Navigating Anger & Jealousy in Sober Relationships
Anger, resentment, and jealousy have the power to destroy sober relationships. If you’re struggling with any of these emotions in your relationship, know that there is a way through them.
Read on to discover the root of these complex emotions, and the many ways they can impact your relationships. Discover what to do next in order to salvage your relationship and restore a healthy, balanced, peaceful dynamic between you and your partner by attaining emotional sobriety.
Stopping substance use is the first step
Many people believe that when substance use ends, relationships with others will improve. However, ending substance use is only the first step, even though it is a massive one.
When you stop using substances, you no longer have the coping mechanism you’ve relied on for so long to help you manage difficult emotions such as pain, anger, or jealousy. You have to now learn how to handle these difficult emotions. Doing this alongside a partner can make it even more complex.
Additionally, after numbing your emotions for so long, it may be difficult to even identify what your emotions are. You may not realise that you’ve built resentments, or that you feel pain towards a situation.
Early recovery is all about learning to observe, acknowledge, and manage the wide range of emotions that are part of the human experience.
Emotional buildup in active addiction
Certain emotions and behaviours that would have been rife during active addiction have the power to destroy relationships if they are left unchecked.
The early stages of recovery are a time to understand what your feelings are for both you and your partner.
In early recovery, you’re having to relearn how to be intimate with somebody on an emotional level. You’re learning about yourself and what you can bring to relationships, rather than what you can get from them.
In addition to this, many in early recovery experience deep feelings of guilt and shame. They hold remorse for things they did during active addiction. You may have unintentionally hurt people closest to you without really realising the depths of their pain due to your use. Although your natural reflex maybe try to fix any damaged relationships, it’s important to remember that this will happen over time as you focus your efforts on healing yourself.
Anger and resentment in sober relationships
Many situations can prompt you or your partner to experience anger in your relationship.
Anyone would feel angry when commitments are broken, promises aren’t kept, and feelings of disappointment happen over and over again. Many of these emotions stem from feeling devalued and not worthy enough.
If you don't feel seen and heard, you don't feel respected, your boundaries are violated, or you feel like you're constantly having to pick up the slack, this can lead to feelings of anger towards your partner.
Many people mistakenly believe that anger is a bad thing. The truth is, anger is a normal human emotion. What gets people into trouble is what they do with the anger. Like any other emotion anger acts as a signal that something is wrong.
Generally speaking, anger is a secondary emotion that is a manifestation of pain or fear.
Anger in sober relationships can often make it very difficult to see clearly. When you're angry, it's difficult to view things from a place of clarity, groundedness, and perspective. When you're angry, it's difficult for your partner to feel safe expressing their true needs, thoughts, and feelings to you.
Many times when someone gets angry, it may not even have to do with the present situation. They may get triggered from something that happened in their past, provoking their inner child.
Codependency can lead to resentment in sober relationships
If you love someone who struggles with active addiction or is currently in recovery, you may have signs of codependency. Codependency can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, or jealousy.
Some signs of codependency are that your emotions and mood throughout the day are generally dictated by how your loved one is doing. You get mentally and emotionally intertwined with their problems.
Below are some additional signs that you may have tendencies of codependency:
- Having expectations for your partner that they aren't meeting
- Trying to control your partner's choices but they don’t adhere
- Not expressing how you truly feel, causing your emotions to build
- Avoiding confrontation with your partner so you avoid speaking with them openly about your true feelings or opinions
- Struggling with your own mental and emotional well-being due to your entanglement in their problems
- Not setting boundaries with your partner and tolerating things you don’t want
- Trying to change your partner or hoping they can be better, despite them continuously showing you the opposite
- Having trust and faith in your partner who has proven themselves untrustworthy and not faithful
- Thinking you can “fix” your partner and then feeling disappointed and resentful when their behaviours don’t change
Although this comes from a loving place, it can also lead to a great deal of anger or resentment towards your loved one when they are in active recovery.
You may have allowed emotions and resentments to build up while your loved one was actively using, as they likely were not in a state to listen to you. Even if they did listen to you, they likely weren't in a space to truly process and understand what you were saying.
On the other hand, perhaps you felt like you needed to tiptoe around your partner’s feelings, so you held in a lot of what you truly felt while they were in active addiction in an effort to not rock the boat.
If you’re experiencing anger in your relationship…
It is important not to hold your anger in, because pushing it down doesn't make it go away. In fact, holding it in will make it worse, helping it to fester, build, and grow.
In addition to this, when you hold your anger in, it may come out as you being easily triggered by your partner, being passive-aggressive with your partner, or viewing everything your partner does through the lens of frustration.
That being said, it is important to not let your anger out in a harmful or destructive way.
The first thing to do if you’re experiencing anger is to admit and acknowledge that you're angry. Don't feel bad for feeling angry, as the emotion is normal and it's coming from somewhere. There isn't anything wrong with feeling angry, and handling your anger effectively can help strengthen your relationship.
