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How to Support Your Spouse During Recovery: The Importance of the Partner at Home

Published on January 28, 2021 by First Responder Wellness

Many family members of first responders can often see and feel the effects of their loved one’s job-related stressors. While first responders often have work partners, the partner at home—the spouse or significant other—plays a crucial role in helping them through the recovery process. Spouses and significant others are often the ones who notice early warning signs that their loved one may be struggling with mental health and substance abuse concerns and are the ones by their side through the rest of the healing process.   

While it is the nature of first responders to want to help and protect others, this desire often extends to their families. One way they may do this is by protecting their family from hearing about, seeing, or witnessing any of the traumatic experiences and distressing scenes they deal with on the job. The reality of first responder work and its culture is that it can isolate its members for this very reason. They can often be unwilling or unable to divulge the details of their work due to confidentiality and not wanting to inflict any vicarious trauma onto their loved ones. It is essential for the spouse or partner to keep in mind that this may be a reason their loved one has a difficult time opening up. Learning techniques to manage any feelings of mistrust or resentment that arise from this and establishing communication built on trust and respect can significantly help them through their recovery. 

Mental Health and Relationships

The relationship you have with your significant other can have a big impact on your mental health, and your mental health can have a substantial impact on your relationship. The interwoven nature of these two aspects can have the ability to either help or harm those in recovery. Having a strong foundation of love and support can make a huge difference to a first responder in addiction recovery. 

Taking the time to develop respectful communication strategies to ensure both the first responder and the spouse are committed to being honest about the stressors they encounter can help create an atmosphere of commitment to better mental health. This includes being aware of the nature and culture of their work and the inherent stressors. This is one way you can be proactive about helping your spouse. 

Supporting Your Spouse  

Helping and supporting your spouse through their work-related stressors as a first responder is a job of its own. Furthermore, when a first responder is also struggling with serious forms of stress, addiction, or other mental health concerns, this can be even more difficult to navigate. When this is the case, it is important to remember that the spouse may be the primary source of support and helper in accessing additional resources for them. A first responder may feel unable or unwilling to seek help from their peers at work out of fear it would affect their job security. Therefore creating a space where they can feel comfortable talking about what they may be experiencing is paramount. 

Recovery is a great time to start working on these things together and investing time in creating stronger communication, trust, and appreciation. Some other things to keep in mind while helping your spouse through their recovery are: 

  • Recovery should be the priority: It may be challenging to deal with the realization that although the family is still a priority for them, for a while, they should put their sobriety first in their life. Managing their sobriety first will help them maintain their other priorities better in the future. Be supportive of your partner working through their program, having a sponsor, attending meetings, and meeting new friends there. While this may ultimately take time away from your relationship, allowing them to have a space for recovery is essential.
  • Take care of yourself, too: It is important to understand how you may be hurting from your loved one’s substance abuse. Considering a family program can help incorporate healing for you as well. In homes where alcoholism or drug addiction is evident, many unhealthy boundaries have likely been established. Having a place to work through these together can help you help them. 
  • Heal together: Both the nature of first responder work and the disease of addiction can be very isolating and lonely. It will take time to heal and reconnect with your significant other as they go through the recovery process. Building on common ground and engaging in healthy activities and hobbies you both enjoy can help with this. For example, you can plan a time each week as a recovery type date, such as going for a hike, walk, or having dinner together after a meeting can help with healing and reconnecting. Enjoying these life experiences with them can help with the adjustments that come with addiction recovery.
  • Don’t take it personally: It is essential not to pass or assume blame onto yourself for any complications that arise from the changes and complications that come with the recovery process. While you can be involved in their recovery process, their sobriety is really about them. When something bad happens, old habits start to arise, or even if relapse occurs, this is the nature of addiction and is not your fault. 
  • Stay patient: As recovery is a process, your significant other may not instantly become the healthier, happier version you’d like them to be right away. It takes time. There will be many periods of adjustments, and it can add stress and pressure on them if they feel like they are immediately failing and not living up to these expectations. You may be moving at different paces, so being patient with them is a significant way you can help your spouse.  

As the spouse of a first responder going through recovery, being supportive can be a difficult task to take on. Understanding where the first responder is coming from—both professionally and personally—can help you to be more supportive, sympathetic, and patient. Creating a space where they can feel comfortable opening up, allowing them the time and space to heal as well as yourself, and knowing that their sobriety will be a priority for a while, are all ways to help your partner through recovery. Families of first responders often feel the effect of their loved one’s stressful job. At First Responder Wellness, we also understand that when an individual is struggling with mental health, alcohol, or substances, their family and friends often feel the impact as well. This is why we offer family programs. If you or a loved one is struggling to maintain mental health and well being, contact us today at (888) 743-0490.