It’s never recommended that anyone who is new to recovery embark on a new romantic relationship in the first year. It’s too easy to lose focus, stop prioritizing all the things you need to do to stay sober, and get swept up in the high that comes with a new romance. But it happens – and it often happens between two people who are in recovery. Early on or not, the relationship between two people who are both working toward sobriety can be hugely empowering for both – or a huge risk.
Each relationship is different, so it’s important to pay attention and avoid getting swept away in feelings that can be confusing and powerful. Here’s how.
Keep a Firm Grip on Reality
Part of the fun of falling in love is allowing yourself to be caught up in the great things about someone else. No one is perfect, but you may believe that you’ve found someone who is perfect for you. It’s okay to celebrate that fact and allow yourself to enjoy the experience.
But it’s also important to make sure that you aren’t latching on to someone who is likely to hurt you or your ability to stay sober. Though you can’t always see the wolf in sheep’s clothing, you can keep a grip on reality by acknowledging a number of things that can indicate that this may not be the right person for you, including:
- A particularly rocky or explosive history with significant others
- A history of frequent relapse or long periods of relapse
- A recent return to recovery or being new to recovery (e.g., first year of sobriety)
- Your friends’ concerns
Everyone deserves a second chance and it’s important not to judge others, especially when it comes to drug and alcohol use or other things that even you have had a rough time with in the past, but your criteria for choosing a friend who you will support in recovery and your criteria for choosing a partner are entirely different. You want to make sure that your prospective significant other is strong in recovery and will be a support for you just as you will be in return. If your friends believe that the person you are interested in isn’t treating you right or have concerns about the relationship, it may be worth a second look, especially if they are the people who know you best.
Throughout your relationship, it’s important to maintain a strong connection to your continued recovery. Checking in with yourself frequently will help to make sure that you are physically and mentally active in your recovery. Consider:
- Whether or not you have been missing 12-Step meetings to spend time with your new significant other
- How often you meet with your sponsor
- Whether or not you are actively working toward any new sober goals
- How many different types of therapies you attend in recovery and when you last changed things up to keep your recovery fresh and interesting
Pulling away from recovery may be safe enough for a time if you are solid in sobriety, but in many cases, it can be a precursor for relapse.
Watch for Signs of Relapse
In addition to having less interaction with the tools and people who can support you in managing any crisis or stressful event that may arise and trigger a relapse, a relationship can provide you with an untold amount of those events all by itself. Constant arguing, feelings of insecurity or jealousy, breaking up and making up, or other issues can all make you feel less stable emotionally and more focused on the relationship than on what you need to stay safe in recovery. It can be very easy to go from continuously high levels of stress due to a relationship to relapse, especially after a painful fight or breakup that makes you want to escape or numb the discomfort.
The Exceptional Relationship
Not all relationships in recovery, especially with other people who are in recovery, are bad. Your new partner may have a unique insight to what it takes to communicate healthfully and positively in recovery thanks to personal experience. If your new partner is heavily focused on maintaining sobriety as well, then you may be more likely to stay focused on that, too. Two people working toward the same cause is arguably stronger than one, and your new partner may identify potential obstacles or challenges even before you do. Plus, if both of you regularly attend 12-Step meetings and other support groups or sober events, doing it together may keep you going even when you feel like taking a break.
In short, you can be an encouragement to one another, making each other stronger as individuals as well as a strong couple, and support one another’s growth in recovery together and separately.
The key to this version of the dual recovery relationship is the freedom to define oneself independently. Have some different friends, attend some meetings without the other person, and engage in hobbies or other pursuits on your own. You need your own identity and so too does your new romantic partner. The stronger the two of you are as individuals – both in life and in terms of recovery – the better you will be for each other and the more positive the relationship.