New age means new ways to recover
Ask any old-timer in recovery about going to a couples rehab with your partner and they’d give you any of one hundred reasons why you shouldn’t even have a partner to begin with. I understand their point of view, but the recovery world is constantly evolving and growing. A lover can either be a great medicine or a great obstacle. Either way, you’d best learn how to handle it being both. As someone who’s been to residential treatment for chronic alcoholism and drug addiction 5 times, 4 times with my significant other, I can tell you the missing link was failing to work on my codependency and I did not get to really working on it until I entered a treatment program with my boyfriend that was designed specifically for couples rehab. For those of us who are new to the term codependency, I like how Wikipedia calls it “a dysfunctional helping relationship.” I had to learn that my codependency was actually hurting my partner and thus my unlearning process began.
I have yet to meet an addict who didn’t suffer from codependency in one form or another. I was so codependent that I couldn’t really understand why this was something I had to work on. You see, I was afraid of losing that deep passionate connection I had. Little did I know that teasing apart that codependent aspect was going to make my relationship more pure, satisfying and fun. Not only that, but being in a couples rehab setting with someone you care deeply about is priceless because you will learn twice as much about yourself and you’ll be doing some extra work. If that sounds scary to you, it shouldn’t be. The truth is that with a little willingness, open-mindedness and honesty, you can achieve the seemingly insurmountable.
The 5 Essential Lessons for all Couples in Rehab
Understand that almost all character defects stem from fear
Some say that a relationship in early recovery is like putting miracle-grow on your character defects, or flaws. I combat this with patience and acceptance, as much as for myself as for my partner. The first step is understanding that almost all character defects stem from fear. I was afraid of being hurt, being abandoned and being judged because I didn’t feel good enough. I have a lot of self-sabotage in my story because of this specific multifaceted diamond of fears. Understanding what both of your fears are is essential. When a conflict arose, I had to examine the underlying feeling behind it. (The close second offender is selfishness, but I’ll save that for another time.)
Make peace with the fact that reality isn’t perfect
Second is making peace with the fact that reality isn’t perfect, and that there is a distinct balance between bad and good. This means that your love isn’t going to be perfect either. If you’re the kind of addict I am, you want life to be endlessly exciting and wonderful. This reached all areas of my life, including my relationship. Being clean and sober, I realized that not every moment was passionate and emotionally charged. This made me feel empty, at first, as if there was something missing. Being in treatment at a couples rehab together, we had a safe space to practice being okay with that and the hopelessly mundane. After leaving treatment, I noticed that monotony was perfectly okay with me, provided I stay grateful.
Allow each other to make mistakes
Third was my partner and I allowing each other and ourselves to make mistakes. I had to recognize that we’re not going to have it all figured out right away. It all started with me just having the willingness to be better than I was yesterday. When I would do something hurtful, I wouldn’t beat myself up over it. Having shortcomings doesn’t make someone a bad person, it just means that they’re a work in progress, nothing more and nothing less, and a partner should understand that. I had to keep looking forward with optimism. Every mistake is a sign of effort. Alternatively, when my partner would do something hurtful, I became vulnerable and honest. It took me seeing the damage I caused by not being vulnerable to give me the motivation to practice it. When I got jealous, I learned to say something like “I’m still really insecure and afraid of not being good enough, could you reassure me about __(insert situation here)__?,” instead of shutting down or character assassinating him. This is a loaded statement because it makes you susceptible to being hurt and expresses your needs. Practicing those behaviors contradict every fiber of our addictive personalities, and any opportunity to go against your addiction is a good opportunity. As much as we’d like them to be, our partners aren’t mind readers and they may have different ways of expressing themselves. The way you want to be reassured may not be the way your partner knows how to do it. I could have said “You’re such an asshole!” and stormed away, but what good is that, really? Now we have two problems instead of one because not only has a situation awakened your fears, but now in result, you’ve likely awakened your partner’s fears too. I only know this because I’ve taken similar retaliatory action and regretted it.
Respond to all mistakes with compassion
Fourth is responding to said mistakes and conflicts with compassion. If I wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t expect my partner to be either. Every couple will have disagreements and conflicts. I’m an idealist, personally, and I used to be greatly disturbed by reality as it is. I subscribed to ideas that love should be easy and free. Even good things have their downfall. That being said, the time it takes to discuss conflicts and the time it takes to make-up is up to you. John Gottman, a prestigious marital psychologist, did a 14-year study about couples who fight, but stay together. They address their issues right away and make-up quickly. They approach the situation with an open-mind and are in the argument to understand each other, not to “win.”
