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Couples in Recovery on a Spiritual Path

Issue 16

For individuals in recovery, spirituality is an important personal practice. For couples in recovery, how can spirituality play a part in the relationship? Is there a spiritual path couples can walk together?

Here are some thoughts from our research and experience as a couple in recovery.

Religion vs. Spirituality in Recovery

Religion and spirituality are not the same things.

Religions typically have specific beliefs and organized practices, usually shared with a group or community.

Spirituality is an individual practice that is focused on examining our sense of the divine and how we relate to the world around us. Spiritual practices may vary in orientation, but all share a goal of feeling interconnected or “one” with everyone and everything. One can still belong to a religious group and be spiritual and vice versa.

Learning how to let go, live in the moment, and become mindful of our impact on others and the environment is perhaps the most elusive, yet the most helpful to our recovery.

The Role Spirituality Plays for Couples

It can be a challenge to the relationship when one person is basking in resentment, sadness and hopelessness. This situation can develop into various unhealthy responses in the couple: the other wanting to fix their partner’s “condition,” an increasing lack of communication and intimacy; anger, mistrust, and finally isolation and an inability to build a connection. Some have called this “being spiritually sick.” These periods are normal and when they happen, they can suck the happiness right out of the relationship. Unresolved, they can trigger a recurrence of symptoms.

While spiritual practices may vary, evolve, wax and wane, it is your partner’s own business to work, not yours. However, that does not mean that spirituality is a taboo topic. On the contrary, talking about your spiritual practices and beliefs increases intimacy and an opportunity to “practice spirituality” together. Cultivating empathy and compassion is most often “experimented” on with each other, so we believe discussing the effects on the relationship can be a rewarding experience.

Bringing Spirituality into Your Relationship

How can you bring spirituality into your individual life and your relationship? Here are a few suggestions, any of which you could share with your partner:

  • Gratitude: Gratitude lists, bedtime discussions, spontaneous acts of gratitude, and daily readers, are all ways to remind yourself of why you’re in recovery. Daily gratitude has been shown to bolster loving kindness towards yourself and others. Sharing your list with your partner and seeing the overlap can be very enlightening!
  • Meditation/Mindfulness: Group meditation, guided meditation apps, watching YouTube videos, reading mindfulness books, and listening to podcasts can help you learn various techniques. Research has shown great physical and mental benefits when you become present in your body and mindful of your internal dialogues.
  • Nature, Music, and Art: Communing by taking a walk, appreciating or creating art, and listening to calming music are all spiritual practices. Beauty has always worked to bring people closer to the divine if observed mindfully and without labels.
  • Serving Others: Serving is an active way to express your gratitude and get out of your “self” by volunteering, donating, spontaneously helping others, advocating for causes, and sponsoring people in recovery programs.
  • Yoga: Attending a class, or an online course, focusing on the breath and the body, and going on a yoga retreat can help your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
  • Connection: Attending recovery meetings, sitting with a good friend, and meeting with a sponsor can be a boost to your spiritual need for deep connection.
  • Prayer: Prayer can help you focus, be grateful, ask for help, connect with your higher power, and encourage surrender and hope. Prayer can be a simple word, a learned prayer that speaks to you, a spontaneous conversation, or a group prayer.

Some believe that spirituality is critical to recovery and without it, a loss of hope and recurrence is much more likely.

We see spiritual practice as the search for meaning and purpose.

This process ultimately creates connection, the opposite of addiction.

Sharing your spiritual recovery with your partner can bring deep intimacy and help you embark on a spiritual journey together.

Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos, MPH, has 30 years experience as a public health professional and is the former director of Dartmouth’s Women’s Health Resource Center. Glenn Simpson, LCSW, CADC, has a private practice specializing in substance use disorder, and couples therapy. They are working together on a book for couples in recovery.

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