‘It’s Not Me, It’s You:’ When You Have to Break up with Your Sponsor

Indoor shot of warm-hearted young African American man showing compassion to unrecognizable male patting him on shoulder

In the 12-Step program, the sponsor-sponsee relationship can be a very important benefit for those who choose to take part. Meeting regularly with someone who has been where you are, and who is willing to answer your calls when you are on the verge of relapse and meet with you regularly to help you work the steps, can be a mini support system. A sponsor can serve as a voice of reason when things feel confusing in recovery. As a sponsor, the opportunity to be of assistance to someone else and help them in recovery can be a self-confidence boost and a steady reminder of your value to others as well as how far you have come in your own recovery.

However, the term temporary sponsor is used when talking about connecting with someone as a sponsor in the 12-Step program because there is no commitment or contract implied by the agreement. Whether the relationship lasts for 2 hours or 20 years, it is still a “temporary” situation because either person is free to decide at any time that it is no longer working for any reason.

This means that if you are unhappy with your sponsor, or the relationship is just not working out for you for any reason, you can easily part ways.

Signs That It’s Time for a Change

Not sure if it is time to change sponsors, but just have a feeling that things are off? Here are signs that it may be time for you to move on from your current sponsor relationship:

Your sponsor is unavailable. If your sponsor does not answer your calls or texts or return them in a timely manner, never has time to see you, repeatedly misses meetings, or cancels them at the last minute, this is not a good fit. Find someone who has the time to be a sponsor.

Your sponsor seems uninterested or dismissive of you. If your sponsor is negative, rude, sarcastic, or otherwise unhelpful, then the relationship is not providing you with the positivity and support you need to thrive in recovery.

Your sponsor keeps changing the topic away from you and your recovery. If your sponsor is more interested in talking about their significant other, job, planned activities, or challenges in life then this will not be a positive sponsor/sponsee relationship. While it is good for friends to share equally about what is going on with them, when it comes to meetings with your sponsor, the focus should be on you.

Your sponsor hits on you or flirts with you, or vice versa. If there is even a whiff of romantic feelings from your sponsor toward you or you toward your sponsor, then the focus is not on you and your recovery as it must be.

Your sponsor supports you in choices that put you a step closer to relapse. Blaming others for your problems, living in guilt, focusing on the past, spending too much time on “what-if” scenarios, justifying spending time in bars or with people who are actively drinking or using drugs – all of these and more can be triggers for relapse, and it is your sponsor’s job to help you see that. If your sponsor is instead agreeing with you, it may be time to move on.

Your sponsor encourages you to do things you do not feel comfortable with. Asking you to babysit for them, attempting to psychoanalyze you and your experiences, making recommendations about the medications you should or should not take – these things and more are all outside the healthy boundaries of a sponsor/sponsee relationship. In most cases, if you feel uncomfortable about what your sponsor is asking of you, it is a good idea to end the relationship.

Your sponsor has a “one way for all” approach to recovery and imposes it on you. Your path to recovery is unique and has just one thing in common with the paths of everyone else seeking sobriety: You must stay sober above all else. Almost everything is else is negotiable and can be accomplished on your timetable and no one else’s, not even your sponsor’s timetable.

Saying the Words

Are you ready to head out the door but unsure how to tell your sponsor? No big scene is necessary, but it’s a conversation that should be had in person. Here are a few tips:

  • No texts, social media messages, or grapevine announcements. Just set up a meeting like you always do.
  • No need to get too specific if you don’t want to. Stick to the basics: Thank you for working with me, but I would like to work with someone else.
  • If asked why, be honest about why you are ending the relationship without being hurtful. Just state that you would like to hear from a different perspective and try something new.
  • If your sponsor becomes confrontational or belittling, do not take the bait. This is really not a big deal, and it does not have to be personal. Just say thank you and end the conversation if things begin to get out of hand.
  • Wait to ask someone to be your next sponsor until after you have parted ways with your first sponsor. You don’t want word to get around before you have a chance to deliver the news yourself.