Relationships are a hot topic in early recovery. Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous often recommend steering clear of intimate relationships during your first year. Therapists and clinicians may likewise recommend bringing caution to this area of our lives. Unfortunately, relationships in recovery can be tricky. In early recovery, it can be even trickier. This doesn’t mean it is all bad, or you have to avoid intimacy completely. However, there is a reason so many people recommend steering clear, and it’s based off what they have observed in their own lives and the lives of recovering addicts around them.
The Tricky Part of Relationships
Part of addiction for many people is a struggle with relationships. Recovery programs like SMART Recovery and AA may have differing opinions on this, but generally relationships can be sticky places. We can grow selfish in our addiction, and struggle to have healthy relationships with partners, in work life, and with family. Although this is not always true, it seems to be the case that many people who struggle with addiction also struggle to keep healthy relationships. Once we get sober, we don’t magically change. It takes work, effort, and time. In early recovery, we may fall into the same patterns of behavior with partners that we always have. For many, it can be a trigger and a gateway back into poor patterns of behavior that lead to unhappiness, anger, grief, and eventually relapse. This is one of the keys. Getting into a relationship, for many, may increase the risk of unpleasant feelings that lead to relapse.
One of the big reasons you’ll hear about in twelve step rooms for avoiding relationships in early recovery is that people have a tendency to use their relationships like a drug or substance. We dive head first into the relationship, and our priorities fall out the window. We stop going to meetings, see our therapist less, change our support network, etc. One of the biggest risks of getting into a relationship in early recovery is that we won’t appropriately take care of ourselves. Just like we may have done with drugs or alcohol, we begin to see the things that are important slowly slip away. In my experience, taking care of ourselves and continuing on our path to recovery is perhaps the most important thing we can do for ourselves when dealing with relationships in recovery.
Building Healthy Relationships
Building healthy relationships isn’t as simple as 1, 2, 3. It takes work in many aspects of our lives. The first piece is being healthy ourselves. We need to be able to take care of ourselves and show up for others completely. Yes, we all face difficulties and can hopefully find a partner to care for us and support us during those times. However, we need to be healthy enough to start a relationship in the first place. When we come to a relationship from a place of authenticity and care, we can show up fully. When we come from a place of craving and avoiding other aspects of our lives, we create a relationship built on the wrong foundation. So first, take care of yourself and build a foundation of recovery and health.
There are many ways we can cultivate a relationship that is healthy and sustainable. Honesty is absolutely key, especially for addicts. We also need to dedicate time out to ourselves and to our relationships. A healthy balance can go a long way. We can bring mindfulness to our relationships, really being present with what is going on for ourselves and our partner. Any tool you learn about in your recovery can be utilized in your relationship. Take accountability, make amends, be open-minded, and don’t react harshly. By taking the principles of our personal recovery to the relationship, we are building a healthy relationship that is founded on wholesome and skillful qualities. Relationships are just one of many challenges people face in early recovery, but with proper care and attention, we can find a healthy way to have intimate relationships with others.