When rebuilding a romantic relationship in early recovery, it is helpful for both of you to work a program.

If you’re in early recovery and you’re in an established relationship, congratulations are in order!

Seriously, think about it: no matter what you did, no matter how bad you got, someone was willing to stick by you. That’s remarkable. Many people who arrive in recovery come only after their significant others have left in disgust or disappointment.

You are lucky. Maybe you know it, too. And now that you’re getting sober, everything’s gonna be so great. Right?


Even though your partner is your number one cheerleader, they may not be prepared for the way your sobriety will change the relationship. Addicts who are lost in their addiction often cede a tremendous amount of control to their spouses and partners. We’re so busy chasing the next high that we don’t have time for mundane details, and we may have let our partners take care of all aspects of daily life. Now, as we work a program, we’re ready to show up as equals, maybe for the first time.

Our normie partners may not want to give back the control our disease gave them. Many spouses of addicts are co-dependent, which means that in some sense, they get a need of theirs met by being in a relationship with an addict. Once that addict gets sober, the co-dependent partner will find that the dynamic is changing; if they aren’t also working a program, they may actively resist change. At worst, they may even undermine your recovery for the sake of keeping things the way they were.

For these reasons, it is helpful if the partner of an addict in recovery works some kind of program of their own, either through Al-Anon or a similar group.

It is important to remember that just because you’re the designated addict in the relationship, it doesn’t mean that you owe your partner anything more than they owe you. When you work the steps, you may need to make amends. But being a doormat is not an amend! Even in early sobriety, you get to stand up for yourself. It is not a sign of recovery to allow your partner to always be right; it is not a sign of recovery to walk around with an apology on your lips.

The bottom line is this: working a program of recovery will change everything about your relationship. With luck and hard work, it can change it for the better. But no matter what, it will never go back to the way it was before. The key to rebuilding with someone you love is simple, but oh so hard: you need to embrace the reality that everything will change.