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Strong families offer incredible recovery support, so if you want to help a loved-one recover from addiction, one the best things you can do is look inward and concentrate on improving yourself and on improving family relations and harmony.

While your loved-one gets residential treatment, you may be asked to come in for one or more family sessions. Everyone gets a lot out of these counseling sessions and you should participate if you can, but in addition to these brief interventions, there’s a lot you can do on your own to strengthen the family and improve the chances of lasting recovery.

Read on to learn more about:

  1. How healthy families behave
  2. How to fight fair
  3. Specific actions each family member can take, in the short-term, to improve the family’s ability to support recovery
  4. Why you might want to consider family therapy

The Ideals of a Strong Supportive Family

There is no single best kind of recovery family, but the most effective families tend to live by certain similar ideals.

Read over the following 7 ideals of strong families and consider if there’s anything you might change to strengthen your family. Share this list with others in your household and use it as a basis for a discussion on how you can work together to support your recovering loved-one over the coming months.

To build a stronger and healthier family:

  1. Let's accept that no family, including our own, can ever be perfect - and this is perfectly OK.
  2. Let's recognize that no individual can ever be perfect – including a person in recovery - therefore let's never ask for promises of perfection. We do not ask that a person promise to maintain sobriety; this isn’t reasonable and just leads to guilt and shame and destructive feelings. Instead, we ask that everyone just do the best they can.
  3. Let's all work to make sure every person in this family feels comfortable and at peace within the family home.
  4. Every person needs support from time to time. Let's all work to respect and encourage each member of the family, at all times.
  5. Let's always fight fair. We accept that in an unfair fight, nobody can win.
  6. Let's celebrate each family member’s accomplishments and offer empathy and support when things go wrong.
  7. Let's continue to grow and adapt to meet the changing needs of all members of this family.1

How Do You Fight Fair?

We know those we live with best of all. Unfortunately, this means that when we abandon fair fighting, we know exactly what buttons to push to create maximum hurt and distress.

  • In an unfair fight – you’re trying to win at all costs (and usually everyone loses in the end).
  • In a fair fight – you’re trying to reach a satisfactory outcome (and sometimes everyone can win).

Fair fighting is a cornerstone of family health.2 Some of the rules of fair fighting include:

  • Wait until you can discuss the issues somewhat calmly. Don’t yell.
  • Don’t use absolutes or generalizations like you always or you never – a fair fight can’t be about ‘always’ or ’never’ it has to be about a specific and timely topic.
  • Use I statements instead of you statements
  • Only fight about one thing at a time (when you’re angry it’s so easy to start dumping in all sorts of other complaints…don’t do this!)
  • Don’t score points with low blows.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t bring up the past,
  • Stick to the real truth (to the best of your knowledge). Avoid exaggeration or purposeful omission of facts just so you can ‘defeat’ your opponent in debate.3

What Needs to Change?

Strong actively supportive families help to prevent relapse, but in most situations, just wanting to help isn’t enough – you actually have to make some changes and do some work!

But what needs to change?

Well, probably quite a lot! Here’s an exercise to complete as a family that should help each person understand that individual changes build a much stronger collective whole.

Ask each member of the family to answer the following 7 questions. The exercise should be completed seriously and in writing and each family member should sign at the end as if it were a legally binding contract.

Every person in the household should participate, but obviously, younger children will need some help with this, and you may need to modify questions to match abilities/comprehension level.

  1. How can you improve your communications within the family? Write down what you pledge to do to improve communication.
  2. What will you do to ensure that you always fight fair? Write down how you’ll make sure to always fight fair.
  3. How will you improve family trust? Write down something you can do to become more trustworthy. Write down something you can do to let trust grow between yourself and another family member.
  4. How will you take care of yourself? When you are healthy and happy you are more able to take care of others in the family. Write out some healthy habits and activities you can adopt to improve your own sense of well-being.
  5. How will you identify small problems before they become big problems? Take a moment to think about what behaviors or signs preceded big problems in the past. Write down warning signs to watch for that might indicate new problems on the horizon.
  6. How will you respond to warning signs? Write down specific things you can and will do after noticing warnings signs of an oncoming larger problem.
  7. How will you participate directly in the recovery process? Write down your formal role – going to family counseling meetings, for example. How often will you go?1

Should You Consider Family Therapy?

Family therapy can help you grow from a loving family with good intentions to a truly supportive family that works to meet everyone's needs.

Solution-focused family therapy doesn’t last forever, but it will require a commitment of time, energy and money for 2 or 3 months. In return, you can expect to learn:

  • Effective conflict resolution techniques
  • How to establish healthy boundaries
  • Effective negotiations skills (so every person in the family has the ability to negotiate for their needs and wants)
  • Relapse prevention skills
  • Family communication skills
  • About the developmental needs of every person in the family
  • Whether any person in the family struggles with complicated grief or a legacy of physical or sexual abuse – and whether any person might benefit from continued therapy.
  • Whether any family member might have a treatable mental illness (like depression or anxiety) and would benefit from further therapy or medication.4
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Page last updated Jul 17, 2013

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