Dec 2, 2013 | By Tim Stoddart

Romantic Relationships in Recovery – Why You Should Avoid Them in Early Recovery

Relapse Prevention

When you’re new to recovery, an important piece of advice to follow is sticking with members of your own sex. In AA and other fellowships, your sponsor should be someone the same gender as you. Most people advise that you avoid romantic relationships for at least one year after you become sober. Relationships in recovery can succeed, but experience shows that jumping into a relationship too soon is a common precursor to relapse.

relationships while getting sober

Relationships in Recovery and Vulnerability

The main reason why you should at first avoid relationships in recovery can be summed up in one word: vulnerability. In early recovery, living a sober life is brand new to you, and it brings a rollercoaster of emotions that are difficult to handle. You’re just beginning to build a solid foundation in sobriety, and you have a lot to learn. Without drugs or alcohol, you’re very vulnerable until you develop new, healthy habits and coping mechanisms.

While relationships in recovery (and in general) can be beautiful and fun, they can also bring heartbreak and pain. When you’re in early recovery, your vulnerability means that any pain you experience from a relationship can hit you much harder. You’ll be challenged to deal with complicated, strong emotions, and you already have enough of that in early recovery without being in a relationship. Move too quickly, and you’ll be threatening your own recovery.

Relationships in Recovery and Relapse

If you’re serious about your sobriety, you don’t want to do anything that could make it harder on yourself than it already is, which is why it’s recommended to wait so long before considering a romantic relationship. A relationship also puts you in greater danger of relapse because it causes you to put focus, time, and attention on another person. In early recovery, your focus should be entirely on yourself and your sobriety. It requires all of your dedication to build a healthy lifestyle and to build up your self-confidence.

How to Deal with Relationships in Recovery

Anyone who has your best interests at heart will want you to focus on your recovery and won’t pressure you to start a relationship before you’re ready. If you are already in a relationship at the time you get sober, things can be a little trickier. You need to determine if that relationship is worth saving, and if it is, you and your partner need to move slowly and work on repairing yourselves before you try to repair the relationship. Your partner may have their own issues to deal with, such as codependency. Any loving and supportive partner will not make you feel guilty for taking time to strengthen your recovery.

No matter what, remember this: If you’re not satisfied with yourself and your life, then you’re not ready to share your life with another person in a romantic way.

17 responses to “Romantic Relationships in Recovery – Why You Should Avoid Them in Early Recovery

  • Building or rebuilding any relationship in recovery can cause a lot more stress then a newly sober addict can handle. I’ve been with my husband for 17 yrs and we had a really hard time during the first stages of recovery. To be successful you have to put it first before anything. I learned that the hard way. Because if you’re being honest with yourself you know that any lil excuse will be excuse enough to use.

  • A treatment center teaches coping skills. They teach us to cope with our defects which never works out. An alcoholic or addict that’s in real recovery knows that the twelve steps REMOVE our defects rather than cope with them.

  • Julie, do you really think the only way for “real” recovery is the way you do it? That is too bad. Also, do you really believe you have don’t have defects any longer? You ask for them to be removed and then try and live like a person that did just that and admit when you are wrong. Which we all are at times meaning we do in fact still have defects but are more aware of them. They never totally go away, that would make someone perfect. AA has done a lot of good but recovery belongs to the individual so for you it might be the best way but that by no means someone else can’t have “real” recovery through a different avenue or combination of avenues. The focus should be on people getting recovery regardless of how they get there. Your statements are arrogant and certainly not ones that would attract people, as the program suggest they should.

  • wow that really hit home for me! I was in a relationship for 8 years when I got sober ther first time! I was sober through a very tramatic experience! I was the only one in the relationship who got sober. I went 14 months celibate in the relationshi and she was very supportive thro that for me but I would come home from work to her drinking or spending days on the couch spun out! :(. ~ loved her very much but after my celibacy I started having affairs on her and then left her for awhile. being the coward that I am when that relationship ended a short months later I took her back. only to be tortured by her and myself until another 5 years had past! Now that its over there are many moostakes to reflect on! After 5 years of sobriety that time I relapses and used with her! Now that we are seperated I am positive that I don’yy want to use and that I could never put another person through that again! Its has abliterated my feelings of self worth and worthiness of companionship! so I will again atempt thiss sobriety thing but I will reach out more often and do my steps! worried but hopeful!

  • this jan. will be 4years for me and everyday my wife has to drink and I’m really tired of it been married 18 some days are rough the nite real tough she just doesn’t get it

  • Joshua mikesell

    11 years ago

    I believe the saying goes “you can’t love somebody else until you love yourself”.When I was using and even now I don’t love myself .So no to relationship.

  • Joshua mikesell

    11 years ago

    I think the saying is ” you cant love somebody until you can love yourself”.I hated myself in my active addiction and I’m just starting to like myself.So yes no relationships for awhile makes sense.

  • What am I supposed to do if I’ve been in a relationship a long time? She’s not just some girl to me. She is THE girl. It says not to do anything to make life more difficult than it already is but distancing ourselves will do just that. She is my family. She is my support.

