Here’s the short answer: There is no definitive guide on how to successfully date someone recovering from a substance use disorder. There is no way to parse it down into five or 10 easy tips, and there is no universal standard that works for everyone. But learning that your partner is in recovery is not a means to an end if you know where to start.
Recovery Means Commitment, Not Fear
The longer answer to how to date someone in recovery begins with taking a positive and nonjudgmental approach to their recovery journey. “Recovery” is a word to embrace and celebrate, not fear or tip-toe around. Whether your partner is in recovery for the first time or the 12th time, opening up to you about their sobriety takes courage and reveals vulnerability, and they are trusting you to show them compassion.
While it can be difficult or feel awkward to begin serious conversations about recovery in a relationship, it’s important to meet your partner where they’re at in their process. What are they OK and not OK with if you’re not sober? What are potentially triggering situations for them? What behaviors could indicate that they’re in distress? Being able to navigate these areas not only keeps you from making incorrect assumptions about your partner but it can also help you become more confident in your relationship as it develops.
What If I’m Not Sober?
This is a common question when you’re considering dating someone who is in recovery. If you are not sober but your partner is, it can be an intimidating cluster of “should I’s” such as:
- Should I completely give up drinking if my partner doesn’t drink?
- Should I not invite my partner to places where people may have alcohol or drugs of any kind?
- Should I not be around my partner if I am drunk or high, or should I hide it from them?
- Should I hide my prescription medications and alcohol?
One of the first and most important discussions you should have with your partner is about boundaries. Your partner should always feel safe and supported, so understanding what you need to consider about your own habits and whether you can safely keep alcohol or drugs in your house is crucial to your partner’s continued success in sobriety.
While many people in recovery don’t ask or expect their partners to completely give up drugs or alcohol, setting guidelines that you are both comfortable with, such as brushing your teeth before kissing your partner after you come home from the bar, can help prevent future issues. Depending on where they are in their recovery, your partner may want to join you and your friends and may feel left out if you assume that they shouldn’t go to social events where drugs or alcohol may be present.
Understand Triggers and Distress Behavior
An important component of any relationship is prioritizing your partner and making them a part of your life, but what social events are okay and when is it safer for them to stay home? These aren’t questions that you can answer on your own and you should never assume that you know what’s best for your partner; they know themselves and their potential triggers the best. Some individuals in recovery can be perfectly relaxed at the bar having a non-alcoholic beverage and enjoying the company. Others aren’t ready to be in an environment where people are drinking. Whatever point your partner is at is valid and should be viewed with compassion.
Your partner may find themselves in a situation where they overestimated their confidence and are beginning to show signs of vulnerability. Be cognizant of what their signs of distress look like, such as fidgeting, appearing withdrawn, or experiencing sudden mood swings, and don’t make them feel embarrassed or ashamed if they are having a difficult time. It’s part of your role to support them in all situations, even if you have to take a break from your social interactions to make sure they feel safe.
Educate Yourself on What Helps Both of You
There are a lot of factors that play into living in recovery successfully, including being part of a healthy recovery group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other local communities that offer meetings, sponsorship and other resources. Having a loving and supportive partner is helpful, but the camaraderie of others living in sobriety and a sponsor to help them maintain their accountability can be an essential part of the journey.
Similarly, there are often local support groups for people dating someone who is in recovery, such as Al-Anon. Sharing your experiences and questions with others who are going through similar situations can keep your perspective fresh and give you hope during times when you are frustrated or unsure. Although it’s important to keep your partner’s needs in mind, it’s also essential to prioritize and voice your own needs as well.
What Happens If My Partner Relapses?
Relapse is a worst-case scenario that no couple wants to have to deal with, but regardless of how long your partner has been in recovery, you should know what your action plan is if they experience a lapse or relapse. But what’s the difference between the two?
- A lapse, or slip up, happens when someone in recovery drinks or uses a substance a single time and experiences regret immediately afterward with the intent to get back to sobriety.
- A relapse is a full return to old addictive patterns and behaviors and is often coupled with a lack of motivation to retake the steps to sobriety.
Not everyone experiences a lapse or relapse, but should your partner experience either scenario, the standards and bottom lines should already be in place so you know what to do. This is another situation where having a support group like Al-Anon can be beneficial, so you don’t feel as though you are going through it alone.
Recovery Is a Continuous Conversation
There is no one-and-done conversation when it comes to having a partner in recovery; it’s a continuous conversation that needs to happen throughout the relationship in order for both parties to feel secure and fulfilled. Maintaining honesty, strong communication and openness with your partner can help set you up for success now and in the future, but there are resources available if you need help along the way.
The Recovery Village can provide treatment options and information for individuals and their loved ones who are experiencing every stage of addiction and recovery. Contact us today to learn more about how you can support your partner in their recovery process.