Addiction can cause significant damage to relationships, which makes repairing them an essential component of the recovery process. Family, friends, and loved ones are all impacted to varying degrees by substance abuse, and it can take time to overcome the damage caused. While the natural impulse in recovery may be to try and make immediate attempts to rectify the harm inflicted, rarely do quick attempts make a lasting, impactful change. Instead, much like the process of overcoming addiction itself, investing time and energy into making long-lasting changes can allow you to rebuild on a stronger foundation and lets healing take place naturally.
When going through recovery, you will inevitably develop new relationships with others in treatment and with new people you encounter throughout your journey, and there may be the temptation to begin forging a new romantic relationship as well. Relationships are part of life, and developing meaningful connections can have a profound impact on you; however, in early recovery, the introduction of these types of relationships can create conflict and issues that may affect your treatment outcomes.
Romantic Relationships in Recovery
Many in recovery are told that beginning a new relationship is a bad idea and should be put off for a significant period of time. Without explanation, this advice may seem unfounded, but in reality, the reasons for it are important to the recovery process.
Addiction changes the way a person interacts with the world around them and entering recovery requires a person to unlearn the behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs that enabled continued substance abuse. In many cases, this may require a person to give up negative relationships and significant aspects of their lives in order to enable change. They may have to stop working, leave school, and reassess their goals to focus on achieving sobriety. Recovery is a time to be focused solely on oneself in order to develop new behaviors and routines that strength sobriety and build independence.
Over time, a person in recovery will begin to develop a new, sober identity that may greatly differ from the person they were while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This change is normal and necessary in treatment as people begin to build a new life. While focused on these changes, introducing a new romantic relationship can be challenging and be a source of distraction from this process. No matter how strong a relationship is, difficult experiences are inevitable, and trying times can be a great source of stress or pain that a newly sober person may not be equipped to handle. Experiencing these difficulties can make it easy to turn to old methods of coping, increasing the risk of relapse.
Additionally, it is not uncommon to find that relationships can create varying levels of dependency. This can inhibit a person from developing ways of managing responsibilities, feelings, and other needs independently. Some may find that they substitute their substance abuse with the thrill of a new relationship. Both of these outcomes can distract a person from focusing on making the changes needed to manage sobriety independently and may lessen the effectiveness of treatment because of a person’s inability to focus solely on their needs in recovery.
Building Healthy Relationships
Focusing on your own needs in recovery allows you to work towards healing existing relationships damaged by substance abuse. Improved communication skills and healthy coping mechanisms are vital components of having successful relationships. While you may not be able to directly fix some of the hurt substance abuse has caused, the changes you make to improve yourself through treatment can help you improve these relationships over time. These same skills can help you develop meaningful, healthy relationships moving forward.
Maintaining sobriety is a life-long process, and it is impossible to expect anyone to postpone developing an intimate relationship with another person indefinitely. As a person acclimates to changes through treatment, a new romantic relationship can begin to become part of their future. Introducing romantic relationships early in recovery can distract from the treatment process, but as a person becomes more solidified in sobriety, they may be able to introduce these elements without increasing the risk of relapse. Over time, protecting one’s sobriety becomes a natural response to situations, allowing a person to forge this type of relationship without inhibiting their progress in recovery.
Supportive relationships play a vital role in successfully maintaining sobriety. If a new romantic relationship is introduced too early, it can hinder your growth and can lead to the development of an unhealthy or toxic situation. Recovery can help a person identify the differences between positive relationships and those that hinder their growth. As you gain increased awareness and knowledge regarding what defines a healthy relationship, it can help you ensure that those you develop relationships with will continue to support you and help you grow.