Addiction often causes feelings of isolation, abandonment, and rejection. That’s why, when you have finally reached the beauty of recovery, the desire for relationships in recovery can be overwhelming. After years of loneliness at the hand of addiction, it’s not surprising that a recovering addict would yearn for a partnership.
However, you must ask yourself, are you ready for a relationship while still in recovery?
Experts in addiction recovery recommend that a recovering addict stay away from forming intimate relationships in recovery until he or she has at least spent an entire year in his or her recovery program. There are multiple reasons for this recommendation.
Some reasons for the 365-day waiting period for intimate relationships in recovery are:
- The tendency of addicts to replace addiction to substances with addiction to love
- Distraction from the recovery process causing a higher chance of relapse
- Social situations that tempt recovering addicts
- Intimacy issues left over from addiction that can sabotage a relationship
- The chance of developing a co-dependency on your new partner
Recovering from addiction is a daily battle, and it is vital for a recovering addict to adjust to a life of sobriety before beginning intimate relationships. While the desire for romantic relationships in recovery may be strong in the beginning, it truly is best for your own recovery to wait.
Why Should I Wait to Form Relationships in Recovery?
There are many reasons why waiting to date during recovery is wise. The main reason is that your only focus in the first months after beating addiction should be continuing to conquer your own demons and further your own recovery. Forming relationships in recovery toon soon could push you right back into old habits or introduce new stresses that you are not ready to handle.
The main reasons that experts say you should not date within your first year of recovery are:
- Replacing Substance Addiction with Infatuation/Love Addiction
- Distraction from Your Own Recovery
- Tempting Social Situations
- Intimacy Issues
Replacing Substance Addiction with Infatuation/Love Addiction
Most of us have experienced the “high” of a new relationship. The excitement of dating someone new can be intoxicating – and therein lies the problem. The brain reacts to being in love by releasing chemicals like dopamine that can mimic the high of drugs and alcohol. The beginning of any romantic relationship, also known as the honeymoon phase, can easily replace any addiction.
Most addicts exhibit traits of an addictive personality and this unofficial personality type makes it very easy to replace one addiction with another, especially one that the addict deems ‘not as bad’ as the original addiction. In the instance of replacing substance addiction with infatuation, the addict may not be able to see the danger of addiction in his or her current actions because we don’t equate relationships with an addict in normal situations.
There are three traits of people who have “addictive personalities” that directly relate to forming relationships in recovery
- The adventurous, risk-taking trait
- The obsessive-compulsive trait
- The inability to self-regulate trait
Recovering addicts that fall under the adventurous, risk-taking trait will have difficulty maintaining impulse control. These individuals may fall directly into a relationship with the first person that shows interest in them, whether the person is good for the addict or not.
Recovering addicts that fall under the obsessive-compulsive trait are in danger of becoming absolutely infatuated with the person they form a relationship with to the point of pushing their partner away, in turn throwing the recovering addict into a tailspin.
Recovering addicts that fall under the inability to self-regulate trait are not able to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors normally. A new relationship is full of emotional highs and lows that someone who is unable to regulate emotions will not be able to handle. This can cause the recovering addict to seek solace in old habits during times that he or she doesn’t understand what he or she is feeling or thinking.
Distraction from Your Own Recovery
The first year of recovery is the most crucial. This is the time during which you prove to both yourself and to others that you are serious about your sobriety. However, while this is a very hopeful year full of new beginnings, it is also an extremely difficult time because the adjustment into everyday life brings back old memories that can be triggering.
That said, forming a new relationship in recovery while you should be focusing on only yourself during this unforgiving time can quickly become dangerous for your recovery. New romantic relationships, while exciting and gratifying, can also be emotionally intense and volatile. Normally, it is hard to tell if a person is a good match for a relationship right away, and recovering addicts are sometimes in a rush to fill the loneliness that they have felt for a very long time.
Relationships in recovery tend to be formed fast and escalate very quickly making them catalysts for relapse. Insecurity and instability in both the recovering addict and the relationship can send the recovering addict seeking old comforts in the form of substances. The relationship ending can cause the addict to backslide.
Additionally, infidelity within the relationship can cause the recovering addict to believe he or she is not worthy of love. They may blame themselves for the infidelity, only furthering their despair.
All these aspects of a new relationship can cause a complete upheaval of an addict’s recovery. It is essential to any recovery to focus on yourself. The only relationship that you have that will last forever is the one you have with yourself. Make it count.
Tempting Social Situations
When entering any new intimate relationship, there are normally several dates involved. As a recovering addict, there are certain venues that you should not go to at all. Common “date night” venues like bars, clubs, and casinos that openly and aggressively serve alcohol are places a recovering addict should avoid at all costs.
