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Relationships After Rehab: Repairing & Rebuilding Trust

Repairing relationships after rehab is an investment that is worth it. Relationships can play a vital role in helping you to stay sober in recovery for the long term.[1]

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It’s not easy to face all that happened during active addiction and to do the work of rebuilding trust and connection in your closest relationships. In most cases, we hurt the ones we are closest to most deeply, so it takes time for healing to take place. 

The important thing to remember is that patience and self-compassion are key to the process. Not only does it help you to build your relationship with others after addiction treatment, but it can help you to rebuild your relationship with yourself as well. 

Key Strategies for Restoring Relationships After Rehab

There are a number of actionable strategies that you can implement as you begin the journey of rebuilding relationships in recovery. For example, you can take these steps: 

  • Establish honest communication and express remorse as needed.
  • Set and respect healthy boundaries for personal and relational well-being. 
  • Engage in mutual activities that foster reconnection and trust.
  • Seek family therapy to facilitate a structured healing process.
  • Remain committed to your own personal healing. 
  • Learn to let go of attachment to outcome.

Practice Effective Communication Skills

There are a number of techniques and exercises that may help you improve communication in different types of relationships in your life. This is a critical piece in the puzzle of any relationship, though strategies may be a bit different depending on the type of relationship. These are some of them:

Partner Relationship Building 

Not every partnership is designed to last through addiction, but if toxic patterns can be identified and removed, it may be a mainstay that supports long-term recovery.

  • Engage in active listening. This technique is exactly what it sounds like, putting all your energy into really listening and understanding what your partner has to say. Their experience may not mirror your own, so you can learn from their experience as you also give them the gift of being heard. Eye contact, nodding, and repeating back to them what they said in your own words for confirmation can let them know that you hear them.[2]
  • Have regular check-ins. When two people are working together to build a family and potentially take care of others, they may begin to grow apart. It’s important to schedule time to check in with each other even if you live together and everything seems to be going smoothly. 
  • Show your appreciation. Everyone’s love language is different, but you can show your partner that you care about them by showing up for them in a way that is meaningful to them. This could mean helping out more around the house, doing things they want to do with them, or expressing your appreciation verbally. 

Reconnect With Family Members 

Every family is unique, so it’s a good idea to work with a family therapist to navigate this process effectively, but there are some things that can be helpful in all situations.

  • Hold family meetings. Holding family meetings provides a forum for people to talk about what they need and what they want. It can be a safe place for communication on topics that may be awkward to bring up, but also a place for people to step into the spotlight, which can be much needed when one person has held that spot for so long due to their addiction or other issues.
  • Write a letter. Sometimes, talking to someone is hard enough to stop you from trying to make amends at all. Writing a letter can give you the space and time you need to think through what you want to say, edit yourself, and be vulnerable. 
  • Set clear boundaries. Setting boundaries means making a directed effort to change toxic patterns that can develop in a family when one or more people are living with an active addiction.[3] This can mean making agreements within the family to be respectful of each other’s space, to listen respectfully, and to find compromise while also maintaining a no-tolerance policy for substance abuse and violence of any kind. 
  • Pull the family together. Spend time together as a family doing things that bond you together. This can mean cooking together at home, playing games, taking on a home project together, or engaging in outdoor activities.

Reach Out to Old Friends

While it is not recommended to reach out to friends who are still living in addiction or those with whom you used to drink or get high, it can be a good idea to reach back out to old friends you spent time with prior to your addiction. 

  • Give them time and space. Not everyone will want to come back together, depending on how long it has been, what they are doing in their life, and what happened to end the connection. Don’t try to force it. 
  • Have an open and honest discussion. You will likely need to have a conversation about what happened to the relationship, explain choices you made, and talk about your addiction. Be prepared to answer questions and allow them to feel what they feel without judgment. 
  • Engage in shared interests. If you both like sports, spend some time playing or going to games. If you’re a fan of the same movies, have a few movie marathons. Reconnect by revisiting your old common ground. 
  • Show up to rebuild trust. No matter how small the commitment or promise, if you say you’re going to do something, do it to demonstrate that you are trustworthy. 

Mend Fences With Colleagues 

If you are able to return to the same job or industry that you worked in prior to or during active addiction, it may take some time to rebuild your reputation and show people that you are committed to recovery and ready to work. 

  • Let go of expectations. You can’t control what people think of you, and they may not come forward with the stories they’ve heard so you can verify them one way or the other. Focus on the tasks at hand, and avoid getting too caught up worrying what people think about you.[4]
  • Communicate with your boss. You will need to have an open conversation with your boss about what happened, where you are in recovery, and your goals for your career. Let them provide a structure for you, so you can rebuild trust. 
  • Be transparent. If asked about any of your choices during active addiction or if people are aggressive in blaming you for problems or assuming that you are not trustworthy, be patient. Acknowledge your past mistakes while making it clear that you are not that person anymore. 
  • Keep your emotions in check. Depending on what you do for a living, you may spend more time with coworkers than you do with your family. While it’s important to acknowledge that you may have off days, know that you will need to remain professional even when you’re tired, frustrated, or upset. 

The Art of Setting Boundaries

With the goal of reconnecting and rebuilding relationships with our loved ones after addiction, it’s important to have a broad view of what that can look like. As soon as another person enters the picture, it is no longer about you and you alone, and you will need to find a balance between prioritizing your needs in recovery and their needs in the relationship. 

