Many people struggle with the burden of repairing existing relationships or learning how to have a healthy relationship during and after recovery.
While experts advise waiting to start a relationship until some time has passed, many people undergoing treatment are in relationships already. Others still feel lost when they get back into dating well after treatment has ended.
Here are some helpful tips for navigating new or existing relationships after addiction recovery.
Prioritize Your Sobriety
Your sobriety is priority number one. While putting your sobriety ahead of a relationship might feel unnatural or selfish, it’s quite the opposite. Your sobriety is the foundation of a healthy relationship and creates a stable base on which you can build and grow.
Don’t let the honeymoon phase of a new or mending relationship derail your progress. Make time to go to an AA meeting, stay in touch with your support network, and check in with yourself regularly.
You may feel happy and secure now, which is excellent, but you must keep reinforcing that foundation for when stressful situations arise— a certainty in all relationships.
Honesty and communication are paramount for successful relationships after recovery. Dishonesty and broken trust are common in existing relationships when battling a substance use disorder.
Many people facing addiction lie about their behavior or engage in risky activities. They may risk their family’s physical, emotional, and financial health. Being completely honest and transparent may feel like a loss of autonomy, but it’s essential to rebuilding trust.
Being open about your experience when dating someone new is also essential. Tell them about your recovery and what it means to date you. Clarify their role and some challenges you may face as a couple.
This conversation may seem bleak to start a relationship, but it’s important to establish open communication around your recovery.
Learning to communicate in a healthy and constructive manner is an invaluable skill. If you’re in a relationship already, it’s worth working with a couple’s counselor to help develop those skills together. If you’re seeking a new relationship, working with a counselor to learn those skills for yourself is well worth the time and effort.
Develop Strong Boundaries
Setting solid boundaries— and communicating them— is crucial for protecting your sobriety. What these boundaries entail will vary depending on your unique circumstances. For example, you might be fine going to dinner with your partner while they enjoy an alcoholic beverage. However, if they’d be having several drinks or hosting a party, it might be too much.
It’s also important to set boundaries for yourself. Many people respond enthusiastically to the excitement of a new relationship and make the other person their top priority. You might feel anxious or insecure if you’ve experienced trauma or abuse before or during your substance use disorder.
While your feelings are valid, it’s important to remember that they aren’t facts. Take time to process what you’re feeling and reason before acting; working with a counselor can help.
Take Things Slow
It’s imperative to take things slow when navigating a relationship after recovery. If you’re in a relationship, your partner might still feel skeptical, hurt, or untrusting. It takes time to get back on track and build a new, stronger relationship. Trying to rush things won’t get you there faster.
New relationships can feel incredibly intoxicating. It feels good to experience love and intimacy as a sober person. However, rushing into living together, marriage, having children, etc., is not conducive to sobriety. Take your time, slow down, and let it develop; there’s no rush.
Prioritizing self-care ties into prioritizing sobriety. It’s essential to practice holistic health habits like nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management practices. However, it’s equally essential for your partner to prioritize self-care.
As you navigate new routines and activities, encourage your partner to do the same. Whether in a new or existing relationship, self-care ensures everyone can be happy, healthy, and supportive.
Substance abuse causes people to say and do things they wouldn’t while sober. While addiction is a disease and those who experience it have limited control over what happens, you can’t lean on it as a crutch. In other words, you have to take accountability for your actions.
This exercise is essential for working through an existing relationship after recovery. You’ve likely caused your spouse great stress and harm. Taking ownership of your actions is vital in repairing your relationship.
One caveat to this tip: don’t let your spouse use your addiction as a crutch for treating you poorly. They’ll likely experience hurt and anger for a long time. However, if you’re following your treatment protocol, making progress, and have agreed to move forward as a couple, there’s an expiration date on guilt.
If your partner has decided to continue your relationship, they agree to let the past go and move on.
Learn To Love Yourself
There’s a reason experts advise waiting until the one-year sober mark to start a relationship: they want you to focus on yourself and your sobriety. This period is also an opportunity to reconnect and learn to love yourself again.
Yes, you’ve probably hurt others, but you’ve also hurt yourself. You need time to forgive yourself and learn self-compassion, so you can learn to love yourself.
Many people start using substances to self-medicate. Self-hatred is born out of the substance abuse cycle. Taking the time to establish a loving relationship with yourself and determine what you like or what you want from life is vital during the recovery journey.
You can still engage in this process while navigating an existing relationship with a partner. However, something must be said to have time alone to determine what happens next.
Getting into a relationship after recovery isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly, nor is continuing a relationship after treatment. This period of your life is transitional and transformational. Prioritize your sobriety, learn to love and trust yourself again, then work on cultivating relationships.
Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.