Romantic relationships can be a tricky thing for anyone, especially for someone in recovery. Many professionals and 12-step fellowships recommend not getting involved in a relationship in early sobriety, nevertheless, that suggestion does not mean for a lifetime. Eventually, most people will meet someone they are interested in pursuing, dating, and maybe even marrying. After all, that is basic human nature.
As relationships become a reality, many recovering individuals will doubt themselves and how to properly navigate in those relationships. It is possible that some are even unaware of what a healthy relationship looks or feels like. Many questions could arise: “Is it okay to date this person,” “Should I date someone who is also in recovery,” “Do I even know how to be in a healthy relationship?” These uncertainties are all very normal.
The good news is that it is possible to be in a relationship in recovery, and be successful at it. There are various forms of relationships, but there are two distinct kinds that we would like to discuss today. One is a recovering person dating or married to someone who is not in recovery, and the other is one recovering person dating/married to another recovering person.
Relationships Between A Non-Recovering Person & Recovering Person
This form of a relationship gets questioned a lot by someone in recovery. Is it possible to be with someone who doesn’t understand what it is like to suffer from addiction? The easy answer is yes, it is possible, but it goes much further than that.
Firstly, there are two instances you must consider. The first is if you have been with your significant other prior to getting sober, and the second is entering into a relationship well into your recovery. Let’s take a look at both.
Newly Sober & Navigating Through An Existing Relationship
If you have recently gotten sober and are currently in a relationship that began before your recovery, the reality is that both parties have a lot to learn. You and your significant other are walking into the recovery process together, mostly likely with a ton of emotions, concerns, and possibly even resentments. There are several things to keep in mind.
Before anything else, your recovery must be your first priority. This may come as a blow to your partner. First they had to take a backseat to your addiction, and now, they must come second to your recovery. While these feelings are normal for the non-recovering person, they can be dangerous for both of you.
If they do not understand the importance of working with a sponsor, going to meetings every day, or getting involved in service work, feelings of resentment could potentially crop up. And, if they become resentful toward your recovery, you may begin to feel guilty, and back away from the program.
That is why it is imperative that your significant other also invest in the help of a 12-step fellowship or a professional, to aid in their understanding of addiction and encourage them to begin working a recovery program themselves.
Another factor to consider is the pain you have caused your partner. It is important to remember that just because you got sober, it does not mean everything will go back to normal. It will take time, and a lot of hard work, to clean up the wreckage. Saying sorry will no longer cut it. Only your actions can truly demonstrate that you have changed.
Beginning A Relationship After Getting Sober
Before anything else, remember you should not be getting into a relationship in early recovery. While there are countless reasons for this, the most important is because your sobriety must be your main focus. In the early stages of sobriety, you are extremely vulnerable, and entering into a new relationship could potentially add to those vulnerabilities.
Now, with that said, let’s consider the scenario of entering into a relationship with a non-recovering person after being sober for a period of time.
At first, it may be difficult for the non-recovering person to understand your sobriety, and why you must do the things you do. So, it is important that you first accept their misunderstanding, and take the time to explain certain aspects of your life. This includes boundaries and lifestyle choices, such as attending meetings and working closely with a sponsor.
It is imperative that your partner knows your boundaries up front, as to not put your recovery in jeopardy. If you wish to not socialize with others who drink regularly or go to nightclubs, then say that. There is nothing wrong with telling them what your triggers are and explaining why the fellowship is important to you. If they truly care about you, they will respect you and your choices, including your recovery.
As the years go on, the more comfortable you will become with discussing your sobriety with others. So, the more secure you are in your recovery, the better able you will be to handle an intimate relationship. Remember, nothing has to be done overnight, so take your time and share only what feels comfortable.
Two Sober People, One Relationship
Some may think this is a recipe for disaster, but not necessarily. It certainly could be, when done too soon, or with the wrong person. Nevertheless, if two recovering people do begin a relationship, it does not mean it will fail miserably. It simply means both parties will have to work hard at maintaining their sobriety, while also working at their relationship.
It is important that these two individuals are able to find a nice balance; in their relationship and in their recovery. Your partner cannot be your support system or your sponsor. Relying on them to keep you sober will end badly. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are in a relationship with another recovering person:
- Keep your recovery separate
- Go to different meetings (when possible)
- Do not attempt to take each other’s inventory | If there is something your spouse could be doing differently or more of, do not harp on them. Let them discuss and work that through with their sponsor & support group.
- Have separate support groups | Having the same circle of sober support can prove challenging, for both you and the members of that system. You will be more inclined to share openly and honestly when no bias is present. Your support system will also feel more comfortable sharing their opinions honestly.
- Do not rely solely on each other | Yes, you should be able to rely on your partner for support, understanding, and advice, but when it comes to recovery, things should remain as separate as much as possible.
- Your recovery process cannot be theirs & vice versa | Do not compare your recovery to your partner’s. Everyone works at their own pace. Remember, you are where you are supposed to be, as they are where they are supposed to be.
- Too much information | If you are having difficulties within the relationship, it may be best not to share those struggles in an open forum, where your partner is frequently present, such as a specific meeting. In a scenario such as this, use your best judgment and discuss it with your sponsor. It may be best to only share certain information with your support group.
- Do not sponsor each other!
Can Relationships Be Successful In Recovery?
Yes, relationships could certainly be successful in recovery. Think of the millions of individuals worldwide that have found sobriety. Do you think they are all single? No! Many of them are happily married with children, dating, or engaged. If they were doomed to fail, just because they were sober, none of these relationships would exist.
Just like every other aspect of your recovery, maintaining a relationship will require work on your part. Nevertheless, if something is important to you, you will put in the effort to make it work. Just remember, your recovery must always come first, even when the contrary may seem easier.
If you are in recovery and are thinking about pursuing a relationship, discuss it with your sponsor and support group first. Or, if you are new to recovery and are trying to maintain an existing relationship, lean on your support system for guidance, as they have all been through similar experiences.
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