Setting boundaries helps with this process.[3] You can do the following:

  • Make it clear what you need to feel safe physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  • Listen to what the other person needs. 
  • Determine whether or not you are capable of meeting their needs and protecting your sobriety at the same time. 
  • Make a detailed plan for how you will deal with anything that causes conflict or stress, such as paying bills, financial decisions, household chores, or parenting duties. 
  • Communicate if you feel that your boundaries have been crossed, your boundaries have changed, or you feel you can no longer respect the boundaries that someone else requested.

Relationships require presence and regular check-ins to make sure that they are functioning healthfully. People change, and their needs change. It’s important to maintain open communication that is respectful and empathetic of the other person’s needs. 

Rebuilding Trust Post Rehab

It is not easy to cultivate trust in a relationship, but it is a crucial step in regrowing connections and strengthening bonds at home and among friends after addiction.[5]

Trust-Building Exercises

Some trust-building exercises that can come in handy in this process include the following: 

  • Return to shared experiences. If you have happy memories with your family members at a certain place or doing a specific activity, set up a time to revisit that experience. If it goes well, make it a regular event. 
  • Schedule regular check-ins. For children, you may regularly check in when you put them to bed or over the dinner table. For a spouse or a close friend, you may take time to go out for coffee once a week or go for a walk every day to check in with each other. 
  • Set goals together. It can be a bonding experience to work together toward a unified goal. Pick some short-term goals that are relatively easy to accomplish and some long-term goals that you can work toward as a team. 
  • Work with a therapist. Meeting regularly with a therapist puts someone else in charge, so everyone in the relationship or family is on equal footing. This can increase a sense of safety and allow someone else to identify any aspect of a relationship that is not equal or respectful. 

Maintain Personal Boundaries

It’s important to remember that while you are working to rebuild trust, you also need to maintain your own personal boundaries so you can stay sober.  To do this, you can do the following:

  • Be direct when asking for what you want or need.
  • Avoid attempting to force your opinion or desires through emotional manipulation. Instead, remain calm and respectful. 
  • Be willing to agree to disagree on subjects that do not threaten your recovery. 
  • Take physical space if it seems that emotions are getting heated. 
  • Model the behavior you would like to see from others in your relationship. 

Find Peer Support

Though it is helpful to work with addiction treatment professionals when laying the foundational work in rebuilding life and relationships in recovery, one of the key pieces to long-term success comes from the connections made in peer support groups.[6] These groups can help you to create a blueprint for healthy relationships that you can apply over and over again in recovery. 

Additionally, no one understands better the challenges you are facing than others who are in the same position. Meeting with peers like this regularly can help to do the following: 

  • Remind you that you are not the only one facing this issue. 
  • Avoid the isolation that often comes with addiction.
  • Connect with and practice making friends with people who understand who you are and where you’re coming from.
  • Give you a space to vent about challenges you are facing.
  • Offer you support and tips for navigating the path forward in recovery.

Navigate the Healing Timeline

It takes time for relationships to heal and grow into a new version that is healthy and supportive to both parties. Don’t expect to make amends overnight or to rebuild trust after a week of sobriety. Instead, give the relationship the time and space it needs to evolve into what is going to be with the understanding that it may take years, or it might just not happen. 

Some common challenges to look out for include the following: 

  • Feeling a sense of urgency: It’s normal to want things to be okay as soon as possible, but if you begin to feel like things have to happen now or never, take a step back and do the work to remind yourself that healing takes time.
  • Feeling insecure: It’s also normal to feel as if your self-worth is wrapped up in your relationship with someone else, but part of the work of recovery is learning how to find true emotional independence. You don’t need anyone else’s approval or understanding to be happy and okay. 
  • Becoming codependent: It is not uncommon for people in recovery to become codependent because codependent relationships are the norm in active addiction.[7] Couples counseling and personal therapy are both places where you can learn how to identify codependent behaviors and begin to make positive changes. 
  • Ending relationships: Not all relationships survive addiction, even after treatment and recovery. It’s a good idea to prepare for that possibility and do the work to make sure that a breakup or ending of any relationship does not harm your ability to stay sober. 
Updated February 21, 2024
Resources
  1. How social relationships influence substance use disorder recovery: A collaborative narrative study. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. Pettersen H, Landheim A, Skeie I, et al. 2019;13(1-8):117822181983337. doi:
  2. Becoming a better listener. Nursing. 1993;23(2):103-104.
  3. Relationship detox: Helping clients develop healthy relationships in recovery. Sanders, M. Wisconsin Public Psychiatry Network Teleconference. Published 2022. Accessed February 12, 2024.
  4. Working through workplace stigma: Coming back after an addiction. Harvard Health Publishing. Published January 5, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2024.
  5. Building trusting relationships to support implementation: A proposed theoretical model. Metz A, Jensen T, Farley A, Boaz A, Bartley L, Villodas M. Frontiers in Health Services. 2022;2.
  6. Family to family recovery resource guide: Family support and guidance for navigating alcohol and drug addiction treatment and recovery services in New York State. Friends of Recovery New York. Accessed February 12, 2024.
  7. [The concept, the symptoms and the etiological factors of codependency]. Knapek E, Kuritárné Szabó I. Psychiatria Hungarica: A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag Tudomanyos Folyoirata. 2014;29(1):56-64.
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