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How You Can Begin Repairing Your Relationships During Recovery

October 12, 2023
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Rebuild Relationships in Recovery

Often in early recovery, a person who is trying to pull his or her life together fails to recognize the depth and severity of their active addiction struggles, especially when it comes to how they impacted family members and those around them who love them. When you’re first beginning to overcome a substance use disorder (SUD), it can certainly be healthy to focus on your own personal mental and physical health. However, it’s critical to remember that SUD affects more than just the person struggling with the disease – it also negatively impacts your closest loved ones.

In fact, you’ll find that your family and friends may have experienced trauma, physical and emotional stress, and even betrayal and anger due to the results of your addiction. That’s why we in the recovery community stress that the recovery journey is about more than just you – it’s also about learning to repair your relationships with those you love. I’m here to help you navigate the process of rebuilding relationships during recovery.

How to Rebuild Relationships in Recovery

Rebuild Relationships in Recovery

Of course, beginning to rebuild your relationships with those who may feel the most hurt by your substance use is not an easy process.

You can get a jumpstart on re-developing your most important connections by taking these important steps:

  • Acknowledging to your loved ones that your substance use had damaging consequences
  • Reassessing and improving your communication skills
  • Practicing patience and consistency
  • Describing what you’re feeling when you experience triggers and setbacks
  • Setting your own boundaries and making them clear to others

1. Acknowledge the Damage SUD Caused

The first step toward rebuilding your relationships while you’re in recovery is admitting to them that your actions caused them harm. The emotional pain and trauma SUD can cause loved ones is one of the primary strains on relationships between people in recovery and their loved ones. Unfortunately, whether due to pride, shame, fear of rejection, or a narrow focus on improving your own health during recovery, the important task of acknowledging that hurt is often overlooked. But it’s one of the most crucial tasks you’ll need to complete to begin moving forward.

When you’re contemplating this step, it’s important to put feelings of shame, regret, intimidation, and pride aside – it’s a step we all need to take regardless of our substance of choice. To put it simply, you are not alone; throughout my recovery journey, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes that affected my personal relationships. However, I’ve learned that growth is the ability to see them as mistakes, acknowledge them, apologize, and move on as I try to do better next time.

Know, too, that there are healing properties in the ability to admit the damage your actions have caused and let your loved ones know that you are working to do better in the future. Taking responsibility for your actions helps you stay accountable to yourself, as well as those you love. Even if you’re still struggling to come to terms with the effects of your SUD, soon enough, you’ll be able to see how your actions affect those around you. It’s all a part of making mistakes, which is normal because we are only human; acknowledging the damage you have done is a key way to strive to do better from now on.

Most of the time, a conversation to openly talk about any damage that your SUD has caused your loved ones can actually help alleviate some of the feelings of shame, stress, or guilt. It can be hard to know that your actions have impacted someone else, but the best way to combat that is to initiate the discussion and then work together to determine what healing will look like.

2. Assess and Improve Your Communication Skills

While communication is a crucial part of any relationship, it’s often the first element of a relationship that breaks down when SUD enters the picture. This breakdown in communication can lead to anything from misunderstandings and arguments to lies and betrayal. Positive and effective communication skills like listening, validating emotions, and establishing accountability, are all ways to ensure that you’re not only hearing the needs of others but also communicating your own needs in recovery.

These skills will help you work toward repairing relationships broken by addiction:

Active Listening

Listening is the basic foundation of a positive and strong relationship, and sometimes, we can fail to truly listen to others because we are so caught up in our own thoughts. That’s why active listening, the act of demonstrating that we are hearing what the other person says before thinking about how to respond, is important to both listener and speaker. We can think we are hearing what someone is saying, but we may already be developing our response rather than taking in the words of the other person. In the meantime, the speaker is often well aware they are not being heard.

Active listening is a skill that needs to be developed, but being aware is the first action to take toward improving.

Here are some active listening strategies you can use to improve your listening and let the other person know you value what they are saying:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Use other positive body language, like nodding, leaning toward the speaker, and motioning for them to continue.
  • Paraphrase what they’ve said after they finish to check for understanding.
  • Ask questions about what they’re saying.
  • Demonstrate empathy.

Validating Emotions

The importance of demonstrating empathy as you listen to and respond to your loved ones is also a part of validating their emotions. Emotions can be messy and hard to deal with or accept. Your own emotions can be a great deal to navigate in early recovery, and the thought of considering someone else’s, too, can be overwhelming. Still, it’s a critical way to revisit the connection between you and your loved ones.

Validating emotions and using validating language is a powerful tool while attempting to rebuild relationships damaged by SUD. Both you and your loved ones may be experiencing guilt, shame, anger, hopelessness, loss, or fear of a lack of control. Validating these emotions during conversations reassures you both that you are no longer alone. It can even help all involved explore these emotions together and eventually feel better.


Holding yourself accountable for your actions is a skill that needs constant work. It is hard enough to accept that we are not perfect, and often harder to then admit that to someone else. However, having accountability for yourself and your actions is vital on the road to recovery. It is crucial to not only say but demonstrate that you will remain honest, ethical, and care for others moving forward, which is how you rebuild trust and positive communication within your relationships.

3. Be Patient and Stay Consistent

Recovery Quote

Just as you likely didn’t damage your relationships overnight, it’s very unlikely that you will rebuild them overnight. That’s why, as you begin restoring these relationships, you need to stay consistent and have patience with yourself and your loved ones. Developing patience and establishing consistency in your relationships can help you transfer those skills to yourself as you navigate triggers and setbacks when they happen.

Triggers can be complicated to identify during the early stages of recovery, and it’s important to know that many of us experience setbacks as a result. However, know that a setback is only temporary. Having patience with yourself and staying consistent while building your toolkit to manage triggers is what allows you to move forward.

