Today, I want to examine several ways to repair relationships damaged by mental health or substance use disorders. At first glance, being ready to help at a moment’s notice might be perceived as a positive quality. However, becoming overprotective can be perceived as possessive, overly helpful, shielding, and stifling of independence. Rather than being a relationship of equals, one partner becomes dominant and parental over the other one. To correct this, begin to foster independence in your partner. Allow your partner to try new things, even if it means struggling with uncertainty, doubt, and potential failure. Communicate encouragement and unconditional, positive affirmations.
Even though you are communicating unconditional love, keep in mind that failure is inevitable. Loving someone does not mean you won’t let them falter, fall, or fail. Many people want to prevent or fix problems, and if they can’t do that, they want to completely pull back, almost as though they don’t care what happens. Finding the middle ground can be difficult. Stay involved, be available, and assure them of your concern and connection.
10 Ways to Foster Independence in Others
1. Allow the other person to experience common consequences.
2. Encourage others to make attempts toward progress without regard to completion or success.
3. Use a limited amount of praise, attention, and rewarding comments. Too much affirmation makes someone more dependent on your approval and less independent overall.
4. Allow others to fail, then encourage them to take personal responsibility, followed by reviewing what could be done to eliminate mistakes or make more progress next time.
5. As an example for others, tolerate difficulties and hardship in your own life without complaining.
6. Let people complain, cry, and be upset without fixing it or pointing out their mistakes.
7. Consider helping when asked, but don’t overextend when your help is clearly not wanted.
8. Identify triggers that normally pull you into fix-it mode. Resist the urge to over-help or enable.
9. Limit “prevention lectures.” Excessive scolding and warning make others more dependent and feel more insecure.
10. Reduce the urge to nag, scream, swear, belittle, or criticize to “improve” someone’s behavior.
Keep in mind the power differential in a relationship is the responsibility of both people. Both need to be assertive and not passive. And equally important, each must be assertive and not controlling, over-helpful, or enabling. Fostering and encouraging independence in your loved ones will be a gift that will improve the quality of your relationship and strengthen your recovery.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!