• Jason Brumback

How to Manage Your Recovery if Your Partner Isn’t Sober



Recovery is undoubtedly hard work. If you have decided to get sober, you’re likely putting in the difficult physical, mental, and emotional work to support your well-being.


But just because you have made that decision does not mean your partner is on board to make their own changes. In some cases, they may continue living exactly how you once did, and that dynamic can be stressful and frustrating.


According to research from SAMHSA, family support plays a crucial role in substance use treatment. Therefore, your partner is an essential figure in your individual family system.


Even if your partner does not have a substance use disorder, it can be challenging to have a non-sober partner. However, challenging doesn’t mean impossible, and you can navigate this dynamic. So what can you do to manage your recovery when your partner isn’t sober?

Understanding Your Triggers

Understanding your triggers is vital to long-term sobriety and recovery. Triggers are unique to each individual. Some common triggers include:

  • Life stress

  • Conflict in a relationship

  • Friends you used to use with

  • Specific places

  • Emotional distress

  • Being around substances (bars, parties, etc.)

If your partner is not sober, you may feel triggered by their use. That's a normal reaction, although it can be frustrating. Try to pay attention to what feels triggering to you and set boundaries as needed. We'll review more on this below.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

In general, boundaries are an important part of recovery. If your partner isn’t sober, boundaries in that relationship can be even more critical.


You need to understand your own recovery needs to set effective boundaries. What environments feel supportive? What situations may feel triggering? Is it hard when they drink or use around you?


In addition, what ways of communicating feel helpful, and which feel challenging? Are there places you do not want to go to or people you don’t want to see?


Understanding your recovery needs is key to setting appropriate, effective, and helpful boundaries. You may need to reflect and revisit these limits often, especially as your recovery evolves.


Communication is Key

Communication is a key component of all healthy relationships. In recovery, communication of your support and sobriety needs can be even more important. If your partner isn’t sober, it is crucial to have an open and ongoing conversation about the support you need in recovery.


Setting a Recovery Routine

Consistent engagement in recovery work leads to significantly better outcomes for substance use disorders. Setting a recovery routine helps you continue to prioritize treatment and supports your long-term recovery. You may find that exercise, meditation, journaling, or recovery meetings play an important role in your recovery routine.


If your partner isn’t sober, it may also be helpful to plan your recovery routine around potential triggers at home.


Engaging with Sober Supports

A sober support network is an invaluable resource to support recovery. Keeping in contact with sober friends can help keep you motivated and give you relationships to lean on when recovery gets tough.


If you don’t feel connected to sober supports yet, there are resources out there that can help. Peer recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Refuge Recovery, or SMART Recovery meet 24/7 and are available any time you need support, both in-person and online.


Seek Professional Support

Seeking continued professional support is beneficial to recovery. For example, you may be interested in couple’s counseling, family therapy, recovery coaching, or individual therapy to support your continued sobriety.


If your partner isn’t sober, professional therapy may help you better communicate and provide a safe place to vent about challenges or frustrations. Either way, it's important to have a confidential outlet to explore your emotions.


Questions To Ask Yourself If Your Partner Isn’t Sober

You’ve reached out for support, engaged with sober friends, set boundaries, and have a solid recovery routine in place. But, you still feel unsure of how to manage your recovery with a partner that isn’t sober. It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • How does the relationship feel now that you are sober?

  • Do you feel safe to voice your concerns with your partner?

  • Do you feel like your recovery needs are respected by your partner?

  • Do you enjoy spending time with your partner sober?

  • Do you have healthy, sober communication with your partner?

  • Is this a relationship I still want to be in?

Asking these types of questions can help give you a clearer sense of what you need in a supportive relationship. In some cases, these questions may help you decide when a relationship is no longer healthy for you in recovery, and that is okay.


Final Thoughts

Long-term recovery from a substance use disorder is possible. If your partner is not sober (and doesn't seem motivated for recovery), this dynamic may be more challenging, but it is not impossible.


In order to navigate your recovery with a non-sober partner, it is important to:

  • Understand your triggers for use

  • Set healthy boundaries

  • Communicate effectively

  • Establish a consistent recovery routine

  • Engage with sober peer supports

  • Seek professional treatment

Remember that recovery is a lifelong journey. However, you can navigate the challenges of sobriety when your partner isn’t sober with appropriate tools and resources.


At The Resurface Group, we believe recovery requires community support. So regardless of your partner's status, we are here for you. Contact us today to learn more.


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