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Navigating Love and Romance During Recovery

Michael Leach CCMA By Michael Leach | Last Updated: 15 January 2024

For many who leave drug rehab or have completed a program, counseling, therapy, or any form of substance use treatment, there is a strong urge to start a relationship. Yet, there are complexities of finding love and maintaining a healthy relationship.

Anyone in recovery should address this issue and weigh the pros and cons. Moreover, consider finding the right partner or taking healthy steps to repair a current relationship. Fortunately, there are practical tips for singles in recovery and valuable advice for those already in a relationship. The following guide will help you navigate this path successfully.

  • What You'll Learn

The Recovery Journey and Romantic Relationships

Starting a new life out of rehab is not easy; there are uphill battles, emotionally and physically. It’s common when single to place all your energy into finding a relationship and disregarding sobriety. In contrast, someone already in a relationship may only focus on rebuilding that relationship, overlooking other areas of life. 

SAMHSA defines the recovery process as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. Overall, the process is unique for each person.

Ideally, recovery from substance use involves a process of abstinence and learning and practicing awareness and skills to live a drug and alcohol-free life. This involves participating in healthy life activities, making positive changes, discovering new parts of yourself, and developing new living patterns.

Recovery has an emotional and psychological impact on personal relationships. For many, there is deep regret, shame, guilt, and other emotions felt because of damage done to personal relationships.

Because of this, there is a strong urge to fix meaningful relationships, romantic ones included; this can often push a person off track. Actions speak louder than words, so it’s helpful to resist the urge to fix every relationship.

However, remind yourself that as you continue to focus on making progress in recovery, your relationships will likely improve; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Incremental steps lead to positive changes.  

Pros and Cons of Relationships in Recovery

There are genuine pros and cons of relationships in recovery. As human beings, relationships are interwoven into the very fabric of the tapestry of our lives. A part of coming out of recovery involves building healthy relationships with other people and ourselves. These relationships include friends, family, acquaintances, a higher power, and romantic relationships. Some of the pros and cons include the following:

Pros:

  • Emotional support from another person: This is beneficial because there is someone to lean on when times are tough and someone to share positive and uplifting experiences with.
  • Shared experiences and understanding: It’s essential to have people in your life with whom you can share experiences and a similar understanding; ultimately, it is a foundation for a healthy relationship.
  • Positive influence and mutual growth: The people you have relationships with can positively influence your life. In a romantic relationship, this can ultimately mean mutual growth.

Cons:

  • Potential for codependency: This can be a significant problem. Codependency is a circular relationship. One person needs the other person, who in turn needs to be needed; there is a giver and a taker.
  • Distraction from the recovery process: Romantic relationships during recovery can often lead to distraction. What generally happens is all of your energy is placed in maintaining a romantic relationship with the other person, thus losing sight of your recovery journey.
  • The risk of relapse triggered by relationship stress: Relationship stress can happen among friends, family, and romantic relationships. If the stress is not managed healthily, it can lead to relapse. Avoiding relationships that create stress is the best approach.

The Right Partner: Qualities to Seek

In any romantic relationship, it is vital to have the right partner, and everyone has unique and different qualities they seek. Yet, when someone is in recovery from addiction and begins a romantic relationship, there are some qualities to take into consideration. This can include some of the following:

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Understanding and empathy towards the recovery process. A healthy relationship supports recovery, not addiction. It is also built on mutual respect.

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Healthy communication habits and encouraging one another to achieve your highest good.

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Independence and personal stability, and respecting personal boundaries.

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Supportive but not enabling behavior while also making you feel good about yourself and feeling supported.

Tips for Single Individuals in Recovery

Being single and in recovery is the ideal situation because it offers every opportunity to focus on your recovery and everything that it entails.

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Focus on self-improvement and personal goals. This is critical during the early stages of recovery. When you stay focused on these things, you make it much easier to avoid directing all your energy to starting a relationship.

Logo used to represent a solid support network

Establish a solid support network outside of romantic relationships. Stay connected with the friends and family who support your recovery.

Logo used to represent engaging in new hobbies

Engage in new hobbies and group activities to meet like-minded individuals. Take the time to join other groups, whether sports or other activities.

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Embrace the role of therapy and support groups in building healthy relationship skills; 12-step meetings can help with this.

Advice for Those Already in a Relationship

Being in a relationship after drug rehab and maintaining a healthy relationship takes work. Yet, focusing on taking it slow, putting your recovery first, practicing self-care, being honest, and good communication is good.

It’s also essential to navigate the existing relationship dynamics during recovery. For example, if you are still in a relationship, such as a marriage, part of your treatment should involve working on this relationship.

Setting boundaries and maintaining individuality is also vital; this also includes not enabling and seeking help when needed. For example, seeking couples therapy or joint counseling is valuable during recovery. Finally, this also involves developing a relapse prevention plan together.

Conclusion

There are risks and rewards to having romantic relationships while in recovery, generally more risks. Yet, there are more rewards to having strong, supportive friendships and people around you who support your recovery.

Anyone in recovery from addiction should ideally prioritize their recovery and personal growth. It is a marathon, not a sprint; everything happens in time. While finding love is fulfilling and can play an important role in personal development, it does not work unless you have achieved the growth you need as an individual. 

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.