You’re on your third date, and you really like where this is going. Then he breaks the news – he’s in recovery from substance abuse. He tells you this is typically where his budding relationships end, but he always takes the risk anyway because he feels it’s important to be honest. Suddenly your mind fills with a million questions – What happens if he relapses? Does this mean I can never go to a party or a bar with him? Am I setting myself up for a lifetime of worry?
Dating someone in recovery may require some adjustments on your part, but it’s not unlike any other romantic relationship that depends on good communication, honesty, trust, and unselfishness to succeed. The simple fact that your new beau is honest and open about being in recovery speaks volumes about his commitment to his sobriety.
There are, however, some unique aspects of dating a person with addiction issues that you should consider. Addiction recovery center specialists suggest the following five tips to help you navigate these waters:
1. It’s not your job to rescue your partner. He is the only person ultimately responsible for his continued recovery. Approaching a relationship from a desire to help or save someone can quickly devolve into codependency, which isn’t healthy for you or the person in recovery.
An example of codependency is intervening to keep your newfound love from facing the consequences of his actions if he starts to relapse or neglecting self-care and focusing all your efforts on him. When you first learn about your date’s condition, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your motivations for wanting to continue the relationship.
2. Take it slow. Despite what you see and hear in today’s media, there’s a lot to be said for taking it slow when it comes to physical intimacy, especially when you’re in a relationship with someone in recovery. Speaking from a scientific rather than a moral point of view, many scholars hold that a dating couple that waits longer to have sex will develop a healthier relationship. They cite a crucial reason for this: early intimacy prematurely elevates the level of emotional commitment before the couple can get to know one another.
According to the results of the Cornell University Marital and Relationship Survey, delaying sexual intimacy translates into higher relationship quality. Another study conducted by the Journal of Family Psychology found that couples who waited to be married before having sex reported increased communication and relationship satisfaction and better sexual quality. It seems that some things really are worth the wait.
3. Prepare for the consequences of past actions. A person participating in a drug rehab program will likely have issues stemming from their past substance abuse. These can include broken marriages, strained family relationships, criminal activity, or financial difficulties.
As you become closer to your partner, working through these consequences will become part of your life, too. Before the relationship gets too serious, you’ll need to take a hard look at the challenges coming your way and decide if you’re ready to accept them.
4. Get educated and involved. Learning all you can about substance abuse and recovery will increase your new relationship’s shot at success. Excellent resources include DrugAbuse.gov and SAMHSA.gov, as well as local substance abuse recovery centers. At Renaissance Ranch, for example, our Christian-based treatment center team offers a variety of free programming – from podcasts to webinars and in-person classes – for the family members and significant others of people battling addiction.
You may also want to consider joining a local Substance Use Disorder (SUD) family and friend support group to get help and advice. As we mentioned above, there’s a fine line between supporting and enabling. If this turns out to be a long-term relationship, you want to ensure you have a solid and healthy foundation.
Getting involved shows your partner that you’re committed to him and supporting his recovery. He will have meetings and get-togethers of his own to attend that may require some creative scheduling when you’re planning your dates. However, many people attest to the fact that supporting their partner’s committed efforts toward recovery is well worth the time and effort.
5. Recognize triggers and be prepared with exit strategies. Communicate with your partner about what increases their cravings to use drugs or alcohol. Perhaps going to a particular park reminds them of when they used drugs. SUD is a chronic illness, so you both will need to work together long-term to avoid triggering people, places, and activities.
This may take some prepping when the two of you are alone. For example, your best friend invites you and your partner for drinks tonight after work. Having gone over similar scenarios and talked through solutions ahead of time will help field a safe response to that invitation without any hesitation or awkwardness.
Building a relationship is challenging any way you cut it. While adding an addiction may complicate things a bit more, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. By learning more about addiction and availing yourself of the many resources out there, you and your partner can create a solid and lasting connection.