Romantic Relationships in Early Addiction Recovery
One of the most often given – and least often listened to – pieces of advice given in recovery groups is to not get into romantic relationships in the first year of sobriety. The main reason usually given is that having a relationship this early on is a distraction from recovery and can easily lead to relapse.
In this article, we explore why this advice is given and whether you should listen to it.
Relationships in recovery: Should I get into a romantic relationship in early recovery?
The short answer to this is: probably not. The reasons for this are:
You will have yet to develop coping mechanisms
When you are newly sober, you have not had the time to develop healthy ways of dealing with life and the emotions that come with it. This means that whenever you are feeling uncomfortable, you are likely to turn to the other person in the relationship for comfort. If you do this, you will not have the chance to develop healthy coping mechanisms, which is an integral part of the early recovery process. This can set you up for a relapse if the relationship goes sour. The relationship is also more likely to go wrong if you have not taken the time to learn how to regulate your own emotions first.
You have low self-esteem
Getting into relationships in recovery without first valuing yourself is a recipe for disaster. You are unlikely to have healthy boundaries. Therefore, you are more likely to give in to whatever your partner wants to do. Gaining all your self-esteem from being in a relationship also means that you will not be building up self-esteem in other, healthier ways.
You are emotionally raw
Taking drugs and alcohol for years or decades numbs your emotions. When you stop, they come back with a vengeance. You may feel overjoyed one minute, boiling with rage the next, and then hopelessly sad. Adding a relationship to this may cause you to be on an even more turbulent emotional roller-coaster. Again, this can contribute towards a relapse.
You don’t know what you want from a partner
In early recovery, you are unlikely to know yourself very well. If you don’t yet know what you like and what you don’t like, it is impossible to pick someone who matches a healthy criteria for a romantic partnership.
Romantic relationships in early recovery will slow down personal growth
There are no two ways around it, early recovery is usually pretty hard. It can also be a time of spectacular self-development. Learning more about yourself, getting your mental and physical health back and learning to connect with others. These are just a few of the ways that you can improve yourself when you are new to recovery. Getting into a relationship is likely to slow your progress down. It could even halt it altogether.
What is early addiction recovery?
Early recovery is the first stage of addiction recovery and lasts from around 6 to 24 months. This is usually considered the most fragile stage of recovery for several reasons:
You (might) experience Post Acute Withdrawals Symptoms (PAWS)
After stopping drinking or using after a long time, you go through withdrawal. This lasts for a few days up till a couple of weeks and can come with some pretty horrific symptoms. After the acute withdrawal is over, though, you are not necessarily out of the woods. Many people then go on to have PAWS. This is another, less intense but sometimes unpleasant period of withdrawal that lasts from a few months up to two years.
During this time, you may experience severe cravings and feel anxious, depressed, nervous, disconnected and overwhelmed. It is a time when many people relapse, as they feel unable to cope with the PAWS symptoms. This is why it is so important to have a solid recovery program in the early days. Focusing on your own well-being and recovery can help you to manage these symptoms and get through this challenging time.
You are disconnected
In addiction, people often burn bridges and isolate. You are likely to have caused difficulties for the people around you. The people you were using or drinking with are not the people you want to hang around with now you are in recovery.
In recovery you are able to reconnect with the people that you would like to, and set clear boundaries for the people you do not. This takes time, though. If you feel disconnected, you can lean on the support of other (healthy) people in recovery. If you are yet to find your tribe, you can join our recovery community here at Recoverlution
You need to rebuild your life
In early recovery, you are likely to have other challenges. You may have been unemployed for a long time, have financial issues, a difficult housing situation, health concerns, legal problems and more. This can add to the stress of early recovery. Take things a day at a time. Remember: it does get better!
Relationships in early recovery: What should I do if I am already in a relationship in early recovery?
Here are some tips you can follow that will help you if you are already in a relationship in early recovery:
Make sure your partner is supportive of your recovery
If you are going to stay in a relationship with someone, they need to be aware that you are in a tentative stage of your recovery. The risk of relapse is high in early recovery, and they should know this. You should also let them know that your recovery has to come first, as otherwise, you could lose everything (including your relationship).
Make a plan for what to do if your relationship goes wrong
It might seem like your relationship is going well now, but this might not last. Have a strategy of what you will do if it doesn’t work out. Make sure you have people close to you who can console you and try to develop healthy coping mechanisms that you can put into practice. Most importantly, remember that you should not pick up alcohol or drugs, no matter how bad you feel.
