Falling in love seems like it should be the simplest, most beautiful thing in the world. With pure intentions and the “pink cloud” feelings that often accompany those first days and weeks in a new relationship, it feels like nothing about it could be wrong, much less a threat to recovery. When you’re happy, you’re not thinking about drinking or getting high, right? Sure. But when your happiness is based on emotions and the behaviors and choices of other people, that feeling can quickly turn on its head and become something very dangerous indeed. Relationships can be a struggle even both people are healthy and grounded. They can cause pain and heartbreak. While a wound to the self-esteem for those who are strong emotionally and established in their lives can cause them to have a bad day, that same wound to someone who is still trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in a world of sobriety can be a death blow.

Signs You Should Run

How can you tell if someone you are dating – or considering dating – is a threat to your ability to remain sober? They may look harmless, seem so nice and attentive at first, and a perfect fit for you, but at the first sign of any of the following issues, it’s time to hit the road:

1. Volatility

This person responds to someone who accidentally bumps into them like that person just threatened their life. Everything is a perceived slight and a large part of their focus seems to be on identifying people who aren’t being respectful to them – and making them pay for it. Unfortunately, these people often don’t behave in ways that are worthy of respect unless they think they’re going to see a relatively immediately payoff, and it likely won’t be long until you are on their retaliation list for showing up late to pick them up or not calling exactly at the time you said you would.

  • Some red flags include: yelling at wait staff or other service personnel, angry tirades in traffic, defining all of their exes as terrible people, and no long-term friendships or relationships with balanced people.

2. Neediness

You are the light of their life, and before you they were lost and wandering. Now that they’ve found you, they’ve found their purpose and they want to show you how much you mean to them – every minute of every day. Though it may appear on the surface that this person is just loving and committed to the relationship, it’s called “codependency” if your new flame is instantly attached to you and unable or unwilling to do anything without you. Their inability to maintain boundaries can push you to drink just to escape them.

  • Some red flags include: talking about moving in together (or even marriage) after just a few dates, contacting you incessantly, showing up outside your job or therapy sessions unexpectedly and repeatedly, and seeming sad or uncomfortable when you want to spend time with just your friends or family without them.

3. Jealousy

This person is suspect of every phone call and text message you receive, and if you don’t volunteer the identity of the person contacting you and what they want, they’ll ask. If it’s someone of the gender to which you are attracted, their response is not kind. They may be unable to believe that the new people you meet at 12-step meetings or the people you are helping – or who offer to help you in recovery – are simply a part of your sober peer network. Unfortunately, if this person’s jealousy stops you from connecting with other positive people in your life, it can damage your ability to make progress in recovery and have people to turn to when you feel like drinking or getting high.

  • Some red flags include: checking your phone without your permission, going through your email, continually accusing you of cheating, accusing your friends of wanting to sleep with you, and assuming that if you haven’t cheated already, you will soon.

4. “Glass Half Empty” Syndrome

These people are not happy in sobriety if they are trying to live sober – or with their lives, in general. Not only are they still enraged and deeply hurt by events that happened many years in the past and complain about it at every opportunity, but everything about their current situation isn’t quite good enough either. The food is overdone, the cleaning attempt you made is nowhere near adequate, or your recognition of an anniversary or birthday isn’t quite right. Constantly being made to feel less than and/or continually spending time with someone who is never happy can wear on you – and your ability to avoid relapse.

  • Some red flags include: often focusing on the one thing that is a little off in an otherwise perfect situation, being unable to let go and enjoy themselves (without substances, if not sober), continually bringing up a past mistake you made despite the fact that you apologized, and an ever present state of irritation, depression, or anger.

5. Helplessness

Some people depend on the assistance of others for just about everything. Rather than learning how to change a tire, creating and sticking to a budget, or figuring out the steps of any new needed skill at work, they turn to whomever is closest who can do it for them – every time they need something. This pressure to live someone else’s life for them when you’re still learning how to live your own life can lead to relapse.

  • Some red flags include: rarely have enough money to pay for their own coffee, much less cover the down payment on a car or a new apartment. If you’re dating, it may be expected that you pick up their part of the tab, come to their aid whenever they are in trouble, and figure out how to fix every issue they come up against as it arises – no matter what else you need to be doing.

6. Controlling

The inverse of the helpless person, this romantic partner believes that you are the one who is incapable of managing your life. No matter what your ideas are, theirs are better. They try to dictate your work schedule, tell you what to wear, whom to hang out with, and what your goals should be. If anything is not up to their mysterious standards, they’ll bulldoze you until you make changes.

  • Some red flags include: calling you at work, in the middle of the night, or while you are with your friends and expecting you to stop what you’re doing to come help; not learning a simple task despite being shown multiple times; and joking that you are a parent and they are your child.

In recovery, you need to learn how to manage your own choices – the only thing you can’t do is drink or get high. Pretty much everything else is negotiable as long as it doesn’t lead to relapse, and a relationship with someone who is trying to live your life for you will put a drink in your hand more often than not. Some red flags include making changes to your school or job schedule (e.g., class changes, homework, client work, etc.) without your permission, altering your schedule, throwing our your possessions that they don’t like, demanding that you make changes that suit them, and joking that you are their child.

The Most Important Relationship: Your Relationship With You

First and foremost, your focus should be on getting to know yourself, spending time with positive friends, and making progress in recovery. In most cases, even the most positive relationship will get in the way of that, especially during the first year of recovery. If you decide to take the plunge with someone despite the risks, keeping an eye out for red flags will help you to get out before you end up at the bottom of a bottle.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.