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Getting Through Transitions as a Team

Issue 18

Life presents us with many transitions. Good or bad, change can be stressful for both the individual and the couple in recovery. In our work, we have found that learning how to function as a team helps during these times.

How Change Can Be A Trigger

Change creates vulnerability because your flow is disrupted. For many in recovery the state of transition can trigger memories of feeling uncertainty, fear, abandonment, the need to fix, or the desire to flee. Whether the transition is planned (a new job) or unplanned (the death of a parent), vulnerability can lead to recurrence of symptoms for both individuals.

Talking about the transition at hand is a crucial first step to maintaining your relationship.

Understand Each Other’s Needs

At times like these, it is often tempting to just put your head down and work on the tasks at hand. However, ignoring each other’s emotional experiences can make the transition much more difficult.

Here are some ways to approach these conversations:

  • Make time to understand each other’s needs. Let each person have uninterrupted time to express what they need to feel less stressed and more supported. Don’t be surprised if your partner’s needs and feelings are much different than yours.
  • Check in frequently to understand how each other’s needs may have changed over the course of the transition and how to best adjust.
  • Practice non-judgmental listening at a time you are feeling calm and open. Try to imagine yourself in the other’s shoes.
  • Maintain eye contact, sit openly, wait to ask clarifying questions, repeat back what you heard, show that you care and really want to understand what they are going through.
  • Express appreciation for your partner’s courage to discuss this with you.

How to Act as a Team

A couple in recovery has the advantage of facing a new transition as a team, creating more trust and connection in the process. Here are tips on how to improve your relationship during critical times:

  • Talk with your partner about what you both wish to happen during this time.
  • Resist making unilateral decisions • Develop an action plan for what you can and cannot control
  • Decide what each of you need and can expect from your partner
  • Make the time to keep talking
  • Lean into your support network
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help

Life is a journey with highs and lows. Embracing change with your partner can deepen your recovery while creating healthy interdependence with your partner. That’s exciting!

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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