Couple Recovery: It Works!


Group figures

Couples Can Talk About Recovery

Couple Recovery Development Approach, meet Gottman Method Couples Therapy

It has been a remarkable journey, I developed the Couple Recovery Development Approach (CRDA) in 2002 for my doctoral dissertation, based on my research from the Family Recovery Project at Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. My First Gottman training occurred in 2005 when John presented a Level 1Gottman Therapist Logo Training workshop in San Francisco. I knew at that workshop that Gottman Method Couples Therapy was a perfect fit. Both models were completely compatible, and even had overlaps in emphasizing specific parts of the relationship. I had a model to conceptualize couple recovery, now I have a research-based approach to target those areas that needed attention.  I continued Gottman Training and became a Certified Gottman Therapist in 2007. I had continued to develop CRDA through all the Gottman method training, and presented my research at Gottman conferences. John became very interested in the model and invited me to collaborate in writing and researching a relational approach to addiction recovery as a Research Scientist at The Relationship Research Institute (RRI).

Okay, lets help couples in long term recovery
Hmmm, why aren't we helping couples in early recovery?

Hmmm, why aren’t we helping couples in early recovery?

The stage was set to concentrate on couples with established recovery, because the story line I had between 2002 and 2007 was about waiting until couples had established recovery before doing couples work. Something was developing during that time that surprised me, however. It turned out that couples I was seeing in my practice, and some of the research couples at MRI were getting benefit while still in the early recovery phase.

This felt confusing, until I started to present at conferences and got feedback from therapists that the CRDA model could apply to couples experiencing any severe or chronic medical or psychological illness or disorder; couples need to talk about the impact of chronic issues and how to manage the recovery process. In my own work, we would identify addiction, (hopefully) get into recovery, and then what, I’m supposed to say “Sorry I’m not supposed to work with you.” Some partners relapsed and it usually made more sense to continue the couple work to help establish or strengthen individual recovery programs as well as address what was happening in their relationship.

Hold on, lets actually work with couples when they need the help the most

Holy smokes, why didn’t I think of this sooner?

WAIT, we can work with couples in early recovery. This is going to be a surprise to a lot of people, and not well received necessarily in some corners. I challenge the prevailing norm with come backs: “This isn’t about couples work replacing individual recovery… Couples work doesn’t automatically shift the recovering persons priority to the relationship… Yes, both partners ideally focus on their own recovery as a priority, but what if we simultaneously addressed three recoveries: each partners recovery and the relationship recovery, to actually support individual recovery”

What longitudinal research indicates is that relationship stability is a significant predictor of established long-term recovery 8-years post primary treatment. We also know that addiction brings with it a divorce rate 4 times higher than average, and that the first year of recovery is really, really hard for couples.

Couple recovery is a game changer

Bring it on, time for a full court press. (I love this guy’s look of confidence and determination). He’s my icon!

There isn’t any research that I know of that establishes that couple recovery should be avoided in the early phase of recovery. “Roadmap for the Journey: A Gottman Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery”, is an effort to help couples in early and in ongoing recovery, couples that desperately need hope, direction, and tools to navigate down the path of recovery individually and as a couple. I appreciate Drs. John and Julie Gottman, and the Gottman Institute’s support in advocating and promoting this work.

I have given the Roadmap Workshop twice to professionals, and four times now with real couples in recovery, all of them sponsored by treatment centers: It works. When you give couples the tools and create ways to talk about the difficult stuff, couples can succeed. Several weeks ago I gave the workshop in Seattle, sponsored by the Gottman Institute and Edgewood Seattle Addiction Services. We learned a tremendous amount about what resonated with couples and received suggestions for changes in the curriculum going forward. Here are some important results from that workshop:

Of the 34 respondents who attended the Seattle Workshop, 76% reported “Yes” when asked: “Do you feel the workshop helped you to develop a recovery approach for your relationship?” When tallying the respondents who stated  “Somewhat helpful”, 91% of workshop respondents feel the workshop was helpful or somewhat helpful to develop a couple recovery.

When asked “Do you feel this workshop was helpful for your own recovery?”, remarkably, 82% responded “yes”; when adding in “Somewhat helpful” responses, 94% reported the workshop was helpful or somewhat helpful for their individual recovery!  A whopping 97% endorsed “Very important”. when asked “How important is it for couples to address their relationship as a part of recovery?” Granted, this was a self-selecting group that might have selected “Very important”, before the workshop, but the fact is we didn’t lose any believers, and most probably we may have made a few new converts for those who weren’t sure before the workshop (I’m guessing here). So where does this lead us now?

Getting to YES!

We need a community to increase awareness of the importance and place for couple recovery. So let’s stand up together and make a movement happen!

We are off to a good start!

Yeah, we are off to a good start!






  1. John Fite says:

    Great work! Love to hear about future workshops for profesdionals.

  2. says:

    Hi Kim. Here is an excerpt from my training manual for therapists on working with couples in addiction recovery:
    “In an eight-year study with nearly 1,200 participants, researchers wanted to know what happens to alcoholics and addicts who stay sober. They were able to follow 94% of the study participants and concluded that extended abstinence does predict long-term recovery.
    • Of those abstinent less than a year only 1/3 will remain abstinent
    • For those with one year of sobriety less than ½ will relapse
    • Of those who make it to five years of recovery over 85% will stay sober
    For type 1 diabetes patients, full adherence to treatment plans is less than 60%, with 30-50% needing additional treatment after relapsing. For hypertension and asthma patients less than 40% adhere to treatment plans and 50-70% require additional treatment because of the recurrence of symptoms.”

    In an 8-year study that followed alcoholics post treatment, those with healthier relationships are more likely than not to stay sober. It was one of only three factors associated with successful long-term recovery. The the two: participation in AA the first three years of recovery and ongoing support for the first three years of recovery (therapy, groups, etc.)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: