Romantic Relationships in Early Recovery
When we get clean, one of the things we may face in a new way is intimate relationships. If you go to twelve-step meetings, you’ve probably heard the suggestion stay away from dating for your first year. There are different situations to address such as dating someone before and after they get sober, having two addicts in a relationship, and dating someone who is sober when you’re not.
Here we’re going to talk from the perspective of someone who is newly sober. For those early in recovery, there are some things to consider before jumping into a relationship or casual dating. We’re not here to tell you that dating is bad or wrong, but to encourage you to investigate for yourself what feels healthy and nurturing for you and your recovery.
The Dangers of Dating in Early Recovery
Alcoholics Anonymous members traditionally recommend that we wait a year before dating when we get sober. The reason for this is that we need to get our feet planted firmly on the ground, and relationships can sometimes send us for a spin. Here are a few ways we’ve seen relationships be dangerous to newly sober individuals.
Of course this is the most obvious one. A breakup is never fun, sober or not. If we’re newly sober and haven’t yet stabilized in our recovery, a breakup can be a trigger for relapse. Again, breakups are painful and difficult even if we’ve been sober for decades, but without established coping mechanisms, habitual right action, and a solid program of action, we put ourselves at huge risk.
Relationships Taking Control
When we’re newly sober, we’re learning quite a bit. We’ve likely spent previous years of our lives avoiding uncomfortable situations and experiences with drugs or alcohol. When we get sober and no longer have these coping mechanisms, we can use a relationship as our way to not feel what we’re feeling. We turn toward the relationship as our new “drug.” When this happens, we run the risk of stopping seeking further growth in our personal lives or spiritual programs. The relationship takes control, becomes our number one priority, and all we care about.
Losing Focus on Your Recovery
Relationships can lead us to lose focus on our recovery, as we begin to let them take control. We use the relationship as our “higher power,” and stop moving forward in our personal growth. This doesn’t always need to be true, but it unfortunately is the case sometimes with those new to addiction recovery.
These may sound like bad things, but there are some ways to have healthy relationships in recovery. I often share that I met someone when I had about two years sober and they had one year sober. Today, we’ve been together for quite a few years and are married!
Practice Open Communication
This is perhaps the most important one, yet one many of us struggle with greatly. My personal experience is that the problem is that we’re not even able to be honest with ourselves in early recovery, and of course not with others entirely. This isn’t always the case, and it’s something we can work on, but it’s important to address.
By opening the line of communication and being honest with our partner, we can take care of ourselves. If you need to go to a meeting but your partner does not want to go, it’s okay to tell them you’re going anyway. If you are struggling with something, perhaps you need to talk to your partner about it. This doesn’t mean they become your sponsor or therapist; it’s important to still have individuals outside your relationship for support.
Work Your Own Program
It’s crucial that you continue to care for yourself first. This is one of the huge dangers of being in a relationship in early recovery. You aren’t in charge of your partner’s program, happiness, or sobriety. You can support one another and even go to meetings together, but your sobriety and programs should be individual.
Keep Your Priorities Straight
This happens to people in and out of sobriety. We jump into a romantic relationship and all other priorities fall by the wayside. If you do get into a relationship in recovery at any stage, it is beneficial to remember what is important to you. Your relationship may certainly be a priority, but you may benefit from making an effort to keep up with exercise, eating healthy, connecting with others, and whatever else you need to do to take care of yourself.
Take it Slow
This one comes to us from Rehabs.com’s list of tips for dating in recovery. Addicts and alcoholics may have a tendency to dive headfirst into things and be 100% in. We sometimes can benefit from taking it slower than we usually do. Allow yourself to get to know the person, and don’t let the way you feel completely control every action you take.
When we date in a healthy way, we have the opportunity to deeply connect with others and build lasting relationships. If we take care and do it right, we can keep ourselves safe and healthy while cultivating true intimacy and care.