While you may struggle to keep your patience with your loved ones as you learn to navigate life while sober, sometimes, being patient with ourselves can be the most difficult because we are often our biggest critics. It is important to give yourself grace and work through it, as that will benefit both you and the relationships with your loved ones.

4. Outline How You’ll Navigate and Approach Triggers and Setbacks With Your Loved Ones

When triggers or setbacks occur, ensure you are honest and open about what you’re feeling. While it can be difficult to describe addiction to loved ones who have never experienced it and those who are concerned for you, do your best to explain the emotions and physical sensations you’re feeling. It’s especially important to be patient with friends and family as they learn about SUD and try to understand. Strong relationships are built on mutual trust and open communication, but they also take patience to achieve.

5. Keep Your Boundaries Clear

Setting boundaries is important for anyone looking to maintain healthy habits, but they are especially important in recovery. Boundaries can help you begin rebuilding your relationships by helping you re-establish trust in yourself and others and creating emotional safety. Healthy boundaries may be about saying the word “no,” but even declining someone or something gives you power over your recovery.

Substance use disorder often results in loss of control or feeling powerless against the disease. Creating boundaries helps you know your limits, listen to your emotions, and have respect for yourself and the other relationships in your life. Respecting the boundaries of others can help you re-establish the emotional safety so important in close relationships. Both are an ongoing process of reexamining the boundaries of all involved because they often change as you grow in your recovery or when relationships around you shift.

In the end, you are not alone in your recovery journey, but it is YOUR recovery journey, and so you are the person in charge of setting and respecting those boundaries. If a relationship is no longer serving you or a person is not respecting the boundaries you’ve set, you always have the ability to reevaluate how they fit into your life.

The Importance of Rebuilding Trust Within Relationships

Building Trust in Recovery
Trust is often the first casualty in a relationship affected by substance use, but you can re-establish it by following the steps above. Rebuilding that trust is a key component of moving forward and sharing a mutually beneficial relationship with those you care about. Consistent and transparent communication helps build trust in a relationship by avoiding misunderstandings between both parties.
Trust is built back with reliability and evident via your follow-through; while substance use is often coupled with lying and being inconsistent with actions or words, recovery should be about remaining honest and accountable. Repeated harmful behavior causes trust to be broken, but by showing a change in behavior patterns and being a reliable partner, this trust can be repaired. Of course, this does not happen immediately, and trust often must be proven time and time again. It is crucial to continue to remain patient with each other while working toward the goal of repairing mutual trust.

Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships and Recovery

You are far from the only person who has nervously anticipated navigating relationships during recovery. Here are the answers to some of my most common questions on the topic:

What Are Some Examples of Toxic Relationships During Recovery?
A toxic relationship occurs when a person is negatively impacting your life rather than having a positive impact. Some examples of a toxic relationship while in recovery could be someone who still has substance use tendencies or a person who makes you feel guilty or shameful during your recovery journey. These both would negatively impact your life and establish roadblocks on your recovery journey. It may be best to let old toxic relationships go and avoid entering new ones.
How Does Sobriety Impact Relationships?
During substance use disorder recovery, the person struggling with substance use is learning to control themselves and interact with people in their lives in a different way. These can positively impact interpersonal relationships because people in recovery are typically more open and willing to communicate. Overall, sobriety positively impacts and strengthens interpersonal relationships.
What Should I Do While My Partner Is in Recovery?
If you’re reading this as a person with a loved one in recovery, the best thing you can do for them during recovery is to support them. Let them know that you are there to help them through this difficult process and that you are willing to listen. Recovery can be very scary, and it often leaves an individual feeling very vulnerable. Therefore, it’s important for your partner to know that they have someone who’s willing to be present. Then, support their positive decisions, like attending support groups, receiving treatment, and re-establishing a sober life.
How Do I Apologize to My Loved Ones for the Hurt Caused by SUD?
Apologizing with sincerity is essential. Express your remorse and show them your plan and the steps you plan to take to recover and maintain your sobriety. Be honest with them and yourself, but prepare yourself for the possibility that they might not forgive you right away. Your sincerity might have to be proven, but you can accomplish that by staying committed to your recovery.
Is It Possible for an Alcoholic to Be in a Healthy Relationship?
More often than not, the only way for an alcoholic to have a happy, healthy relationship is for them to cease their substance use. SUD creates a toxic dynamic in most relationships, which makes them unsustainable long-term because they cause mistrust to grow in the relationship. Recovery is possible, though, and the best thing to do for a partner who is experiencing substance use is to get them help.
What Happens if I Relapse?
Relapses are sometimes inevitable, but it doesn’t mean that all progress is lost. Continue with therapy and support groups to help navigate any emotions linked to relapsing. Maintain open communication with the people close to you in your life, and express your needs to them.

Taking the First Steps to Rebuild Your Relationships

While it can seem like your relationships are hopelessly lost to you, you can eventually rebuild healthy relationships that were once broken by substance use.

The first step toward recovery and mending broken relationships is reaching out and seeking help.

Then, together, we can work toward re-establishing your best life and navigating the rebuilding process for your relationships.

Reaching out for Recovery Help

For more information about recovery or to seek help, reach out to James Haggerty Recovery. We will work together to create a plan to rebuild the important relationships in your life.

With you in recovery,



  1. Haggerty, J. (n.d.). Loneliness and addiction. James Haggerty Recovery. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from https://jameshaggertyrecovery.com/blog/loneliness-and-addiction/
  2. Therapist Aid. (n.d.). Healthy boundaries tips. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/healthy-boundaries-tips
  3. Psych Central. (n.d.). Rebuilding relationships in early recovery. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from https://psychcentral.com/addictions/rebuilding-relationships-in-early-recovery
James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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