Ask yourself if the relationship is right for you
After reading the information in this article, think about whether you want to remain in a relationship. If the answer is “yes”, make sure to clarify your thoughts by speaking with your recovery friends or a counsellor.
10 signs you are ready for a relationship in addiction recovery
1. You have a solid recovery program.
You have completed a solid treatment program and have been in recovery for at least eight months. This is an important foundation for any new relationship in recovery, as it gives you time to focus on your own healing and growth.
2. You have addressed the root causes of your addiction
It is essential that you are in a good place mentally and emotionally before entering into a new relationship. This means healing what caused you to turn to substances in the first place
3. You have a strong support system in place
This includes therapy, 12-step meetings, and healthy friendships. This will help you to stay focused on your recovery when things get tough.
4. You have made peace with your past and are ready to move forward
This means you have forgiven yourself for your mistakes and are no longer living in shame or self-pity.
5. You know what you want out of a relationship
You are also confident that you can handle the challenges that come with it. This includes being able to communicate openly and honestly, setting boundaries, and maintaining healthy levels of independence.
6. You are comfortable being single
You are also not looking for a relationship to fill a void in your life. This is an important distinction, as many people in recovery rush into relationships before they are ready.
7. You have taken the time to work on yourself
You are now at a place where you are able to give to another person without expecting anything in return. This is the true meaning of self-love and will allow you to enter into a healthy, balanced relationship.
8. You are ready to open your heart and let someone else in
This can be a scary proposition, but it is also exciting and full of possibilities. If you are at this stage, it means you trust yourself and your ability to handle whatever comes your way.
9. You are willing to compromise and see things from another person’s perspective
This is an important skill in any relationship, as it allows for give-and-take. It also prevents resentment from building up.
10. You are excited about the prospect of a new relationship
You are also willing to put in the effort to make it work. This includes being patient, flexible, and committed to the process.
If you can say yes to most of these things, then you are likely ready for a healthy, loving relationship in recovery. Just remember to take things slow and listen to your gut if something doesn’t feel right. Recovery is a journey, and relationships are just one part of it. The most important thing is that you are taking care of yourself and staying true to your own needs and wants.
Replacing drugs and alcohol with relationships in recovery
When you take drugs and alcohol over a long period of time, changes happen in your brain. In recovery, your brain slowly reverts back to normal. However, some of these changes often remain. This causes you to be predisposed to pick up another addiction in the future.
Take sugar, for instance. Many people in substance recovery find that they are driven to eat sugar during times of stress. They use sugar as a way to avoid feelings and gain comfort. Once this person starts eating sugar, they can find themselves compelled to keep eating in the same way that a cocaine addict finds themselves unable to stop taking cocaine even when their heart is racing and their nose is bleeding. Often, the person with sugar cravings is not even aware that this is the reason why they seek out sugar when times are hard.
People in addiction recovery can be addicted to many different things. Shopping, sex, and exercise are just a few coping mechanisms that those in recovery often develop. It is also possible to become addicted to being in a relationship. The intensity, feelings of connection and intimacy of a relationship all act as potent distractions from the challenges of early recovery. The addiction-primed brain can latch on to this, and rationale falls out of the window.
Getting into a relationship in early recovery can create a pattern of using relationships as distractions, that continues long into recovery. It is far better to use healthy coping mechanisms to get by when you are new to recovery. In the long run, you will be much happier and content.
How long should I wait before getting into relationships in recovery?
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned a year as being a decent amount of time to wait before you get into a relationship. For many people, this is a good amount of time before considering a relationship. Of course, this is not a rule. Some people seem ready to get into a relationship slightly before their “first birthday”, while others may take a while longer before they are ready.
If you have a track record of being in co-dependent relationships when you were drinking or using, it may be prudent to wait a little longer. Before starting to date, try speaking with friends in recovery or your sponsor about whether they think you are ready. Of course, the decision is ultimately yours, but it is always good to get one or two more perspectives
Intimate relationships in early recovery: Dangerous and distracting?
At Recoverlution, we try to present balanced arguments and weigh up each side carefully. When it comes to relationships in early recovery, though, there is only one answer – it usually isn’t worth the risk.
Getting in a relationship during the embryonic stages of your recovery adds to your already high risk of relapse. Furthermore, it will likely stunt your personal growth. If you still decide to get into a relationship, you certainly won't be the first. Make sure you stay in contact with people in your recovery community and always put your own recovery first
- Codependency: a disorder separate from chemical dependency - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1556208/
- Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated? - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5378292/
- Relapse prevention and the 5 rules of recovery: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/