When a Sponsor/Sponsee Relationship Goes Bad

Everyone can benefit from a good Sponsor/Sponsee relationship. It can be invaluable to have a recovery buddy with whom you are accountable. There are many benefits of sponsorship. A sponsor/recovery buddy should be an emotional safe haven who provides support and guidance.

Some recovery relationships simply peter out because of family obligations, conflicting goals, stress at work or lack of shared values. Others might be destroyed by deceit or manipulation on the part of one or both parties.

Be attuned to potential problems in the relationship and if you feel they are arising, attend to them quickly and as a team. Discuss potential conflicts with one another. It is not wise to include a third party. This is between the two of you and no one else. Never, ever criticize one another to another person or group.

Here are some of the problems that can arise and how to avoid or solve them:

Improper Foundation
The best relationships have Jesus Christ as their foundation. Base the relationship Jesus Christ and not personalities. Pray together and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your relationship. Read the Bible together and discuss how various passages relate to your relationship as sponsor/sponsee and the issues of recovery. See: Five Ways to Help an Alcoholic, Addict or Dysfunctional Person

Misunderstanding the Ground Rules
Keep in mind the guidelines for a recovery partner or sponsor. Know what they are and stay within the parameters that are laid out.

Lack of Appropriate Boundaries
Personal boundaries must be set even though it might be uncomfortable to do so. See: The Need to be Right, Keeping Professional Distance, Offering Unsolicited Advice, Criticism vs. Feedback

False Expectations
Many people think that their sponsor will “cure” them. They expect too much too fast. Your sponsor is not a therapist. Learn the difference.

Do Not Allow the Conflict to Become a Crisis
A ddress the situation right away. When you first sense something is “not right” with the relationship have a heart-to-heart talk with your sponsor/buddy. Be honest and forthcoming. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings. Ask him to tell you how they view the situation. Pray together about the state of affairs and ask God for guidance. All relationships are fluid and an active process. Pay close attention to the overall health of your relationship.

Make sure you understand what a sponsor does and does not do. Learn the difference between a Sponsor, Accountability Partner, Recovery Buddy. Find out about the role of an accountability partner and also the obligations.

Lack of Clearly Defined Goals
If you don’t know where you are headed, you can’t know how to get there. At the beginning get together to brainstorm what your goals are for the relationship. Write them down so you both have copies to which to refer. You may want to revisit these goals in the future to cross off attained goals, rework goals and/or add new ones.

Not working as a Team
Both parties must demonstrate an active interest in the process. They must treat one another as equals and with respect. Honesty, openness and willingness are essential. Be positive!

Don’t make your sponsee (or sponsor) your own personal project.

Lack of Trust
Foster trust between one another. The more you have in common, the better chances are that you will build a strong sponsor/sponsee relationship. Be frank with one another. Do not try to put a pretty face on a serious addiction or behavioral problem. Tell it like it is and deal with it.

Never attempt to manipulate one another. Jealousy, sabotage and domination have no place in recovery. You are equals working together for mutual benefit and the glory of God.

It is possible for a sponsee to become overly dependent on their sponsor. You may start depending on your sponsor to meet your needs, “fix” you and/or to make you “happy.” Codependency is the inability to be fulfilled and/or feel good about yourself without the approval of another person.Learn more about sponsorship and codependency.

Make use of a support network worksheet so you are not overly dependent on just one person.

Not Listening or Hearing
Misunderstandings often arise because the sponsor or sponsee is not truly listening to what the other party is saying. They might be distracted by their own personal problems or circumstances. Listen and really hear what your partner is saying to you. Remember you most important job is to be a good listener — know what is being said and understand what is being said. Practice the art of listening.

Questions the Sponsor should ask Themselves

    1. Are Jesus Christ and the Bible the foundation of this relationship?
    2. Am I trying to “cure” my sponsee when I should be guiding them instead?
    3. Am I giving them enough of my time? or too much time (am I trying too hard)?
    4. Are we working together as a team (are we equals working together)?
    5 Do I understand the ground rules?
    6. Do we have goals that are written down and referred to on a regular basis?
    7. Are my expectations of my sponsee realistic?
    8. Is progress being made? if not, why not?
    9. Do we absolutely and without doubt trust one another?
    10. Are there any signs of codependency in the relationship?

Questions the Sponsee should ask Themselves

    1. Are Jesus Christ and the Bible the foundation of this relationship?
    2. Am I honest, open and willing?
    3. Do I expect too much from my sponsor?
    4. Do I know what the ground rules and guidelines are?
    5. What are the goals of this recovery relationship? Am I referring to them?
    6. Are we working together as equals on a team?
    7. Am I trying to manipulate my sponsor or the process to my own ends?
    8. Is codependency a potential problem?
    9. Am I listening to my sponsor and actively following through on their suggestions?
    10. What am I doing to build my network of recovery friends and support groups?

If you do end up estranged, find a way to make peace — even if you feel you are not at fault or you feel the forgiving is not mutual.

Some sponsor relationships are meant to end. Individuals grow apart. Perhaps something has happened that makes it clear the relationship isn’t mutually beneficial anymore. It’s time to move on.

The sponsor relationship may have ended but the friendship should continue. Do not harbor any grudges or resentments. Be thankful for the sponsor relationship while it worked. Be thankful for what you learned from that valuable experience.