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Love, Sex, and Relationships During Addiction Recovery

love and relationships during addiction recovery

Why do addiction experts recommend that recovering addicts get into a new relationship until at least one year into recovery? After all, aren’t romance, dating, sex, and love part of being “normal” and healthy? If you have worked hard to regain your sobriety, shouldn’t you be rewarded with the benefits of your efforts? Of course, you should.

The whole point of recovery is to be healthy and happy, including relationships with other people. But relationships can be tricky, even when you are at your best. There is stress, anxiety, pressure, and the desire for everything to be perfect, which are present even when the relationship is going well. And since every relationship has problems, there will also be arguments, anger, and jealousy. There’s even the possibility of pain, heartache, loneliness, and depression if it doesn’t work out. During early recovery, you are emotionally fragile because you are still learning how to use the strengths and tools that keep you sober and balanced. The lessons and exercises and positive coping strategies you have been taught are not yet second nature or habit. In other words, your hold on your sobriety may not be as sure as you would like.

If you are not strong and stable emotionally and in your recovery, the wrong relationship at the wrong time can sabotage your efforts and jeopardize everything you have worked so hard to achieve. Our alumni program could help you through these challenges during addiction recovery.

Challenges of Starting a Relationship While in Recovery

Starting and maintaining a new romantic relationship during recovery presents several significant challenges.

  • Increased social anxiety: Dating means meeting new people. If the thought of opening yourself up causes your anxiety, then you might be tempted to use or drink.
  • Disclosure: Your past presents you with a quandary – when do you tell potential dates that you are in recovery? If you tell them too soon, you may scare them away, but you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations if you delay.
  • Increased exposure to alcohol or drugs: It’s considered normal to meet up for a drink for your first date. Also, many date ideas – dinner, dancing, parties, etc. – involve drinking or recreational drug use.
  • Neglect of your recovery program: Because you want to spend time with the other person, you may sacrifice some of the time you devote to your recovery—skipping meetings or therapy sessions, for example.
  • Moving too fast: Active addiction robbed you of “normal” relationships. In your rush to get that back, you may instead push the other person away.
  • Loneliness: When you are focused completely on your recovery and rebuilding your life, you probably give little thought to romance. But if your first efforts at dating are not as successful as you would like, you may feel even more alone.
  • Past relationships: Substance abuse wreaks havoc on your personal life. This means that your past relationships may have been toxic, dysfunctional, codependent, or even violent. It can be challenging to break that pattern if that is all you have known.

Avoid Codependency

If you date someone else in recovery, you also run the risk of becoming codependent. In healthy personal relationships, both people can rely on the other person for understanding, help, affection, and support. Each person’s presence adds something positive to the other’s life.

Interdependency is a GOOD thing because we all need help from other people from time to time. It gives us confidence and comfort to know that we can trust another to be there for us. On the other hand, codependency is a major sign of an extremely unhealthy relationship. A codependent person is emotionally off balance because their wants, needs, and what is best for them are secondary to those of the other person. Codependents have a “need to be needed,” so they largely define themselves by their efforts and ability to take care of someone else. This is particularly true in relationships that are impacted by substance abuse.

Stay in Treatment

Even as you get emotionally stronger, do not skip counseling sessions. Your therapist can help you work through your emotions and better understand your mental health. They can also help you determine whether you are in the relationship for the right reasons. Best of all,  you will learn the skills needed to enjoy a truly healthy relationship. The fellowship and support you find at 12-Step meetings will also help keep you on the right track. When the time is right and comfortable, ask your partner if they would like to attend an open meeting with you.

Be Discreetly Honest

Alcohol and drugs are everywhere. “Meeting for drinks” is a typical first date. Even innocent gestures can put your sobriety at risk. For example, if you cook a romantic dinner, your (unaware) date may thoughtfully bring wine. Or, because marijuana is legal in so many places, they may think nothing of lighting up in front of you. In the beginning, it is enough to say, “I don’t drink/smoke.” But if you move forward in the relationship, more explanation will be necessary. Anyone worthy of a serious relationship-does needs to know about your relevant medical condition – addiction. Tell them that you are in recovery from addiction. Let them ask questions to understand, but you do not have to dwell on the past. Focus on the progress you are making.

Make Your Own Choices and Respect Theirs

You do not have to limit your dating options to only those who never drink. Their choices are entirely their own. If they don’t abuse alcohol and are respectful of your recovery efforts, they can do what works for them. They can respect and support your sobriety by:

  • Not pressuring you to drink or use with them
  • Showing consideration on your dates – Going someplace other than a bar, for example
  • Drinking or using in front of you – If you are still newly sober, re-exposure can trigger cravings and put you at risk of relapse.

Take It Slow

It can be tempting to jump into a relationship too soon or become infatuated and give it more importance than it has. This sets you up for the crushing disappointment that can set off emotional triggers. The best advice is to let things happen as they will, at their own pace. If casual dating becomes something more meaningful, then congratulations. But do not try to rush or force it. You need time to understand the other person and see who they are and how their personality meshes with yours.

Work on Yourself

Work on becoming the sort of person you would like to be with. Not just sober, but also kind, considerate, dependable, supportive, confident, affectionate, positive, and trustworthy. Constantly assess your behaviors and actions – the “self-inventory” described in the 12 Steps of Recovery.

Get the Help and Support Necessary at Northpoint Seattle

If you’ve decided to get into a relationship while in recovery, know that it’s going to be an uphill battle. You still have work to do on yourself and your illness, so you’re going to have a lot of issues to work through. But if you start the right way, with your eyes open and with realistic expectations, then you may be able to find a rewarding relationship. Some people claim that sobriety makes dating easy for them. They were able to be more in tune with their feelings and emotions. They also developed stronger bonds with their potential partners, as they spent more time getting to know them rather than being under the influence.

In the end, having both your sobriety and a meaningful relationship is far more rewarding than drugs and alcohol ever were. Have you gotten into a relationship with a recovering addict? Or, are you a recovering addict yourself and are in a relationship? Reach out to Northpoint Seattle at 888.483.6031 to find the support necessary to heal.