This month is February, which means love is in the air (and Valentine’s chocolate is on sale). However, for people in recovery, relationships may not come so easily. Dating and forming new relationships (whether romantic or platonic) can be extremely difficult for anyone, but for those in recovery, being mindful of your thoughts, actions, and feelings when approaching the dating scene and beginning a new relationship is particularly important.
In an effort to help you form healthy relationships while in recovery, here are some do’s and don’ts:
DO Stay Single During Your First Year in Recovery
Before we can talk about getting into a relationship, it’s first important to talk about timing—namely, discussing why dating during the first year of recovery should be avoided. There are multiple reasons for this, including the need to beware of addiction replacement, or trading substance addiction for “love addiction.”
“Love addiction” refers to the euphoria many people experience during the honeymoon phase of a relationship, and getting “addicted” to love during recovery can present unique challenges. It’s not uncommon for people early in recovery to turn to someone else to have their needs fulfilled, avoid fear and emotional pain, or solve problems. Having an external person validate you, or “fix” you, can be very tempting, but it’s ultimately harmful to your recovery.
First and foremost, people in the early stages of recovery sometimes feel emotionally unstable, making their relationships volatile. When this volatility ultimately leads to the collapse of the relationship, this can easily trigger a relapse. Being told not to date for a year may feel unfair or unnecessary, but it can be hard to build healthy relationships during this time, and moreover, a relationship can distract from your personal growth.
Your recovery, perhaps especially the first year of it, is about you. The things people seek out in a relationship—need fulfillment, emotional stability, security—are things that are important to find in yourself. Instead of seeking satisfaction from others, your time in treatment and recovery will help you be able to find that satisfaction within yourself.
DON’T Date Someone Else in Recovery
For many people, group therapy is an important tool for recovery. It’s common for people who face addiction issues to feel isolated and ashamed; group therapy sessions allow participants to meet people with similar stories, easing these feelings. This creates a sense of community and a safe space to talk openly about one’s emotions, which has the natural tendency to create feelings of intimacy between participants.
This isn’t bad—it’s normal to form strong bonds with people you go through emotional experiences with, like the experience of treatment and recovery, but it’s important that these bonds stay platonic. While being in a relationship with someone also in recovery might seem like a good strategy, due to the understanding and accountability you can afford each other, it may have more downsides than upsides. For instance, two people in recovery may be more likely to relapse together, or if just one relapses, may cause the other to, as well. Or, the relationship could end, causing one person to relapse and making the other feel culpable, possibly triggering a relapse for themselves.
DO Take it Slow
When you find someone you want to start a relationship with, take it slow. This could mean that the first few dates won’t be very “romantic,” or that there’s little physical contact on dates, or that sexual activity is put off for a long period of time. Just like our advice to stay single for a year, this might sound needlessly strict or limiting, but taking it slow allows you to recognize red flags in a potential partner.
For instance, you may start dating someone who initially says that they’ll be supportive of your sober lifestyle, but a couple of months in, they’re frustrated that you’re unwilling to join them at the bar or club. Or, you may notice other warning signs like frequent lying, constant put-downs, an inability or unwillingness to compromise, and controlling behavior. By taking it slow, you give yourself the opportunity to recognize these signs early and break the relationship off before you get too invested.
DON’T Forget Your Support Systems
Recovery, as anyone who has gotten sober will tell you, requires hard work. While dating can be difficult for anyone, regardless of sobriety status, it’s worth acknowledging that it can be particularly difficult for those in recovery. That said, know that you can always lean on your support systems, whether that be sober friends, close family members, our experts at Recovery Care. Sober dating may not always be easy, but if you’re willing to take the time and put yourself and your sobriety first, you’re more likely to find a partner you can be truly happy with.
Start building a new support system by scheduling an appointment online today with one of Recovery Care’s substance abuse counselors in Jeannette, Pittsburgh, or Somerset PA; as well as Keyser, WV. You can also call (855)-502-2273 for more information.