7 Strategies for Balancing Early Recovery with a Serious Relationship

To date in early addiction recovery, or not to date? That is the question.

Corissa from the Workit Health team offers advice for those in relationships while getting sober.

I met my now fiancé in early recovery, although the people around me told me it was a bad idea. Early recovery is supposed to be about self: self-love and self-care. It’s the one time in life where it is okay to be selfish. Rebuilding those burned bridges, finding out who you are and who you want to be is crucial during early recovery. Me? I wanted the option to be in a relationship whenever I wanted and didn’t take my friend’s advice. Sooo… I chose to get into a relationship in early sobriety. Everyone said that it wasn’t going to be easy, forming my new life while caring for and sometimes worrying about a significant other (who was also in recovery).

Somehow we have made it this far, but many people can’t say the same. A relationship in early recovery is a big risk — emotionally, we are like children. We have low life skills and also low coping mechanisms. If you break up, it might send you into a relapse. How can someone who is still figuring themselves out be a partner to someone else? True. How can a person in early recovery know exactly who they want to start a relationship with? Fair enough.

The word relationship can be defined as, “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.”  Connection. Interesting choice of word. As humans, we try to connect with things, places, and especially other people. Physiologically, humans feel better after having a hug. Humans need humans. Creating connections is vital for recovery, but sometimes full-blown relationships might blind you from the more important things that can help you maintain sobriety. If you take the time to wait before being in relationships and focus on yourself, your growth, and your self-esteem, you might attract more stable people with the same goals and morals as you; you essentially attract the people you want to be.

Relationships are a complex but necessary part of early recovery. Any personal connection between you and another will help you feel less alone on your journey.

Building your foundation for recovery is imperative. As I was beginning this relationship with my partner, I had to quickly decide which is more important, him or me. As a person in early recovery from addiction, I needed to keep my recovery first and foremost before anything else, including him. If he had turned into someone that came first, my recovery would dissipate and next thing you know, I would be focused on him and not trying to better myself. It’s dangerous. That’s probably why people suggest that anyone in their first year of sobriety get into a serious relationship.

Coming into this relationship, I had to remember that my recovery was #1. I had to commit to myself that if my partner were to relapse, I would have to protect my own sobriety and leave him until he figured himself out. Now, this sounds much easier said than done. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry too much about his sobriety as he had more “sober time” than I did, but it was always on our backburners. Here are some lessons I learned from finding love and navigating recovery at the same time:

1. Keep recovery as a first priority

I said this before, recovery is numero uno. The first priority. If you figure that recovery shouldn’t come first, then you will be more susceptible to relapse. If you had relapsed, you would eventually lose everything, especially that relationship. Being in active addiction is no way to try to have a relationship. Learning to grow together and keep tapping into potential rather than old addictive behaviors should be the goal.

2. Head to separate support groups or other recovery activities

Having female and male only 12-step meetings makes it super useful to actually use meetings for what they are for: a place to keep your sobriety intact, to reach out to newcomers, a place to come together. If you’re attending a social recovery event, make sure to mingle outside of your relationship. Networking is very important to find new activities, friends, opportunities.

3. Have separate lives from one another

Ensure that each of you have separate friends that you can spend time with outside of your relationships. Spending most of your time with your significant other may cause turmoil in the relationship. Get out, do other things, and then it will make the time together mean more than when you see each other every moment of every day.

4. Understand that you are involved with someone who technically has a mental illness

If you are dating someone in recovery, remember that addiction is a disease. Understand that you are about to be committed to another person who had a separate life of addiction other than yours, and you have to keep in mind that you are dealing with someone with a mental illness. Just like any other type of mental illness or physical illness, this person is trying to rebuild their lives and get better, and that might take time and extreme amounts of self-work.

5. Boundaries

Plain and simple. Set comfortable but effective boundaries between one another. Some things may not be as easy to swallow for both people, such as the death of friends, ex-significant others, or new families meeting. Setting boundaries which will make you more comfortable and understanding of your relationship will only build your foundation together.

6. Trust

Having the foundation of trust in your relationship is vital. There is a subculture of people who are in recovery: rumors can spread, there can be jealousy and other negative feelings. How can you trust someone who may not have the best history? You can appreciate the fact that they are trying to better themselves and rebuild their most important qualities.

7. Open Communication

Communication is important not only in romantic relationships, but in all relationships you make in recovery. Having the ability to communicate will also help with your building of trust. Your feelings are better said in a healthy way than kept inside waiting to explode.

Friends are also serious relationships to have in your new life. Have you ever heard of the expression, “You are the company you keep”? The people around you are a direct reflection of the kind of person you are. Friendships will grow with people who have the same personality as you, same goals, same values and morals. All of the tips above could also apply to any personal relationship if your life, including your friends. Friends are incredibly important to have as support systems when going through early recovery. They can be there to help build you up, introduce you to new hobbies or activities, they can even be the root to a romantic relationship later, you never know!

Relationships are a complex but necessary part of early recovery. Any personal connection between you and another will help you feel less alone on your journey. When you feel connected, you won’t feel as depressed, and you won’t feel the need to use anymore (and you’ll have people to reach out to when cravings do strike). Relationships are that important. Romantic or platonic, relationships can help you through the toughest times in early recovery. My fiancé and I have lived by those tips above and we have made it through the toughest times and the greatest times together. I would never give him or our relationship up even though it was against my better judgment early on in my sobriety. Along this journey, you will discover new things about yourself and your connections. You’ll find out what you need and what you want in a partner and relationship. Remember to keep your recovery as a high priority because you won’t have any relationships if you don’t have sobriety. So get out there and start connecting!

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As Workit Health’s Intake Coordinator, Corissa Lappin is passionate about helping others bridge the gap between addiction and long-term recovery, as she did herself. She has a BA in Psychology from SFSU, and has previously worked in the recovery field as a medical assistant and clinician supervising those on methadone and buprenorphine.