Relationship Advice for Successfully Dating a Recovering Addict
On the dating scene, everyone has at least a loose concept of their “deal-breakers,” the issues or revelations that would send them running into the arms of the next contender.
Some entries on the list are shared by many (“I’m married”), while others are a matter of personal preference, such as dating someone who at one time was addicted to drugs or alcohol.
If you decide to date a recovering addict, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Do get the facts about their recovery
By itself, being clean and sober doesn’t make a recovering addict relationship material. How long have they been sober? If the answer is less than one year, give them time to get grounded in their recovery before embarking on a romantic relationship.
Ideally, they’ll have much more than one year sober and be actively working a program of recovery (e.g., attending support group meetings or therapy, volunteering, etc.). This not only protects the recovering addict’s sobriety, but also your well-being and the health of the relationship.
Do educate yourself about the disease of addiction
To support your partner’s recovery, you need to know the basics of addiction. Contrary to widespread misconception, addiction is not a moral failing or a character flaw. Decades of scientific research have shown that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, similar in many ways to heart disease or diabetes, which requires lifelong care.
As such, recovering addicts need empathy and support. If you believe addiction is shameful or based on a lack of willpower, think twice about dating a recovering addict or learn more about the illness first.
Do support their recovery program
As you get educated about addiction, you’ll discover the critical importance of sober social support. As the partner of a recovering addict, there are a few changes you’ll need to make in your own life, such as avoiding drugs or alcohol or situations that trigger their desire to use like parties or bars, at least when they’re with you. Even if it’s inconvenient, the recovering addict may need to attend a self-help support group meeting or call their sponsor. Out of necessity, their recovery takes priority over all else.
Do know your limits
Addicts often have chaotic histories. You may hear stories of wild parties, unpaid debts, week-long drug binges or run-ins with the law. They may have tumultuous family relationships that make for awkward holiday celebrations and gatherings.
For some partners of recovering addicts, these war stories are welcome reminders of the misery of addiction; for others, it may be more baggage than they can tolerate. Before venturing into a relationship with a recovering addict, make an honest assessment of how much you can handle.
Do not make snap judgments
If you hear the word “addict” and run the other way, that’s certainly your prerogative. There are legitimate concerns when dating a recovering addict, not the least of which is the threat of relapse.
But, by and large, recovering addicts are a relationship-worthy bunch, having overcome major obstacles and achieved a level of humility and self-awareness that sometimes surpasses those with no history of addiction.
Only you can decide who the right match for you is, but overlooking Mr. or Mrs. Right because they have an illness could be a mistake.
Do not rescue or enable
In recovery, as in active addiction, anything you do to protect your partner from the consequences of their actions can be considered enabling. You are not responsible for your partner’s recovery. They must take the steps to become healthy and fulfilled by attending meetings, volunteering and practicing healthier coping strategies.
As much as you may want to, you cannot control them, fix them or undo their suffering. What you can do is encourage them to work a program of recovery and offer support when needed.
Do not discount your own needs
Your support is essential to your partner’s recovery, but you do both parties a disservice if you fail to set and enforce personal boundaries. Clear limits help prevent you from enabling and also protect you from any addictive patterns still festering in your partner.
If you find yourself being treated in ways you never thought you’d accept, covering up for your partner’s behaviors or otherwise unhappy or unhealthy, you may benefit from individual and/or couple’s counseling and support groups for partners of addicts like Al-Anon. In some cases, it may not be the right person or the right time and you may need to move on.
Do not ignore the signs of relapse
Relapse remains a threat even decades into recovery and can be extremely painful for both partners. Given the chronic nature of the disease, it is wise to educate yourself about the signs of relapse and encourage your partner to get help if you detect a problem.
Although an estimated 40 to 60 percent of addicts relapse, a return to old habits is not inevitable. Even those who do relapse but get help immediately are often able to jump right back into their recovery.
Like any romantic relationship, dating a recovering addict can have its challenges. If you’re realistic about what you can handle and what kind of support you can offer, chances are the qualities you’re looking for in a partner can be found in a recovering addict just as easily as someone with no history of addiction.
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