Healthy Intimacy In Recovery
July 25, 2022
If you’re finding your way free from addiction, building intimacy in recovery may be one of your goals. If it isn’t, you may be wondering why it’s such a big deal. If you take a look at how addiction may have disrupted your existing relationships or made it nearly impossible to form healthy new ones, it may become clear. For anyone going through recovery, it’s good to know why intimacy is important and how you can rediscover connection, trust, and healthy relationships.
Why Is Intimacy In Recovery Important?
Intimacy refers to the interpersonal relationships we form as we interact with others. It’s a connection built by sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Interpersonal intimacy is founded on mutual care, emotional support, trust, and love. If you’ve been struggling with addiction, you may notice that some or all of these foundations have been missing from your life. And a life without deep understanding and connection with others isn’t much of a life.
The Journal of Nursing Research defines interpersonal intimacy as having four domains that display positive and significant correlations with meaning of life: mutual aid, self-disclosure, acceptance with communication, and emotional support. Intimacy gives your life depth, richness, and meaning. All of these are taken away by addiction because it prohibits meaningful interpersonal intimacy.
How Addiction Impacts Relationships
You aren’t the only one who suffers from the loss of intimacy in addiction. The other people in your life, those relying on you for trust, love, and a sense of belonging, have had this intimacy taken from their lives as well.
“True intimacy requires that each partner allows him or herself to be vulnerable and dependent,” says Meadows Senior Fellow Tian Dayton. “But because their ability to be intimate with one another has been traumatized by addiction, they might both be afraid that allowing themselves to be open and responsive will lead to further violations of faith, hope, and trust.”
Dayton adds that addiction undermines, if not nearly destroys, all the parts that make up interpersonal intimacy: “the modulated give and take, each person retaining and maintaining his or herself while integrating the presence of another, trust levels, comfort with openness, honesty, and constant negotiation.” What’s left is an unbalanced, distant relationship that is missing the cornerstones of real intimacy. So how do you go about building intimacy in recovery?
If you’ve been in a close partnership throughout the addiction journey, rebuilding intimacy in recovery takes more than simply no longer using drugs or alcohol. Dayton explains, “When the substance is removed, couples are at risk for living out the dysfunctional patterns that became fixed while one or both partners were using.” Behaviors won’t automatically go back to “normal.” Habits and patterns need to be unlearned; otherwise, the dysfunctional relationship can remain long after the substance is gone.
Dayton suggests that partners rediscover their own sense of self and begin communicating who they are to each other while listening at the same time. This can be a tall order when trust has been broken and old habits are in place, or if you’ve never had a chance, ever, to really explore your own identity or learn how to communicate in a healthy, open way.
This is why personalized addiction treatment is such a valuable resource. Programs like ours at Willow House at The Meadows set up both you and your partner for long-term success. We include partners and families in the recovery process so that everyone can develop trust, take the best actions, and communicate openly and in a healthy way.
Am I Ready for Intimacy?
If you’re single and considering establishing intimacy in the recovery process, you may be wondering not just how, but when you should do this. Or maybe even, if. A fear of intimacy in recovery is understandable for anyone who is trying to find their way out of addiction. While it is normal to be apprehensive, it is also something you can absolutely move beyond.
If you’ve been struggling with addiction, you’ve probably been hurt. You may have unintentionally hurt others. You may still feel shame or regret about things you’ve done. You may even hold onto fear with logical, physical roots if you’ve been in an abusive relationship.
Research from Psychiatric Times shows that substance use is involved in 40-60% of all intimate partner violence (IPV). While any gender can enact violence on another, IPV disproportionately affects women and involves drug or alcohol use. This is why women-only programs like ours at Willow House focus on rebuilding healthy trust and intimacy in a safe, relaxed environment. You can also receive professional support to work through any co-occurring anxiety, PTSD, or substance use concerns.
As with all elements of treatment and recovery, there is no one path, no set time frame, no single universal experience. This is why personalized addiction treatment is so important. You will work with your team to assess your recovery at every step of the process to receive the support and therapy you need, when you need it. And you’ll receive practical education and tools to help you in recovery, with family relationships, intimacy and so much more. When you’re ready, we’re here to listen and support you.