Recognize that life is fluid
Last, but not least is recognizing that life is fluid. What does that mean, you ask? It means that in when you first start your recovery at a couples rehab, feelings can seem permanent. When a couples issue arises, it may feel like the end of the world. This is where a 12-step program comes in handy because the people in that program tell you, “feelings aren’t facts.”
It is honestly a made-to-order solution. You won’t know how to go about things unless you practice them! The steps give you an arsenal of tools and options to work through issues both individually and as a couple. Step one, worked with a sponsor/mentor, not only teaches you that you are powerless over drugs and alcohol, but that you’re also powerless over your counterpart. When truly embraced and paired with two and three, a sense of peace and tranquility is found. The second step is about discovering that something that’s bigger than you and that cares about you. Cultivating this other relationship will make your romantic relationship less codependent and more enjoyable. I took time out in treatment, such as my first cigarette of the day, to pray to something, anything that is not myself. This is time I could’ve spent with my partner, but I wanted to see what would happen. What’s that phrase they use? “Rome wasn’t built in a day,”? Baby steps for this girl! Step three is all about action and putting that spiritual relationship into practice. When a problem arises, I learned to give it up to that higher power and trust that whatever it is will solve it. It was such a relief to feel like I’m at my wits end, not knowing what to do, only to suddenly realize that because I’m not God, I don’t have to know. Giving up my fear to my higher power was essential, but it didn’t happen overnight. Some days it still doesn’t happen overnight, I’m just more patient with myself. I slowly learn to let go and I’m always glad I did.
Instant gratification is a demon I fought a good amount of rounds in the ring with. I’ll tell you this, every conflict we had got shorter and shorter. It took us less time each time to figure out what was going wrong. I’ll also tell you that if the first few problems happened outside of couples rehab, I might not have stayed clean and sober. The key word is patience because all worthwhile things take time.
Sometimes things seem way bigger in our heads than they were ever meant to be. Little by little, I opened up to people more and more and I learned to not only get over my fear of judgment from others, I got over my fear of judgment from him. I learned how to relax and figure out who I really was. We had to allow each other to be awkward and just plain weird. When two people in love let each other be individuals, amazing things can happen.
As a couple, in my humble opinion, if you used together, you need to recover together. If your addiction has had its way with their addiction and so on and so forth, chances are you have problems together. For me, those problems needed to be worked out right away. Things like trust issues, low-self-esteem, learning healthy intimacy, communication skills (vastly understated), as well as past trauma resolution. I’ve seen many couples go through massive blowouts while in treatment at a couples rehab and with the help of staff and therapy, they were stronger than before. They slowly found a healthy balance of togetherness and separate recovery. It’s hard to find that balance when you’re in a relationship and you go to treatment alone. When you come back together you might fall into the same codependent patterns. The fact of the matter is that you can work a separate recovery program while in treatment together. I know because I did it. I had a balance of leaning on my significant other, as well as my higher power and other women. I had to learn that what saves my ass might not be exactly what my partner needs. At the end of the day, we are two different people who just happen to walk the same path.
The only real issue I can see with couples in rehab together is not being forced to evaluate yourself all the time. If you are misguided, you could spend a good amount of your time worrying about your partner. I just like to remember that me and my significant other owe it to each other to work on ourselves. I imagine what it would feel like to completely accept myself as I am and be able to give love unconditionally. That cannot be attained by working on a non-individual basis.
Throughout addiction, many have lost their true essence or true personality. Early recovery is a trial-and-error process that requires understanding and compassion from one’s partner. It’s important to be open and willing to discuss insecurities courageously. For comparison’s sake, its like speaking from pain, not from anger. Most of the best things start out by being scary and uncomfortable. We also know that feelings are like the weather, ever-changing and downright unpredictable sometimes. I, over time, learned to keep my feelings from dictating the fate of my relationship. At the end of the day, we have a “disease of perception,” and it would love nothing more than to try to take the positivity out of anything in whatever way it can. I just know that I was glad I was able to encounter the majority of my partner and my pitfalls in the safe and productive space treatment at a true couples rehab provides. I ended up learning a hell of a lot more than I would’ve learned about myself if I went in alone. As with any option, there are people that are going to abuse it, however; this option should be available for those that can take advantage of what it has to offer. Going into treatment together was a lot like killing two birds with one stone.