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Supportive family relationships are critical to a healthy substance abuse recovery.
August 17, 2016

How to Rebuild Family Relationships in Recovery

Supportive family relationships are critical to a healthy substance abuse recovery.Healthy and supportive family relationships are a critical component of substance abuse recovery — but these don’t magically or immediately materialize upon completion of drug or alcohol treatment. Substance abuse can leave a trail of broken relationships in its wake, after all, and family members are typically the first to experience its devastation.

And the destructive impact of a substance use disorder (SUD) can linger long after a loved one emerges from treatment. Consider, for example, the following very common family scenarios in recovery:

  • A spouse distrusts the other spouse with money or finances, having seen bills go unpaid, savings depleted, or a house foreclosed upon because of a previous drug or alcohol habit.
  • A child finds it hard to connect in meaningful ways (or at all) with a parent whose substance abuse has loomed large in previous interactions.
  • A sibling may feel tired of having to bail out their loved one from previous drug or alcohol-related troubles, and may thus feel wary or downright fed-up about the prospects of any future interaction.

These sorts of common family occurrences mean recovering users, together with their loved ones, must work to rebuild the broken places and repair dysfunctional dynamics. Below are five quick tips for rebuilding these critical relationships:

  • Commit to your recovery for your own good — not for the sake of others. You can’t ultimately achieve lasting sobriety if you’re doing it only for somebody else, no matter how much you care for your family. This self-awareness — that recovery is yours to own and not another’s — will more likely help you stay grounded in a daily recovery lifestyle that’s consistent and predictable. And, when your recovery routine is demonstrating consistency and predictability to those around you, they will more likely be open to rebuilding a broken relationship.
  • Build open lines of communication. Practice those “active listening” skills that you’ve been learning in therapy and rehab — or that you can begin to learn now with the help of a certified family therapist. Active listening can deepen emotional intimacy and connection. So can the honest sharing of needs and feelings. You can make this mutuality of sharing more of a precedent, too, by communicating words of positive affirmation and gratitude whenever a loved one takes this approach.
  • Spend regular quality time with one another. Taking time out of a busy work and recovery schedule sends the message that you value your loved one(s). You can’t rebuild a relationship if you don’t give it time — and quality time at that. “Quality time” is meaningful What that looks like may differ from one family to another — but it’s time set aside for simply being with one another, and for creating hopefully fun, positive and memorable connections with one another. That may involve something as simple as sharing a daily meal together and catching up on one another’s day. Or, it may mean engaging in a fun form of recreation. The options for how to spend quality time are endless.
  • Empathize whenever possible. When you are tempted to lash out in anger or cast judgment in response to a loved one’s expressions or behaviors, try first to imagine what they may be feeling or going through. What the character Atticus Finch famously says in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is instructive here: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” None of us can actually climb into another’s skin and walk around in it. Empathizing, however, is the next closest thing. And the more you empathize, the more you’ll build new bridges of understanding that over time can replace the old broken ones.
  • Practice small acts of service towards your loved one(s). Small acts of service are one of the most tangible ways you show others you care about them, and the trust family members have in you will grow when you show sensitivity to their needs, desires and interests. In fact, scholars who study the dynamics of trust — and, in particular, how to rebuild trust in fractured communities — have found that genuine demonstrations of concern are key to rebuilding trust, the foundational element of any healthy family relationship. Moreover, what multiple studies (like this one) suggest, is that such concrete displays of care and concern, in the form of serving others and giving of one’s time and life lessons, are one of the best things you can do for your own recovery.

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