How to Work with Family Members Who Aren’t in Recovery or Sobriety

Today we’re going to discuss a difficult question: How to Work with Family Members Who Aren’t in Recovery or Sobriety.

Before we dive into that difficult discussion, thanks to all of you who have been part of the Men’s S.A. Lifeline Discussion Group thus far.

As a fairly new group, let me share a few statistics.

Date Started: October 29th, 2016
Number of Participants: 264
Number of Discussion Posts: 14 (today’s will be 15)
Total Number of Comments: 145
Most Commented Discussion Post:
It’s a tie between two posts – both have 22 comments:
Why Can an Addict Help an Addict Best?
Welcome to the Men’s Online Discussion
Most Visited Discussion Post:
– 7 Common Denial Statements of an Addict – Part 1 – 338 visits according to Google Analytics
– How do You Work the Steps of Recovery came in a close 2nd with 297 visitors

Thanks again for your participation and experience. I’m hopeful that we can continue to grow and reach out to others who are willing to share as well.

The question today was presented via a group text and is one that may be a problem many of us have:

How do you associate with blood family members who are not in recovery or sobriety?

Family Members Who Aren't in Recovery

I feel this question could be answered in a couple ways, depending on what is meant by a “family member who isn’t in recovery or sobriety.”

For me, I don’t know that I have direct family members that have a sexual addiction. I do, however, feel that my family members are not emotionally healthy; they deal with their emotions by numbing out, denying, or completely ignoring the core problems.

Is this still dealing with a blood family member who isn’t in recovery?

To me, YES, it absolutely is!

Although sometimes I’ve thought this in the past, I don’t believe today that EVERY MAN is a sex addict. I do, however, believe that many men do not know how to deal with negative emotions in healthy ways.

Isn’t this the core problem we all have?

As sexual addicts, we’ve chosen to use pornography and other sexual actions as a way to cope with negative feelings and emotions; instead of being aware of my negative emotions and surrendering them, I’ve chosen to numb out and cope via pornography.

Others may have a different “drug of choice” to deal with these feelings, but the end results are the same – emotional sickness and thus, addiction of some sort.

No matter how one chooses to deal with his or her emotions, I’m learning that it’s difficult to be around these people. And for me, this applies directly to the question mentioned above.

So what do I do?


This has been an ongoing discussion with my therapist for the last year. One thing he recommended just last week was to do a brainstorm of different solutions. He said to let every idea become an option and to write them all down in a brainstorm chart.

Here’s what I’ve come up with…some are WAY out there, sorry in advance.

    1. Move to India
    2. Become a Buddhist Monk
    3. Leave my religion
    4. Tell my parents to “#-Off”
    5. Detach from them indefinitely
    6. Create a punch pass where we can only see them X times per year
    7. Have them go to my therapist for counseling of their own
    8. Make them read all the recovery literature and write out what they’ve learned
    9. Get a tattoo
    10. Sell my house and move across the country
    11. Share my journal entries with them about what I’m discovering regarding our relationship
    12. Write an anti-religion book
    13. Ask my parents questions about their childhood
    14. Read them my full-disclosure
    15. Tell them they aren’t allowed back in our home until they’ve worked on their own emotional health

UPDATE: here are some others

  1. Create a list of boundaries with consequences if boundary is crossed
  2. Schedule a session with Adam Moore and my parents and me (maybe)
  3. Have my parents read a book together and start a conversation about the book
  4. Move to Wisconsin
  5. Tell them I need space
  6. Write them a letter about gift giving and how it needs to stop except for on Christmas and Birthdays and it can only be 1 toy, 1 outfit, 1 book
  7. Read them my full disclosure with my therapist
  8. Create a list of questions I can ask them about their childhood – curiosity
    1. What was your relationship like with your mom?
    2. What was your relationship like with your dad?
    3. How did you meet mom/dad?
    4. What was your courtship like?
    5. Did you have a problem with pornography & masturbation as a kid?
    6. Do you still have that problem now?
    7. Besides smoking, did Grandpa have any other addictions?
    8. How did you choose to cope with hard things when you were growing up?
    9. What were some of the hardest things you had to go through as a child
    10. Why were these things hard for you?
    11. How did you deal with them?
    12. Did you ever talk with your mom or dad about your feelings?
    13. Why or why not?
    14. Was it hard to have Grandpa not going to church with your family when you were a kid?
    15. Did you feel like people looked down on you since you were from a “part member family?”
    16. What was the relationship like between Grandma and Grandpa?
    17. How do you deal with negative emotions?
    18. What are some of the most recent negative emotions you’ve felt and how did you deal with them?