  • It’s very good advice for a newly sober person to avoid romantic relationships. But no one I know has ever followed it!! Including me. Oops! Thankfully I did not drink over the experience of being “thirteenth stepped”. I stayed close to my (female) sponsor throughout as well as continued to work my steps and built a relationship with my higher power so it actually turned out to be quite a learning experience for me!!

  • I suggest waiting for a relationship until you have good emotional sobriety. For some, that may take more than a year. It also may take more than a year to go through all of the Steps and I suggest doing so before a new relationship.

  • I was in a relationship when I stopped drinking, albeit an extremely unhealthy one, I was feeding mine and enabling hers, so I ended it about two weeks in, especially after she left a 26 of rum in the house and took off with her friends for a week, I buried it in the closet and took the dog on very long walks and went to several meetings a day, it felt like she realised after my first meeting that me quitting would ruin her fun and she tried to sabotage it. Anyhoo, I found a couple of months into sobriety exes were coming out of the woodwork, some with longer history than other, my sponsor pretty much told me that even though they are aware of what our drinking is like they still expect the same person they originally fell for… drinking and all, and that like the relationship I ended because I wanted to stay sober, the exes would be the same way to some extent. Immediately upon drying out I took on a very intense yoga practice, meditation regimen, insanely healthy diet and body boarding, I did probably 120 meetings in 90 days, found a sponsor, lived almost a monastic lifestyle, worked, ate, worked out, yoga, read, meditated, went to meetings and hit the waves. about 6 months in I had started talking to this woman from another city, she was a divorcee with two kids and a lot of wounding from her marriage, she texted me one night and came over to my place, I slept on the couch and gave her my bed (no biggie I have always been a couch sleeper anyway)we got to be incredibly close, there was a sexual aspect to our relationship, but it was a small part of it, we were exclusive. We meditated together, we went to yoga classes together, we comforted each other, she (a non-addict) took me to meetings when I was having a rough go, she was working through the wreckage that had been thrown at her and I was dealing with the wreckage I had caused. The relationship lasted about 2 years, when distance became an issue, seperate life tragectory became an issue however her and I have both moved on and are both very happy with where we are at, I have been sober for about 3 1/2 years, and still do all the things I did in the beginning and now have a wonderful little blended family, I still struggle with the level of stability I am surrounded by but I’m learning. and The person I spoke of, after we split up she began seeing someone she knew from college and theuy just got married over the summer and both of us are way happier people and better adjusted than we were when we met, I believe her and I helped mend each others seperate afflictions, not to say cured, but I feel pretty happy in my sobriety and feel blessed when I come across other people within my social circles that come to me when they want to stop, I take them to a meeting. Although I completely agree that relationships early on can be destructive when in early recovery I believe that the healing ones are a possibility also, however when we are on the pink cloud its hard to discern and the right relationship can be really good, but if they go bad they go REALLY bad and all in all the risk isn’t worth it from a clinical perspective, also what helped here and I was we both had a lot of exposure to eastern teachings regarding impermanace and non-attachment, so we were both okay to be where we were at the time, with no expectation. something that is rare, as I don’t have that in my current relationship,

  • While I think that as a general guideline this article gives good advice, I have to share my own experience. My partner and I have been together for fourteen years. We met when I was three days sober and have been together since I was two months sober. She is also in recovery and was struggling to stay clean when we first met, having relapsed after 13 years of sobriety. Our marriage today is strong because we have endured the ups and downs inherent in any loving and committed relationship. Glad we didn’t follow the rules …

  • I was involved in a relationship when I entered recovery. I should have listened to everybody about being careful and considering the option of putting the relationship on hold. I proposed to her after a year and a half of sobriety, but ghosts of the past keep creeping up. It’s especially difficult when the other person still drinks, doesn’t respect your recovery, and uses your recovery against you somehow. Such is the story, that the relationship and recovery combined will most likely cost you something you’ve worked hard to get.

  • I won’t go into it, but I totally agree. Focus on you hetting healthy. Probably for more than a year.

  • Gary Gene Belcourt

    9 years ago

    Back in the 70’s when I finally stayed stopped, Older members would tell stories of the “way it used to be” Five (5) years was the norm in California. It seems they were willing to go to any lengths.

  • FredAlex Madyand Aleyna

    5 years ago

    Wow. All these comments are from about the time I started the relationship I am now in. Look, I ain’t the one drinking. She is. She’s gotten sober. Oh after 5 years of me prodding and putting up with her shit. I should have cut the cord and left long ago. Didn’t though. Now, what do I do? I have been very supportive of her (although she doesn’t see it that way) even though I am physically disabled, on a fixed income, and ain’t getting better myself (I know part of that is her fault, but my responsibility for staying to see it through). What now? All this AA crap about don’t get in a relationship? Beotch please! You already into one for 5 years and married. This is your third stint I’ve seen you through rehab and the first two didn’t stick because you didn’t want them. This one seems a little different – but now you wanna throw crap into our marriage like “maybe we should split the bills and just live as roommates for a year or so…” WTF? OK Rant over. Guess I should just pack my shit and leave and throw my efforts and support over your struggle for the last 5 years into the shit hole. Yeah – you alcoholics – make the people who love feel like shit when you drink and then when you want to be sober, shit all over us again. God I am so fucking stupid.

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