Romantic Relationships in Addiction Recovery: A Bad Idea?
Many programs and support groups outright forbid romantic relationships in addiction treatment. While we don’t do so at The Edge (we believe that you are an adult and can make your own decisions), we do caution against hurtling into a relationship.
Here are some of the main reasons that early addiction recovery is a difficult time to embark on a romance:
Finding Who You Are Without Addiction Takes Time
This one is tricky—who are you now? Chances are, not the person you were in active addiction.
Drug and alcohol addiction is something that can destroy our sense of self, and recovery oftentimes means finding yourself again.
During this journey of self-discovery, it can be too much to also ask ourselves to be a good partner. While talking with a licensed therapist can be helpful, there is some work only you can do in re-establishing a sense of self. That kind of work takes time and is often the work of early recovery.
Building a relationship with the new you is so important (and so often underrated). Take some time to know this new person—what do you find yourself passionate about? What are your new values? Are you prioritizing your addiction recovery the way you need to?
Try to find who you are now. That is the first step to making sure you can partner with another person and create the kind of healthy relationship you deserve; one based on shared interests, values, and understanding.
They say you must love yourself before you can love someone else–we agree. It is difficult to build that base of self-love in early recovery, and it can be all-consuming. Give yourself some grace and patience–you deserve to focus on yourself for a time.
Romantic Relationship Trauma Complicates Things
In active addiction, there are often relationship-related traumas. Whether that means a string of bad partners that used alongside you, abusive partners, or partners whose attention you used to build your own self-worth, there can be a lot to heal from.
Relationship-specific trauma is hard to heal from for anyone. Doing so while also experiencing the emotional highs and lows of new addiction recovery complicates an already difficult process. Taking the time to learn what healthy relationship boundaries are, what your personal relationship “red flags” are, etc. can take away from the most important work of early addiction recovery: healing from addiction.
Early in recovery, there is so much other healing that needs to take place. The process can often leave us with a rollercoaster of emotions as we begin to feel all the things we used to numb with substances. It is a rollercoaster best experienced alone; bringing a partner along for the ride is asking too much. This is particularly true if your prospective partner is going through recovery themselves.
We cannot heal on a schedule, so try not to rush the process to jump into a romance.
Other Relationships May Take Priority
Part of early recovery means rebuilding a strong support system. Friends and family members who may have been hurt by your addiction can still be a key part of your support systems going forward, but those existing relationships may take time to rebuild.
Active drug addiction often damages the trust and vulnerability we need for relationships. So, before you bring someone else into your life, consider whether the people already there have been given enough love lately.
People who are there for you and care for you already are likely more important to your successful addiction recovery than any new relationship could be. Take the time you and your loved ones need to create a solid foundation for your support network going forward.
Make sure you have a group of people who help you to feel loved before seeking that from a romantic relationship. It may not be as exciting as new love, but it is also crucial for staying sober.
We Have To Prioritize Relapse Prevention
For both you and your prospective partner (if applicable), relapse prevention has to come first. You and your addiction recovery are the most important thing in any relationship. We have talked before about why early recovery is among the most dangerous periods of time in your addiction recovery—this is still true.
Why is this relevant in romantic relationships? Early relationships, like early recovery, can be a rollercoaster of emotions. If the worst-case scenario in a relationship happens, and you are hurt, do you have the capacity to fight the emotional trigger to use once more? It is risky to add another factor to a process already fraught with emotion, and fragile new personal growth.
Many relapses begin with what is called “emotional relapse”. This does not mean that you have physically used, or even that you are thinking about using. Emotional relapse means bottling up emotions, and not prioritizing self-care. It makes us more vulnerable to physical relapse.
For many, the symptoms of emotional relapse are also symptoms of a bad breakup. No one enters a relationship thinking that it is destined to fail, but the stakes are much higher in early recovery.
If you fear at all that the pain of a relationship gone wrong may drive you to drugs and alcohol, you still need time to focus on recovery.
Romantic Relationships in Addiction Recovery: The Takeaways
It can be so tempting to run straight into the arms of romance, particularly if you are riding that pink cloud feeling. Early recovery can be too soon to do so, for any number of reasons. It is important to prioritize yourself and your recovery, to get to know the new you, to heal from related trauma, to prioritize existing relationships, and not tie your recovery to an unpredictable romantic relationship.
If you or a loved one is struggling in early recovery, feel free to reach out to us at (800) 778-1772 or below: