After a moment of silence—incepted by the blackout period—it’s time to communicate with your loved one.
How do you do this? What are the right things to say? Is there any topic that should remain off limits?
The answer to these questions is complex as there is no absolute when it comes to communicating. Even saying the “right” thing sometimes can be misinterpreted.
Because addiction often involves circuits of lies and manipulation, it is important to consider the future of communication with your loved one. If you have been lied to or even threatened, there is a good chance that learning to communicate will involve a certain amount of forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, you will not be able to be open to the changes your loved one is seeking to make. Part of saying the right thing comes with time and adapting to the new personal changes both you and your loved are going through.
In a 2012 Psychology Today article, Neel Burton defines the ten golden rules of effective communication.
It’s all a matter of knowing how to listen and talk. Some of Burton’s tips include:
- Be attentive
- Show that you are listening
- Check understanding
- Be careful not to pass judgement
- Use silence
- Concentrate on clarity
- Be wary of ambiguity
- Use non-verbal cues
- Use repetition
One of the best ways to practice effective communication while your loved one is in rehab is to write them a letter. Writing a letter allows you to slow down and think more precisely about what you want to say and how to say it.
Start with love and forgiveness.
While this may be difficult for you, especially for those who feel they have been wronged by their loved one, entering a conversation from an empathetic point of view will more likely lead to future conversations.
One of the things that people suffering from substance abuse want their loved ones to know is that they want to quit. They aren’t happy with their circumstance. They have been searching for a way out long before treatment arrived.
Along with this desire to get sober is the presence of shame and guilt for the reality of what their current lives have become.
By beginning your letter with compassion and a willingness to see through the eyes of your loved one, you will be able to create a feeling of safety. Your loved one most likely wants to share their pain.
The first step to getting clean is being honest with oneself and others. If you open with love and understanding, you will create a better environment for your loved one to feel comfortable discussing his or her emotions.
Pay attention to language.
Words are powerful. Understanding the power of words can either be motivating or paralyzing. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I cause my loved one to backpedal on their progress?
Effective communication is essential in order to have constructive conversations and rebuild relationships. We all know that in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something that later we regret.
When writing a letter, you have time to choose your words carefully and change them if you think of a better approach. It might be helpful to preview your letter with a therapist or a loved one you trust; they will be able to make suggestions about language and tone.
After establishing a foundation of love and understanding, shift the focus of your letter toward building confidence. Your loved one needs to hear that you believe in them.
There’s a good chance that this is not the first time that your loved one is trying to quit drugs or alcohol. Instead of reminding them of their past failures, reiterate that you believe in their ability to change.
Let them know you admire their bravery.
Taking steps toward recovery is no small feat. Putting yourself out there takes an immense amount of courage, maturity, and self-insight. Tell them this.
Focus the attention on positive aspects. Say things like, “I am proud of you for making this huge step toward getting sober.” Be authentic, though. If you overdo the compliments, you risk appearing as though you are underestimating the challenge of recovery.
If you have never experienced addiction, there is a strong likelihood that your loved one feels like you don’t understand their struggles. In your letter, let them know that you are genuinely interested in the treatment process.
By letting them know that you are interested in the process and want to learn more, your loved one will feel like you are trying to understand the struggles.
Don’t forget to listen.
A good letter will open the door to a face-to-face conversation. When talking to your loved one, don’t assume that they want to talk about recovery.
Ask open-ended questions about general topics. Then, listen. If you let them guide the conversation toward recovery, it will most likely lead to more a positive outcome.
Don’t bring up painful memories.
If there is a past situation you want to talk about, wait. Let your loved one get a leg up in recovery first. Then you can bring up the subject by saying something like: “Now that you’re in recovery, I’d like to talk about what happened.”
The point is to keep communication as positive as possible. Bringing up the past or making comments that come across as judgmental will not help your loved one.
Offer to participate in a joint counseling session. If you show that you are willing to admit your flaws, they will feel more at ease to admit theirs. After all, it’s important to admit that at the end of the day, we all make mistakes; and we all have the power to change.