Thinking Logically About Relationships and Recovery
Dealing with a substance abuse problem can be difficult, demanding, and draining. That’s why I cannot emphasize enough how important having strong, healthy relationships with the people that support your healing are when you’re trying to recover. With unhealthy relationships and addiction recovery, it isn’t always easy to get the support you need. Your energy often ends up being focused in the wrong places. Everyone deserves a safe, constructive environment to recover in. If you are struggling to find that environment due to a relationship, it may be time to rethink things.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when it comes to toxic relationships and recovery.
How Do You Define a Toxic Relationship?
There are a multitude of ways that a relationship can be “toxic.” In its most simple terms, a toxic relationship is a relationship that is not healthy for the people involved. In toxic relationships, two people struggle to support each other and instead demonstrate negative behavior that hurts the other person.Rafaeli, E., Cranford, J. A., Green, A. S., Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2008). The good and bad of relationships: how social hindrance and social support affect relationship feelings in daily … Continue reading These negative behaviors can include anything from consistent lying to verbal or physical abuse.Evans, A. D., Xu, F., & Lee, K. (2011). When all signs point to you: lies told in the face of evidence. Developmental psychology, 47(1), 39–49. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020787 Toxic relationships are not limited to romantic partners. They can occur with a family member or close friend, too. But even though many of the signs of a toxic relationship may seem obvious, it can be a lot harder to see them when you’re the one in an unhealthy situation.
Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Unfortunately, there are many ways that a relationship can be toxic, especially to a person that is trying to recover.Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Social Relationships and Health: The Toxic Effects of Perceived Social Isolation. Social and personality psychology compass, 8(2), 58–72. … Continue reading If you or someone you love demonstrates these traits, it may be time to end the relationship.
1. Controlling Behaviors
Controlling behavior can take many forms in romantic and platonic relationships. Some controlling behavior in romantic relationships can come in the form of a partner not tolerating their significant other doing things without them. Other controlling behavior can look like a loved one blowing up at the other because they didn’t answer their phone immediately or not “letting” their significant other wear certain things because they don’t like it. These behaviors are unhealthy and should not be present in a relationship, especially for someone in recovery who already struggles with control.
2. Constant Dishonesty
Dishonesty in a relationship is never a good thing. More often than not, lying leads to other issues in a relationship, such as distrust or the development of more negative behaviors like deception. Lying not only creates distrust between partners, but it puts up boundaries between them. Dishonesty, deception, and distrust in a relationship can make it much harder to connect to the other person on an emotional level or even feel empathy for them, both of which are needed when supporting a person through recovery.Rodriguez, L. M., DiBello, A. M., Øverup, C. S., & Neighbors, C. (2015). The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse. Partner abuse, 6(3), 298–319. … Continue reading
3. Disregarding the Other’s Needs
If you or someone you love are disregarding the other person’s needs, this may be a sign that the relationship is unhealthy. While every relationship requires a balance of both partners’ wants and needs, if one person is consistently ignoring what the other needs, the relationship suffers tremendously. In addition, when you’re in recovery, you most likely are going to have a new set of needs. Without the proper help and support from your loved one, recovery might feel much more difficult.Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont … Continue reading Do not let your needs go unattended because of an unhealthy relationship.
4. Feels Like Walking on Eggshells
Does it ever feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your loved one? Like you would rather avoid confrontation by not speaking about certain things, even if you want to? Good communication is a crucial part of any healthy relationship. When in recovery, being able to communicate with the people closest to you is a healthy way to heal. Without strong communication, it can be hard to build trust or find support in your partner. If you or your partner are scared to communicate with each other, the relationship may be unhealthy.
5. Refusal to be Held Responsible
If you or your partner refuse to be held responsible for the actions or behavior that was demonstrated, your relationship is most likely unhealthy. We’re all human—everyone messes up. Part of recovery is acknowledging your mistakes and how others may have been hurt by your actions. But if someone will not take responsibility for the way they hurt you, it’s time to put yourself first by leaving that relationship.
6. Ignoring Triggers
If you are trying to recover and have a relationship with someone, whether they’re your significant other or a friend, and they ignore your triggers, this may be a relationship you need to end to fully heal. Sometimes triggers can be a person, a place, or the act of drinking itself.Becker H. C. (2008). Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 31(4), 348–361. It’s different for everyone. But if someone does not support your needs and respect your triggers even after you have made them clear, they do not need to be on this journey with you. Recovery often involves many doors in your life closing. Luckily, it also involves a lot of doors opening around you, too. Remember, you are allowed to choose the people you want to be in your life. Find people who respect you, your boundaries, and your process of healing.
7. Guilting / Blaming
Guilt can appear in multiple forms and take on multiple layers. For example, guilt can look like a loved one holding a small mistake over you. They may then add a layer to that guilt because they always make it feel like everything is somehow your fault. That feeling that everything is your fault traces back to the fact that you struggled with substances, which you hold immense guilt and shame for in the first place. So, when someone makes you feel guilty about small things, it can often become a trigger for poor behavior, just causing you to repeat the cycle. Guilt and blame can severely affect recovery for anyone, especially if it’s coming from the people closest to you.Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Hafez, L. (2011). Shame, Guilt and Remorse: Implications for Offender Populations. The journal of forensic psychiatry & psychology, 22(5), 706–723. … Continue reading
8. Accomplishments Are Undermined
Sometimes your efforts in recovery may feel futile when no one in your life seems to recognize your accomplishments. If you feel like your accomplishments are ignored, undermined, or turned into a competition, these are all signs of a toxic relationship.Stamarski, C. S., & Son Hing, L. S. (2015). Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices, and decision makers’ sexism. Frontiers in … Continue reading Every step you make towards recovery is a positive one, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
9. Refusal to Respect Boundaries
Respecting boundaries is not only crucial for any healthy relationship but also for recovery. The people in your life may still be hurt from your past behaviors due to your substance abuse, and you have to respect that. At the same time, the people in your life need to respect your journey of recovery and the new boundaries you may have to put up because of that. When a person refuses to respect your boundaries or you refuse to respect theirs, it only tears the relationship apart.
