Recovery from drugs and alcohol opens up a whole new world for individuals who decide to take back their lives and get clean and sober. A new lifestyle and the hope that comes with putting down the drugs and alcohol often means new job, school, and relationship opportunities. If you’re in early recovery, you may have been told to stay away from new romantic relationships. It may seem like an unnecessary or even unfair idea, but the truth is that new relationships in recovery can often be complicated and may even interfere with the process of getting clean and sober.
Why Stay Away from New Relationships in Recovery?
Many individuals who get clean and sober decide to participate in a recovery fellowship, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. In these programs, many people get a sponsor who helps them to work the twelve steps of recovery. Most of these individuals have probably heard the suggestions to stay away from new relationships in recovery for a period of time- usually a year, or until they are finished working their steps. But why? Well, the truth is that early recovery can be a complicated and difficult time, full of learning about oneself and doing the hard work to maintain sobriety one day at a time. The reasons many people suggest staying away from relationships in recovery during this period are:
- working on oneself is difficult with the added distraction of dating
- most people in early recovery are just getting to know themselves and what they want out of life and out of relationships
- early recovery means hard work, and oftentimes there isn’t enough time or emotional space to fully commit to a relationship
- fights and break-ups are a part of dating, and people in early recovery may not yet have the coping skills to deal with these things without relapsing
- in order to be a good partner, one must be mentally and emotionally healthy and whole- this is a process that takes time, and many people in early recovery aren’t there yet
- if one’s romantic partner relapses, this may create temptation for the other person to join them rather than stay sober
Navigating New Relationships in Recovery
People may suggest staying away from relationships in recovery for a year or another period of time, but let’s be honest- many people are going to have a spark with someone else and decide to enter into a relationship before it’s suggested. For some people, it is a part of their journey. When this is the case, there are some ways that both individuals can successfully navigate their relationship and their early recovery, reducing the risk of relapse for both. Some good suggestions for having relationships in recovery include:
- Be honest with your sponsor and your sober supports- they can support you and hold you accountable.
- Keep your recovery separate. Don’t always go to the same meeting, and make an effort to still attend meetings, sponsorship events, and activities that were important to you prior to your relationship.
- Consider seeing a therapist. Therapy can help with relationships in recovery as well as with every aspect of mental health, increasing the chances for a healthy love life and long-term recovery.
- Set clear boundaries. Have a plan for what you’ll do if your partner relapses or if you break up, and then stick to it should either of these things happen.
- Keep expectations realistic.
- Maintain honesty. You partner and your supports deserve it, and it will help you to be successful.
- Remember what’s most important- your sobriety! Don’t sacrifice the changes you have made and the work you have put in, no matter what.
Foundations of Recovery
Before a relationship or any other goal can be achievable, treatment is often necessary. Many people in active addiction or alcoholism are unable to maintain current relationships, jobs, or even a stable place to live. Prior to entering any relationships in recovery, people who suffer from substance use disorder have to be stabilized, usually in detox or a treatment facility. The temptation to enter immediately into a romantic partnership may be strong, because looking at one’s problems and doing the hard work to solve them is difficult. Oftentimes, people enter into relationships in recovery as a way to avoid looking at their own issues. The bottom line is that what’s most important is individual sobriety. Everything else, including relationships, are a bonus- and they come when we are ready for them.