Even going to a restaurant can be tempting. Make sure, if you do venture to a restaurant for any reason, you do not sit at the bar. In fact, opting for restaurants that do not serve alcohol at all is a wise choice for a recovering addict.
If you dated during addiction, there is the danger of normally safe places becoming high-risk for you. Visiting the same places or places like those you frequented during addiction can encourage relapse.
Get-togethers and parties at your significant other’s home can also bring temptation. If your partner does not recognize and properly acknowledge your recovery and has alcohol and/or drugs at a party in which you are attending, it can be devastating to your sobriety.
According to the article “Really Naked: How Intimacy Changes When You Get Sober,” published by Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint, people who fear intimacy exhibit these symptoms:
- They are hesitant to share and have difficulty processing emotions.
- Physical contact makes them visibly uncomfortable (even hugs).
- They are unwilling to share personal information.
- They are not willing or interested in socializing often.
- They are uncomfortable being naked.
- They feel like they do not deserve the love and affection that others show them.
- They don’t show interest in the lives of others, which makes them seem uncaring.
These symptoms make having healthy intimate relationships nearly impossible for a recovering addict. While it is possible to overcome these issues and have healthy intimacy in the future, it is extremely unlikely that these issues will be conquered within the first year of recovery.
Addiction and intimacy issues are commonly linked to one another. Perhaps this is because most addiction stems from unchecked mental illness, and mental illness itself causes intimacy issues.
Intimacy does not only refer to romantic relationships. Intimacy is, by definition, a close familiarity and friendship (source: Google). This term refers to closeness in all types of relationships: romantic, parental, sibling, platonic, etc.
Recovering addicts spend some of their treatment and much of their recovery process reaching out to those that they have hurt and mending broken relationships. They are already having a rough time fixing relationships they ruined during their addiction. Intimacy is overwhelming at the beginning of this recovery process and a relationship in recovery to the mix that requires intimate attention is very harmful to recovery.
Additionally, some addicts equate intimate situations, particularly sexual situations, to the substance they used to abuse because they often engaged in sexual activity while under the influence. Some even engaged in sexual activity in exchange their substance of choice. They may have issues getting aroused without their vice, sending them back to it in order to not feel dysfunctional. Furthermore, they may be able to perform sexually but be overwhelmed by past instances, causing a relapse.
Co-dependency is a serious drawback for an addict’s recovery process. Both Alcoholics’ Anonymous and Narcotics’ Anonymous have 12-Step Plans that focus around finding a “higher power” unto which to surrender all your setbacks and wrongdoings in order to overcome your addictions. Some addicts can and do regard their significant other like a “higher power” to justify falling into a relationship in recovery.
The worst part of a co-dependent relationship during recovery is that the non-addict in the relationship enables the addict, sometimes without even knowing. Non-addicts that begin co-dependent relationships with addicts tend to be the kind of people that want to fix others, often dating addicts, workaholics, and other people that exhibit compulsive behaviors.
If a recovering addict in a co-dependent relationship relapses, their non-addict partner will make excuses for them; some will even hide the relapse, covering for their addict partner over and over. A co-dependant relationship in recovery is the single most volatile relationship that a recovering addict can form.
How Will I Know When I am Ready to Date?
So, you’ve focused on yourself, you’ve done all the right things, you’ve maintained your sobriety, and you’ve finished your first year of recovery. How do you know when you are ready for a relationship in recovery. Some will tell you that, if you’ve done all these things and put serious time into your own recovery, you can date as soon as you feel ready.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
There are some tips for recovering addicts that will help make sure that their first relationship in recovery is meaningful, loving, and healthy. They are:
- Choose your partner wisely.
- Be honest with your partner about your recovery.
- Rely on your support system.
- Prioritize communication and feedback with your partner.
- Be kind and show compassion to yourself and your partner.
Sure, a huge indicator that you are ready to date in recovery is that you feel ready, but these suggestions will help make your relationship a caring and supportive one that lasts.
I am a non-addict partner of a recovering addict. Any advice?
“The Ultimate Guide to Romantic Relationships After Addiction,” an article published by Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint, gives some advice for the non-addict partner of a recovering addict.
- Take the relationship slowly.
- Put your partner’s recovery first.
- Learn about addiction.
- Be aware of the dangers of addiction and co-dependency.
- Practice self-care.
Take the Relationship Slowly
To begin, the article suggests taking the relationship slowly. Once you find out that the person you are dating is a recovering addict, there are some things you need to consider before pursuing the relationship. First, find out how long the person has been in recovery. If he or she is still in the first year of recovery, it is not wise to even attempt a relationship with him or her.