10. Extreme Criticism
While criticism is sometimes needed or even asked for, unwanted criticism of every action or decision you make can take a toll on you.Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. … Continue reading It is understandable that it can become tiresome for the people in your life to do what it takes to keep you healthy and safe, but this shouldn’t result in constant criticism. Criticizing everything that your loved one does not only depletes self-esteem, but it makes anything they do feel almost worthless, knowing they’ll just be criticized anyway.
Should a Recovering Addict Be in a Relationship?
It can be tempting to look at the different signs of a toxic relationship and the actions of you and your loved one and immediately think it’s time to end things. However, that doesn’t always have to be the case. Relationships can either help or hinder your journey of recovery. That being said, relationships shouldn’t be off the table. You just need to focus your energy on positive relationships, whether that be in finding them or nurturing them. A healthy relationship with a friend, family member, or significant other can be the difference in you getting where you need to be in your healing process.Thomas, P. A., Liu, H., & Umberson, D. (2017). Family Relationships and Well-Being. Innovation in aging, 1(3), igx025. https://doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igx025
On the other hand, sometimes people try to see the best in others, so much so that it ends up hurting them. If you recognize someone in your life demonstrating multiple toxic signs, it’s time to end the relationship and focus on you. It can be easy to want to give a loved one the benefit of the doubt, even if they are hurting you. But recovery is about taking care of yourself and healing, and sometimes to do those things requires you to make hard decisions.
How Toxic Relationships Affect Recovery
Toxic relationships ultimately make the process of recovery much harder for whoever is involved. In fact, many toxic relationships are a trigger to a person’s substance abuse.Racionero-Plaza, S., Piñero León, J. A., Morales Iglesias, M., & Ugalde, L. (2021). Toxic Nightlife Relationships, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health: Is There a Link? A Qualitative Case Study … Continue reading This is because a person may be dealing with so much distress at home or with this person that they feel the only way to avoid it is by using. On top of that, a toxic relationship does not offer the support needed by a person who is trying to recover. Healthy boundaries, respect for triggers, and good communication are all parts of having a healthy relationship and recovering. If you see more bad things than good in your relationship or realize that it is affecting your healing process, it’s time to end it. Recovery is already hard enough. The last thing you need to do is keep people in your life that just make it more difficult.
Powerful Toxic Relationships in Recovery Quotes
Remember, recovery is going to involve doors closing, but new ones will begin to open up for you as you heal. I want to end this post by leaving you with some powerful quotes to think about. These have helped me through my journey of recovery:
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.” — Socrates
“Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care.” — Jerry Cantrell
“We repeat what we don’t repair.” — Unknown
“Whoever loves you will not make you feel unlovable.” – Unknown
Follow my blog for more tips to help you on your journey in recovery. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with my personal journey and for additional support throughout your recovery process. You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter for additional inspiration throughout your healing process.
Recovery Is a Process
Sometimes in the world of recovery, we have to make hard choices and difficult decisions. Sometimes we’re put in situations that are uncomfortable and seemingly impossible to navigate. Recognizing when a relationship is toxic is just such a situation—but if you can recognize a toxic relationship, you can find healthier relationships with which to surround yourself. And, positive support is key to sobriety.
|↑1||Rafaeli, E., Cranford, J. A., Green, A. S., Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2008). The good and bad of relationships: how social hindrance and social support affect relationship feelings in daily life. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 34(12), 1703–1718. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167208323742|
|↑2||Evans, A. D., Xu, F., & Lee, K. (2011). When all signs point to you: lies told in the face of evidence. Developmental psychology, 47(1), 39–49. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020787|
|↑3||Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Social Relationships and Health: The Toxic Effects of Perceived Social Isolation. Social and personality psychology compass, 8(2), 58–72. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12087|
|↑4||Rodriguez, L. M., DiBello, A. M., Øverup, C. S., & Neighbors, C. (2015). The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse. Partner abuse, 6(3), 298–319. https://doi.org/10.1891/1946-6518.104.22.1688|
|↑5||Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(5), 35–40.|
|↑6||Becker H. C. (2008). Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 31(4), 348–361.|
|↑7||Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Hafez, L. (2011). Shame, Guilt and Remorse: Implications for Offender Populations. The journal of forensic psychiatry & psychology, 22(5), 706–723. https://doi.org/10.1080/14789949.2011.617541|
|↑8||Stamarski, C. S., & Son Hing, L. S. (2015). Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices, and decision makers’ sexism. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1400. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01400|
|↑9||Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501|
|↑10||Thomas, P. A., Liu, H., & Umberson, D. (2017). Family Relationships and Well-Being. Innovation in aging, 1(3), igx025. https://doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igx025|
|↑11||Racionero-Plaza, S., Piñero León, J. A., Morales Iglesias, M., & Ugalde, L. (2021). Toxic Nightlife Relationships, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health: Is There a Link? A Qualitative Case Study of Two Patients. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 608219. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.608219|