Couples – How to Work Through Fights During Recovery

Couple sitting and discussing ecstasy users

Maybe you have a friend or loved one who moved away? If not, imagine this. Even though you initially promise one another you will maintain a solid relationship and keep in contact, daily life and circumstances seem to interfere.

You planned to call, but the kids were sick, then honestly you didn’t feel like it, then it seemed to feel awkward and easier not to call. A month later you felt frustrated with the relationship and more distant.

Eventually, over time, you weren’t so worried about this relationship anymore, but you knew the subtle ache of loneliness was there.

This situation is very similar to how couples march towards distress when they are fully engaging in conflict and avoid resolving wounds.

Recovery from addiction is a particularly distressing time where many events and emotions seem easier to hide or avoid. There is a better way, one that doesn’t leave you—at best—with the ache of loneliness.

Relationship is an ‘US’

As a precursor, you have to realize that committed partners are an ‘US,’ not a ‘you versus me,’ or just a ‘you and me.’ Being committed means that we have to work for the ‘US,’ and not fall into the trap of just what ‘I’ need (1).

When you can elevate caring about the ‘US,’ you will both find space for individual pain and needs to be worked through because it will benefit the ‘US.’ The ‘US’ is the safe place that needs to be built that helps you endure.

Stop the Cycle of Offense and Injury with Grace and Justice

When you are hurting in a relationship, it is really easy to attack or condemn your partner in ways that create injury for them. This attack may cause a new injury or tap into a vulnerability they already have.

Friends Drinking CoffeeEither way, they will become defensive, and you are one step further away from maintaining your ‘US’—just like neglecting to call that special friend of yours.

As this cycle inevitably escalates, your ‘US’ seems to shrink and be less important; rather you rally around your ‘I’ to protect yourself.

What to do? Engage the concepts of grace and justice. These principles work hand-in-hand to keep partners accountable but also treated with respect and dignity.

When you have a complaint to bring up in recovery, employ an attitude of grace that reminds you of our human fragility and fallibility. Your partner won’t get it right all the time, and you can let them know this—but do it well, kindly, and in a way that lets them see your true pain and the value you place on this issue.

This later part brings in justice, which says, “this is important to me, and we must protect our ‘US’ and me.” You will be moving from winning to building while holding the value of both persons in the relationship. Self-soothing and taking your time are often necessary to express and explore these issues without resorting to offense and injury.

A Guideline for Couples to Follow

Practically it is vital to have a structure to follow as you step into working for your ‘US.’ Here is one adapted from the leading researchers in couples therapy in five clear steps (2).

1. You should agree to find a calm moment after a fight, and tune in to really hear the other person and express yourself honestly. As you agree to this, simply state the feelings you had during the fight.

Example: “I felt hurt, angry, misunderstood, ignored and worthless.” You don’t need to explain the feelings here. Take it in turns and truly listen.

2. Take turns to share how you perceived the interaction—stated from the ‘I’ position, and without criticism, judgment or attack. You simply recall how it felt and went from your view.

Example: “I heard the message I was an idiot and fired back, and then we went separate ways, and I broke down in angry tears because I really just wanted you to care for me…”

Couple on the beach

Summarize what your partner is trying to say and empathize with why this is hard/upsetting/concerning etc. to them. Remember, you will each have your say for the sake of the ‘US.’

3. Take turns to share what moment triggered you the most in the fight. Example: “When I was called ‘stupid’ it certainly ignited my fuse.”

4. Take responsibility for what set you up for the fight. Example: “I have been short with you recently,” and what you specifically own and regret from your contribution to the fight. Example: “I over-reacted, and I attacked you.” Apologize.

5. Share one specific thing with your partner that they could do to help this go better next time and one thing you could do to help also. You will end up with four things between you. Commit to implementing them.

This guideline will stabilize your ‘US’ and help you build emotional security. Don’t let the relationship drift and become distracted—don’t forget to ‘call your friend’!

Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1]: Sells, J. N., & Yarhouse, M. A. (2011). Counseling couples in conflict: a relational restoration model. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
(2) Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: a practical guide from the countrys foremost relationship expert. New York: Harmony Books.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on September 28, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 28, 2017.
Published on

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.