Take the time to cool off and decompress. As previously mentioned, when you're incredibly angry, it's hard to view anything from a clear frame of mind. Taking several deep breaths, getting some fresh air, or stepping away from your partner to collect yourself is an important step.
After you’ve acknowledged your anger, given yourself some time, and accepted your anger, you can work on observing the emotion and where it came from:
- Have you been more short-tempered than usual and you’re taking it out on your partner?
- Do you and your partner have unresolved issues that keep getting swept under the rug?
- Is there an element of your dynamic with your partner that reminds you of a negative dynamic from when you were younger?
Examine the anger and the primary emotion at the root of it. Do you feel hurt, devalued, or fearful? Doing this allows the anger to dissipate as you realise what’s really going on internally.
It’s also important to own your part in the argument if there was any way you contributed to it. Reflecting on yourself and improving in those areas will only strengthen sober relationships as a whole.
Finally, consider what you and your partner should do next to resolve the issue. Remember, its not you versus your partner, but rather, you and your partner versus the issue. Whether it’s communicating more, setting boundaries, or simply apologising or taking accountability, figure out what action step needs to be taken together.
How jealousy affects sober relationships
Like any other emotion, jealousy tells you something about your internal thoughts and beliefs and can be used as a guide.
Most of the time, jealousy comes from a place of insecurity. This insecurity can be due to having a past with a partner who may have been unfaithful or broken your trust. Insecurity can also come from your own limited sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Although small amounts of jealousy are viewed as healthy, extreme jealousy is incredibly toxic and translates into abusive behaviours.
Irrational and extreme jealousy can be incredibly overwhelming, scary, and painful. Unhealthy jealousy can make a person try and take control over their partner's behaviours and interactions, and can segway into an incredibly unhealthy, abusive, and even manipulative and controlling dynamic.
Some signs of unhealthy jealousy in sober relationships may look like:
- Constantly questioning a partner’s behaviours
- Being paranoid about what a partner is doing
- Constantly calling and texting a partner when they are out
- Asking a partner for detailed accounts of their whereabouts
- Following a partner to see what they’re doing
- Being overly insecure
- Making accusations towards a partner that have no basis in truth
- Controlling who a partner sees and engages with, including their family and friends
- Going through a partner’s text messages, phone call log, social media messages, or emails
Jealousy leads to feelings of anger and resentment for both parties. It puts mental and emotional space between partners, and diminishes trust.
A jealous partner’s suspicions and constant need for validation can be draining and hurtful towards the other.
The consequences of jealousy in sober relationships can severely harm the dynamic and cause the relationship to fall apart.
If you’re experiencing jealousy in your relationship…
It’s important to acknowledge that mild jealousy can be completely normal. It’s important to discuss any concerns you’re having with your partner, and for the two of you to set healthy boundaries that will protect your relationship and your peace.
Communication is the key to any healthy and loving relationship.
For instance, if you experience worries about what your partner is doing when they’re out with their friends, have a calm discussion for ways they may be able to help mitigate this fear, such as calling you once they’re home to have a conversation before bed.
In conjunction with this, it’s important to understand the root of your concerns:
- Has your partner betrayed your trust before?
- Do you inherently just feel insecure, and not worthy of being with your partner?
- Has another partner broken your trust in the past, and now you’re allowing that to interfere with your present relationship?
Getting to the root of what’s causing you to feel jealous will help you understand what issues you may need to work through internally.
In order to combat jealousy, it’s also important to foster a relationship built on trust, communication, and commitment. Take actions to make sure your partner feels seen, heard, and understood. Take it upon yourself to express to your partner how you truly feel, and what your needs are. When you work towards building trust with one another, you wouldn’t have any reason to not trust your partner when they’re away from you.
Keep in mind, if your partner is exhibiting unhealthy jealousy, an entirely different course of action should be taken. Gain support from family and peers, and truly look at the value you are gaining from the relationship versus how much harm it is causing you. In some cases, especially when things become dangerous, the best course of action may be to leave the relationship, with a safety plan in place.
What to do next
In order to navigate sober relationships, maintaining a recovery programme can truly make or break the outcome of your relationships. If you’re frequently experiencing emotions such as anger, resentment, and jealousy towards your partner, or vice versa, it means there is something more going on beneath the surface.
Seeking therapy or counselling, either individually or as a couple, can help you explore the issues in a safe environment. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to manage arguments on your own when tensions are high and emotions are flaring. Additionally, individual counselling can help you get to the core of any deep seeded issues from your past that may be triggering you, and affecting your relationship today.
Using a program such as 12-step or SMART Recovery can also help you improve your relationships with others by teaching you how to improve your relationship with yourself. You’ll learn how to better understand and manage your emotions, and develop a deeper sense of awareness that’ll prompt you to examine the root of your emotions. You’ll also learn how to identify and manage triggers, so they don’t have as much of an impact on you and consequently, your partner.
Additionally, groups are a great environment to be in, as you learn that the issues you’re facing are likely shared amongst many others in recovery. This can help take some weight off your shoulder and helps you feel less alone.
Author - Thurga