Regardless of who you are, relationships are full of difficulties—dating a recovering alcoholic comes with its own set of trials and tribulations. Although we have objections to reducing someone’s relationship success based on this singular fact about them, their recovery journey is a significant factor nonetheless.
Loving someone in recovery can require extra understanding and empathy, as well as patience and positivity. Being aware of your partner’s recovery process and supporting their sobriety is necessary for a successful relationship. Dating a recovering alcoholic will require serious commitment and dedication, just like recovery.
Concerns Specific to Loving Someone in Recovery
Romantic relationships of any kind are often full of opportunities to learn more about yourself and your loved ones. Situations that would rock a traditional relationship can hit ones where one or both partners are in recovery even harder. Coming into the relationship, do your best to know what you’re getting into by being educated on issues specific to relationships in recovery. If both parties are open to discussion about triggers and emotions, it will increase the likelihood that both the relationship and recovery will continue positively.
Critical issues and questions that we will address in this article:
- Self-confidence and self-image: how we see ourselves influences how we behave in a relationship
- Managing emotions: why are recovery-related emotions so intense?
- Trust: can I trust my partner in recovery?
- Risk of relapse: how do I know when they’re at risk of relapse?
- Codependency: what if I get pulled into my own toxic pattern?
How we see ourselves influences how we behave in a relationship.
Every adult has had times in our lives, sometimes more than average, where we don’t like ourselves. Whether it’s a disdain for our physical body or dislike of something we feel on the inside—our outward behaviors correlate with how we see ourselves.
Traditional relationship struggles in self-worth and self-confidence express themselves through a lack of trust or a heightened need for reassurance. More often than not, this becomes a roller coaster when one partner looks to the relationship to provide stability without first finding solid footing for themselves.
A life with a partner in active addiction or recovery will often lead to many traumatic situations and emotional volatility. This inclination towards tension—combined with a romantic relationship’s ever-fluctuating passions—can create an ebb and flow of feeling good about ourselves.
Loving someone in recovery will call for a heightened awareness of the effect you have on your partner and how the conflict between you affects your own sense of self. Using that awareness and skills you have learned, you can support your partner in recovery while ensuring that you each invest in self-development.
Dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery will require more tangible reassurances and support techniques. The level of need obviously will vary depending on the individuals and relationship.
Often those in recovery have struggled most of their life with self-image and self-worth. Addiction only exacerbates these conditions. Usually, they carry a deeply seated sense of shame in who they are and what they have done.
Recovery brings the opportunity to face those past traumas and restore them a healthy view of self. A successful recovery depends on it. When loving someone in recovery, the need to address these traumas should be a priority in the healing process.
What’s with all these feelings?
A normal person on an average day can experience a torrent of emotions from start to end. A person in recovery is no different, except these emotions tend to be more intense and wavering. When loving someone in recovery, it is necessary to prepare for this flood of varied and intense emotions. Healing from addiction—especially alcohol addiction—includes regaining the ability to handle one’s own emotions without using substances as a crutch or diversion.
Dating someone in recovery makes you a significant part of their support team. During the most critical times, provide feedback to your partner about their expression of emotions through behavior and actions. Within these conversations is where they can reverse bad habits and establish healthy ones. A supportive partner does not enable destructive behaviors or allow demeaning self-talk. Holding your partner accountable for the way they react is critical.
Relearning strategies for emotional awareness and management can be daunting, but your success hinges on it. Often those in recovery are programmed to turn to their preferred vice when emotions become too much. Dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery will require extra patience and love while learning to “feel and deal” in a healthy way. If not handled properly, lack of emotional awareness or emotional management skills could lead to a new addiction or a relapse.
Can you trust a recovering alcoholic?
Everyone has their set level of trust in new relationships. Generally, this is semi-predetermined by past experiences. When dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery, there’s a good chance their experiences opening up to others have not been the best, and in fact, often were traumatic. Most likely, they will have issues with trust in several ways. No matter where you land in terms of trust, there are plenty of ways to grow your vulnerability and faith in others.
It’s important to note that trust issues in relationships can often come from both sides. The person in recovery may suspect their partner is cheating or lying, which may stem from their own self-image challenges or in seeing themselves as worthy of their relationship. Similarly, a person dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery can suspect their partner may have relapsed or lied about other things. Open, honest communication is the only way to work on trust issues.
Healing Trust Issues:
- Rewrite your story.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like a victim, making it just as easy to build a wall of distrust and believe that everyone else will hurt you too. Refuse to accept that narrative and rewrite your story as one of empowerment.
- Embrace vulnerability.
Only the experiences we have throughout our lives teach us to fear; it is human nature to trust and love. Hold on to the part of you that desires connection and whole-hearted living.
- Heal your wounded heart.
Know that it is possible to trust again; the key is to find your way back and knowing what resources to call on to do so.
Beware the Risk of Relapse
Someone in recovery hears this warning often because it is a reasonable precaution. Being involved in a romantic relationship while in recovery—especially early recovery—comes with a higher risk of relapse.
Dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery must include the awareness required considering the possibility of high-risk situations. Being emotionally volatile and in progress leaves someone in recovery exceptionally vulnerable to this. Everyone involved in the relationship needs to be aware of these triggers.
If you are dating a recovering alcoholic or someone in recovery, you and their sponsor should be their first defense line regarding relapse. Fulfilling this role requires extra attention to detail and deep knowledge of your partners’ triggers, and the ability to help them circumvent issues. If you choose to date someone in recovery, you must educate yourself on relapse and relapse triggers. Then take the time to thoroughly analyze your situation and relationship to find ways to best prevent a slip.
The important thing is not to allow minor situations to pass without dealing with them. The fear of your partner relapsing should not hold you back from communicating and coping with triggers. Be careful not to enable unhealthy behaviors only because you don’t want to trigger them.
Now is the time to remember that loving someone in recovery means wanting them to succeed, and that has to be more important than the success of the relationship. Having sobriety as the priority will realign relapse prevention techniques throughout the recovery process.
Be aware of codependency
In recovery, we often boast about how indispensable a support team is to a successful recovery. Your support team can be what saves your life—you’re counting on them. When a romantic relationship is also budding during recovery, it’s possible that codependency patterns may emerge. Transferring intense emotions without doing the inner work first can be the downfall of both the relationship and sobriety.
Signs of codependency include:
- Difficulty with:
- making decisions in a relationship
- identifying your feelings
- communicating in a relationship
- Valuing the approval of others more than self-approval
- Lacking trust in self and having poor self-esteem
- Expressing fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
Loving someone in recovery will require keeping healthy boundaries around dependence and support. These lines are often crossed by those with past emotional trauma and previous addictions, making these sorts of relationships increasingly susceptible to codependency. By remembering we are only responsible for our actions and what we can control, we are reminded that taking personal responsibility and ownership is necessary.
If you are dating a recovering alcoholic or someone else in recovery, remember you are just as involved in their sobriety as they are. If you love someone in recovery, you know all about emotional investment.
Therefore, it is also imperative to be aware of your own mental health status. Taking time to reflect on yourself will prevent you from folding under the weight of a serious relationship. To properly support a partner in recovery, you must be healthy too.
Read more about addiction and healthy ways to love someone in recovery at Washburn House’s addiction blog.
Contact us at 855-280-9442 if you or your partner are struggling with addiction.