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Dating and Courtship in Recovery

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“Avoid all romantic relationships for the first year of recovery” is a phrase most of us in 12 Step programs hear pretty frequently. The top two things that “take people out” are relationships and resentments. When someone gets sober they may think, “This is it! I have my alcohol and drug problem out of the way, so now’s the perfect time to start a life with someone!” Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Since the substances are just a symptom of our problem, a lot more needs to be addressed before bringing someone onto your life raft – that’s what you’re on in early sobriety; imagine a life raft floating in the middle of a turbulent ocean. For instance, there’s often low self-esteem, codependency, familial schemas still present, impulse control issues, or low frustration-tolerance that still need some work before becoming emotionally vulnerable with someone in a romantic relationship. This being said, if someone does find themselves in a stable place and they want to start a relationship, there’s a pretty good guide of how to do it given by the experience, strength, and hope of others who have done it before them.

There are two options: dating someone that’s in a program of recovery or dating someone that isn’t – those who aren’t are also known as a “normie.”

If your partner is in a program of recovery, some good guidelines would be making sure you sit down and discuss how you both will prioritize your own recovery.

Meaning, which meetings you will attend together, which will you go to by yourselves, and what do your sponsors say about this partnership. The biggest downfall of this type of relationship is people can often make each other their recovery.

However, the benefit of this relationship is both parties, if working a program of recovery, are honest, open-minded, and willing to do what is suggested. Those in recovery programs are said to be constantly taking inventories, listening to feedback, and working on bettering themselves every day. That being said, it doesn’t mean people not in a program of recovery don’t also have these attributes.

Being in a relationship with someone not in a program of recovery also has its benefits and challenges. Some benefits of this might be you both have different day-to-day experiences, which provide lots of learning opportunities for both parties. There is a sense of autonomy and independence when both parties have their own niches.

Some downfalls of dating someone who is not in recovery may be the lack of understanding of addictive behaviors or lack of willingness to self-examine from the non-recovering party.

Especially in early sobriety, being around someone using substances recreationally can also be a challenge. A lot of times the non-recovering party may not understand the importance of the recovering person not consuming any mind-altering substances. These obstacles can be overcome, but it requires open and honest communication and self-awareness.

The bottom line for both of these scenarios is the success of the relationship will come down to honesty and healthy communication, willingness to work on one’s self and the relationship, open-mindedness, and self-awareness. Luckily for those of us in a program of recovery, these are tenets we have already been practicing. People in programs of recovery have the capacity to be amazing life partners, provided they always put their sobriety first.

  • Ashley Harms, MS, CAP, CRC

    Ashley is a therapist for Lakeview Health. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of North Florida in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, is a Certified Addiction Professional, and a Certified Recovery Coach. She has been working in the field of mental health and addiction since 2012. Ashley is also a person in long-term recovery; her sobriety date is January 13, 2012. She joined Lakeview Health in 2014 as the Aftercare Coordinator. Ashley has experience in working at both adult and adolescent inpatient treatment facilities. She enjoys inspiring other people to live sober, happy lives and to find their life’s meaning.

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