If the person has completed his or her first year in recovery, the next thing you should do is find out if he or she is regularly attending meetings, if he or she has a sponsor, and other details about his or her recovery plan to determine if sobriety is a priority to your potential partner.
Last, you must understand that his or her past may have some unfortunate consequences that had a lasting effect on his or her life, such as criminal charges or credit card debt. You must be willing to accept that this potential partner does come with baggage and decide if that is a deal breaker for you. Beginning a relationship in recovery with a recovering addict only to end it within months because it was “too much” for you can have negative effects on the recovering addict.
Put Your Partner’s Recovery First
Spend time getting to know your partner and what his or her triggers are. Knowing what may cause your partner to crave substances or even what causes them to feel a loss of control emotionally or another form of mental anguish can help you understand your partner. Knowing this information can make you not only a supportive partner but an asset to his or her recovery plan.
Don’t make your partner feel guilty for tending to his or her recovery responsibilities. If you cannot allow your partner time away from you to attend meetings, meet with his or her sponsor, or other things that are necessary for his or her continued sobriety, then you are not ready to have a relationship with an addict.
Perhaps the most important way you can put your partner’s recovery first is by revamping your own life to assist his or her recovery. Have your get-togethers and parties without alcohol or drugs. Suggest restaurants that do not have a bar or family-friendly ones that do not serve alcohol. Remember your partner’s triggers and make it a point to not visit places with him or her that you feel will uncover negative emotions.
Learn About Addiction
This one is simple but carries massive importance. If you have never experienced addiction, it can be hard to remain patient and understanding with a partner that is a recovering addict. However, knowledge is key. Learn about addiction.
Use your personal computer or local library and research addiction. Find out what causes addiction, in general. Read about people who have dealt with and successfully recovered from addiction. Read about addiction to your partner’s substance of choice to see if there are any substance-specific information that can help you understand your partner’s addiction.
Seek out meetings for family members and significant others of addicts and recovering addicts that you can attend. If there are no meetings in your local area, you can almost definitely find a support group online. This can help you form friendships with other non-addicts that love people who struggle or have struggled with addiction, and it can help you deal with the struggles you face.
Be Aware of the Dangers of Addiction and Co-dependency
Do not, I repeat, do not begin a relationship in recovery with a recovering addict simply because you have a desire to fix him or her. This is cruel and damaging to the recovering addict, who has been through enough hardship already battling his or her addiction.
Be aware that co-dependency can be infinitely detrimental to a recovering addict’s sobriety.
It is important to understand that non-addicts are just as actively and eagerly involved in a co-dependent relationship as the recovering addict or relapsed addict is. The non-addict will enable and justify and even hide his or her partner’s negative, suspicious, and sporadic behavior. Sometimes, non-addicts in co-dependent relationships willingly cover up his or her partner’s relapses.
If you find yourself beginning to make excuses for behavior your partner is showing that is questionable, out of character, or directly against his or her recovery plan (like ignoring calls from his or her sponsor and missing meetings), you may want to take a moment to research co-dependency to see if you have started to enable your partner.
Do not allow yourself to be complicit in your partner’s relapse. Communicate honestly and encourage your partner to correct the behaviors that are harmful to his or her sobriety before it is too late.
The final advice the article had for the non-addict partner of a recovering addict is to remember to practice self-care. While in a relationship in recovery with a recovering addict, you will make lots of sacrifices – some small, but some pretty big – in order to make his or her recovery as easy as possible. Because of this, you cannot forget to spoil yourself sometimes!
Reward yourself to a mani-pedi after your first successful non-alcoholic and drug-free party at your home. Treat yourself to the shooting range after a particularly hard week dealing with your partner’s recovery.
Find a hobby to enjoy while your partner is at meetings and other recovery related things. You can join a kickboxing class that is held at the same time, or you can take dancing lessons to surprise your partner with some amazing dancing.
There are many ways to practice self-care. Even if all you can manage sometimes is a long soak in a hot bath with a lavender candle, embrace it.
Recovery is a life-long commitment. It is deciding that you want to live a sober life and making it a reality, no matter the cost. Part of the cost of making your sobriety a reality is waiting to form relationships in recovery for an entire year. That year may get lonely, but you can hold on to the hope that recovering addicts that wait at least a year before dating tend to have happy, healthy, and long relationships afterward!
If you’re looking for recovery and are concerned about how it will impact your present and future relationships, just get in touch with The Hills. We’ll help you find out what our facility can do for you!