them.

When They (or You) Do Not Stop

What if they (or you) don’t want to stop drinking or using? Again, this is where a good sponsor comes in for anyone in recovery themselves. They probably have a better answer for you than I do, but I will say that it depends on where you are in your own recovery, and what boundaries you already have in place.

From what I know, the person who relapses and decides to keep getting high or drinking may not see the affect they are having on the other. Ending the relationship with the alcoholic or addict who keeps drinking can give them a little of the so-called ‘tough love’ they need to notice their indiscretions or they may take it as an excuse to go on a binge.

They may already be over-remorseful and use guilt and blame to keep drinking, or they may be convinced that they can drink or use successfully.

Setting healthy boundaries makes a huge difference whether they want to keep drinking or not, but they are vitally important when the person who relapses does not want to stop, because it is important to understand the need for security and independence in sobriety.

In the end, love is the beautiful and dominant energy that is the essence of everything we do, and everything we are. When we love someone with real connection and conviction, the love has the ability to transcend a lot of the pain and turmoil we experience. A relapse does not mean that we discard the ones we love. A lot of time it can be what reminds us of what we are giving up.

At the same time, we cannot live and rely solely on a relationship for our reason to get clean or stay sober, and we cannot let it dictate our happiness. An intimate relationship with another person is not what saves us, it is a different kind of love from a source more divine, and that love is always unconditional.

I stand by the ones I love, even when some relapse. I always do as long as it does not stand in between me and my relationship on a higher, spiritual plane. And as long as it does not render me useless to help someone else who suffers. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

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