Dating is one of those things that can really change the course of someone’s recovery. Dating in recovery can be confusing, whether it’s two addicts in a relationship or a “normie” and addict dating. There are many suggestions, unofficial guidelines, and things to consider when building relationships surrounding recovery.
Dating in Recovery
Let’s start by clarifying that some people are recovering from relationship issues, sexual addiction, and/or trauma. There are many factors to take into account when jumping into the dating game in recovery, and we encourage you to both investigate what feels right to you and work with somebody who knows you well. We can offer suggestions and guidelines, but ultimately you’re an individual with your own set of needs, experiences, and perspective.
If you’re in a relationship with a recovering drug addict or in recovery yourself, there are factors to consider that may not be present in a relationship with somebody who is not an addict. That is, the experience of addiction, the behaviors associated with drug addiction, and the process of recovery can impact the way we interact with others.
Recovering Addicts in Relationships
There are some general statements often made about people in early recovery and relationships. One rule often suggested in twelve-step meetings is that people should not date in their first year of recovery. Of course there are many support groups other than twelve-step, but this is often held to be the rule of thumb for those in recovery. This suggestion is to give us time to find ourselves, focus on our own growth, and not jump into a relationship as a form of aversion.
We look at our sexual behavior in our fourth step inventory and often find that we’ve used others just to fill our own desires. Knowing this, we can use our self-understanding to watch out for the same behaviors moving forward. We watch for selfishness, self-seeking behavior and notice where we may have some thorns in our actions.
My Experience with Sober Dating
Before we dive into this, let me just tell a bit of my story. I dated a few people early in recovery. The short relationships didn’t end well, and it brought a lot of suffering and pain. It led me to dive more deeply into self-investigation and addressing my pain, but it was difficult. I tried dating people in recovery and people who weren’t addicts, but continued to cause harm to myself and others with the behavior.
When I had about two years of clean time, I met a young woman at a twelve-step meeting who had been sober for about a year. We had mutual friends and hung out quite a bit. After a few months, we began dating. Years later, we’re now married and happily together. I mention this to illustrate that I am absolutely not against dating in recovery.
Being in a relationship with a recovering drug addict has been wonderful for me, as we can relate on a deep level. Without the willingness to address my behavior in relationships, I would never have the life I have today.
Two Addicts in a Relationship
As a recovering addict, we have to remain vigilant about our behavior and where it is leading us. When two addicts in a relationship are in early recovery, they may fall into avoiding what truly needs to be addressed. In twelve-step rooms there’s a warning against letting your partner become your Higher Power.
This is what we need to watch out for. We can certainly find safety and help in our relationship, but are we using it as an escape or putting all of our eggs in one basket? One of the best things we can do if we begin dating is to continue with our personal recovery program exactly as it is. With two addicts in a relationship, it can be easy for one or both to stop doing what keeps them healthy.
Let us say it how it is. Relationships can feel good. Sex can feel good. Dopamine is released and we get a serious hit of endorphins. When we begin having intimate relationships in recovery, we can be driven by this desire to feel good, much as we did with drugs or alcohol. Our priorities can fall to the side as we chase what feels good.
One of the dangers is that if one person in the relationship begins having difficulties, the other person may spiral downward with them. In early recovery, we may not be able to separate and set boundaries with a significant other. We’ve seen this repeatedly in treatment centers and sober livings. Two individuals begin dating, one has some difficulties, and both relapse.
On the other hand, if two recovering addicts or alcoholics are healthy and doing well, there’s the potential for them to really feed each other. I’ve seen this as well. Two addicts are a sobriety “power couple,” working their own programs and growing individually. As each focuses on their own practice and growth, the two people grow together.
Something I try to keep in mind in my own relationship is how we can grow together. In my experience, if we both aren’t growing individually, we can’t really have a healthy relationship. Of course this comes and goes in moments. We both have days or weeks of difficulty or struggles, and we support each other. However, we need to keep ourselves in check in order to show up for each other!
Being in a Relationship with a Recovering Drug Addict
If you’re not in recovery and find yourself thinking about being in a relationship with a drug addict, that may present a different story. Perhaps you’ve been with someone for a while and they are getting sober. Maybe you met someone in recovery and are interested in dating them.
Either way, there are a few things that may be helpful to remember. First, a person’s recovery often comes first. I can’t speak for every recovering addict out there, but there is a saying that “recovery comes first.” As such, the person may need to make their recovery a priority. This may include things like attending meetings, working with a sponsor and/or therapist, helping other people get sober, and more.
Next, it may be helpful to educate yourself on the process of addiction recovery. This isn’t just true for this specific situation. It’s always good to seek to understand our partners! You can perhaps attend a meeting of Al-Anon, read a bit about addiction, or ask your partner about their experience!
Finally, it is super important that we remember that we are not in charge of anyone else’s behavior or happiness. If you are dating an addict in recovery, their recovery is in their hands. You can investigate what support looks like, but you can’t control them. This is where Al-Anon may be helpful, but the point is that we remember we are only in charge of our own responses and behavior.
Dating in recovery or dating a person in recovery can be beautiful and amazing, but it also can be challenging for those involved. When undertaking this part of your life, try to do so with some extra awareness. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends, talk things through with mentors, or communicate openly with your partner!