Your partner has just come back from a meeting with their recovery community and announced that they are now a sponsor for someone who is newly sober.  What do you do? The two most appropriate responses are to not panic and to also educate yourself on what that relationship is and is not. Sponsorship does not signify an end to the energy and time that your partner is able to devote to you, and the correct level of support from you can play a key role in how successful your partner is in a sponsor/sponsee relationship.

What Does it Mean to be a Sponsor and How Does it Happen?

Whether your partner was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or another recovery community through another member or through a treatment facility, they were most likely nervous and uncertain about being newly sober and joining the new group. Sponsorship is a way for members to share experience, strength and hope with each other not only through the first hesitant steps of sobriety but also onward through 12 step programs and other challenges they may face throughout their recovery journeys.

Why Is Sponsorship So Important?

NA’s literature about sponsorship states that, “The heart of NA beats when two addicts share their recovery,” and other recovery communities share a similar viewpoint:  their members can only keep their own sobriety by sharing it with others. Sponsorship is not only a great opportunity for your partner to help someone else, but it can also help reinforce the progress that they have made in their own recovery.

Being asked for sponsorship is often seen as a privilege. If your partner was approached to be a sponsor, it means they are:

  • A trusted member of their recovery community
  • Someone the sponsee feels they can relate to
  • Confident enough in sobriety to share sobriety with someone else

Is Sponsorship Going to Take Up All Of My Partner’s Free Time?

While there are no set guidelines on how to be a sponsor, the point of the sponsor/sponsee relationship is not to eat up your partner’s free time or make them unavailable to you. Different recovery communities at a state, city and sometimes even group-by-group level can have different cultures and traditions as far as sponsorship best practices, but in most cases:

  • Sponsees will require different levels of guidance depending on where they are in their recovery
  • Your partner may need to meet with their sponsee(s) one-on-one to help them with a 12 step program, communicate daily to check in with them and offer support when necessary, or a combination of all of the aformentioned
  • Attending meetings with the sponsee and helping introduce them to other members of the recovery community may also be a recommended part of the sponsorship

Recovery communities typically advise that sponsors only take on a sponsee if they have the emotional and physical availability to do so, but if it seems like your partner is overwhelmed or bogged down by the responsibility, offering your perspective and concerned support can help your partner decide if sponsorship is right for them at this point in their own sobriety. Should you and your partner conclude that they should not be a sponsor, it’s important to know that you won’t be leaving the sponsee out in the cold. The sponsor/sponsee relationship has freedom and fluidity, and it is okay for sponsees to find other sponsors and also be able to rely on the entire community, not just the individual support they received from your partner.

Should I Be Jealous of My Partner’s Sponsee?

Although the relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee is a significant one that requires a different kind of bond than a typical friendship, it is not a replacement for the romantic relationship that your partner has with you.

It is highly recommended by both AA and NA that in sponsor/sponsee relationships, there should be no potential for sexual attraction so that both parties can stay focused on sobriety. This can have multiple interpretations depending on the gender and sexual orientations of the members, but having clear communication with your partner throughout the sponsorship can mitigate misunderstandings and jealousy.

It Takes a Community

A recovery community is just that — a community. In AA, NA and other groups, members learn to rely on other members and on the group as a whole. This means that in a healthy sponsor/sponsee relationship, the sponsee understands that they have an entire community to utilize for experience, strength and hope, not just their individual sponsor.

Being a sponsor is one of the most fulfilling experiences your partner can have in recovery, but it is also important for them to balance their time successfully so nothing is taken away from their relationships at home. If you’re unsure of how to talk to your partner or have questions about sponsor/sponsee relationships, The Recovery Village offers multiple resources for spouses and loved ones. You can also contact our call center coordinators for additional assistance.  

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.