This is just a start…sorry if some of them were a bit harsh – just trying to be 100% honest.

What are your thoughts on this tough question? 

18 thoughts on “How to Work with Family Members Who Aren’t in Recovery or Sobriety”

  1. I have had to cut back drastically on my contact with my family. I turn in to a different person when around them. I don’t like missing family functions, but it’s worth keeps no the peace with my wife and kids.

    1. Me too D, me too. It’s been so amazing to see and feel new things as I’ve been working my recovery. When my parents are here, my addictive behaviors come back fairly quickly: anger, resentment, defensiveness, control, and having the desire to want to check out or numb out.

      Not healthy at all.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. For me and my situation and for my wife to feel safe and for me to continue to progress in my recovery I have had to set very stringent boundaries with my family members and serious consequences for crossing said boundaries. Unfortunately for the majority of my family they crossed those boundaries several months ago. Therefore except for my brother (who kept the boundaries) I have pretty much zero contact with them. It sucks and it hurts but at the same time I am at peace and it has allowed greater healing for both my wife and I. It may sound extreme but what I allowed my family to do to me and especially to my wife during our first 13 years of marriage has necessitated extreme measures for healing as well.

    1. I really like the idea of creating definitive boundaries. I know my wife created these for me when things came out and I had hit a rock bottom neither of us EVER expected.

      Although the boundaries were not fun to read and scared me, they were real and helped me see what the next step was that I needed to take.

      One thing my wife included in the boundaries was a list of positive things I could do to start to gain back the trust I’d lost due to my terrible choices. This gave me some clear ideas on how I could help her feel more safe with me (ie. going to 12 Step meetings, getting a sponsor, working with a qualified therapist, reading recovery material, working on my relationship with my kids – not blowing up on them over small things, etc.)

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. I’ve had to create new boundaries with my family after I got married three years ago. Unfortunately my mom didn’t react well to the changes. After years of dealing with her covert aggressive actions we have had to cut off contact with her and my dad and brother have fallen away because of it. It really hurts not having them as part of my life but it happened around the same time I was caught and started actually working on my recovery. So it has been a blessing in disguise, giving me more focus on my recovery work and removing an additional source of stress for my wife.

    1. Thanks for sharing Kyle. Setting boundaries is something I’m working on right now, but it’s really hard to know what boundaries are appropriate and not me trying to control them. Any thoughts?

      1. That’s something I struggle with as well. Not spending any time with them or calling them sometimes feels like I’m trying to force them to behave correctly. But I’ve told them (especially my mom) what behavior is hurting our relationship and offered steps that could help resolve the situation. So now if she wants a relationship with me and my wife (and now a grandchild she doesn’t know about yet on the way), she knows what we require and it’s up to her. She has chosen not to accept responsibility for her actions and chosen not to work on resolving the issues. It’s hard to draw the line and stick to it when it means not seeing them but the boundary needed to be there to protect my marriage. And it’s their choices that are causing the distance not the healthy boundary itself. Hope that helps. 🙂

  4. I guess I have a different take at this stage of my recovery. I do indeed have family members who are addicts in different areas. When all that I had done came out, I had support from my family. But as I began to work the steps I began to see the warts on them too and wished that they would work the steps like I was because hey, it feels amazing right? But as I progressed, I realized that control is a major part of my addiction. So therefore I wanted to direct those around me to the path I wanted them on. But that’s not how the Lord works. He invites and leads. He never forces. Anyway, that made me look even deeper at myself and not them. Early on in my recovery, I absolutely could feel a spiritual difference between family members who were and were not in a good place. My addiction in the past would gravitate to those in a bad place at times so that I could act “looser” and say and do things that I wouldn’t around those in a better place. But as I progressed my inward reflection helped me see that if my family member set me off that it was still MY issue and not there’s. I had to learn how to surrender those things that I could not control or win to God as often as they occurred. Eventually I began to see people how I wanted to be seen and how I thought God saw them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t desperately want to grab some of them by the ear and kick them into meetings–both addicts AND those of my family that came off self-righteous. Anyway, for me, I have gotten to the point that I need to love what is. I can’t waste time on fretting about the future because I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I can’t fret about the past because it’s done. So I have to love today–and that includes my imperfect friends and family. I don’t have to hang out with them all the time–and I don’t (because as has been stated, sometimes I am not in a good enough place so I get bothered too easily; I feel like it always comes back to me).

    Anyway, I guess for me we can’t change people. And people won’t change until they are ready–I mean I certainly didn’t. But I can love people and love today.

    1. Wow, thank you so much for the insights. I love what you said about how “my inward reflection helped me see that if my family member set me off that it was still MY issue and not there’s,” and also “I need to love what is…I have to love today–and that includes my imperfect friends and family.”

      I agree that, this last weekend, I wasn’t in a good place and therefore, my parents and their “character defects” were much more prevalent. But I can’t change them, I can only change how I react and respond.

      Thanks for sharing P.

  5. I actually moved completely away from my family. It didn’t help, it made things worse. I was too triggered, too lost, too addicted. I was running. I didn’t know the addiction would come with me. It was easy to blame my family for the way I was and still am. I now know that I need to take responsibility for me. I am an addict coming from a long line of addicts. I will now, for the unforeseen future, comfortably avoid my family. I need space to heal. I surrender to God that I am not the cure or the cause of the family dysfunction. I will work on me and He will take care of the rest.

    1. Interesting because, in my additional brainstorming, moving away was one of the options that came up (and not to India, but somewhere that would make more sense for our family right now – although India would be an interesting move for sure).

      Running away from the problems, for me, has never worked either.

      There’s a free audio book you can download on the home page of this site that talks about “No Way But Through.” I need to listen to it again and realize that this is one of the answers I need to consider.

      Thanks for your comment Mark!

  6. I had to set some boundaries. I’ve come to acknowledge and realize that my dad, who is definitely a sex addict, and who ended up leaving my mom for “the other woman.” has never even acknowledged the pain and destruction that he left in his wake. He has never even said that he is sorry for what he has done, and has continued to blame it on my mom. We have decided that if he is not in recovery, that he is not a part of our lives. Period.

    I have also learned a lot about my family, and why they may act the way they do by reading a great book – Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents – check it out!

  7. I’ve realized that’s it is important to set proper, healthy boundaries with my family. For example, I have told my dad that his continual judging of me is not helping and that when he wants to talk in a healthy way to me that I am open to doing so. He has decided to distance himself, blaming me in the process. That was his decision and it has hurt. I’m still willing to be a peacemaker and reach out to him but I will reinforce my boundaries with him and ask him to respect me instead of judge or condemn me.

  8. For me, I limited contact and set up boundaries. To my surprise my family has respected my boundaries but when I’m around them I can very easily slip back into addict mode. I have had to miss family functions because I felt like it wouldn’t be healthy for me to attend. I have had to learn to except the fact that they’re not working on they’re recovery and may never, which is difficult at times. The main thing for me to keep in mind is that my recovery is most important.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Devin. I agree that boundaries are important in situations like these. Seeing my family isn’t worth all the pain and trauma it will cause to me and to my wife. Hopefully, with time, I can learn how to share with them appropriate boundaries and we can improve our relationship.

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