Everyone warned me against getting involved in new relationships in early sobriety. Unfortunately, I don’t always listen so well. From the start of my recovery, I felt like I could do just about anything, including handling a new relationship. After all, I had a clear head and a focus. I was working hard on my recovery, and I wanted to have a healthy relationship eventually. In early recovery though, I wasn’t even interested in a relationship. I knew that I had more work to do.

So when I met Matt (seriously not his real name), I thought, “No big deal. It’s a date, not a relationship. I can handle one little date.”

That didn’t go as I planned. He said all the right things even though some of those things made no sense. As clear-headed as I thought I was, I was still easily fooled.


Easily Confused


On our first Valentine’s Day, I spent 30 minutes trying to pick out the right Valentine’s card. I wanted something non-comital like the ones the kids hand out in elementary school. I avoided all cards that referenced love, a lifetime together, or soppy “you are my soul mate” declarations. And it took a while, but I finally found one.

When he opened the card, he looked at me with an adoring set of puppy eyes and said, “I love you too. I wasn’t sure if I should say it first, but since you did…”

I sat stunned.

As soon as he left the room, I picked up that card and read it again to make sure I didn’t miss a love reference. And I didn’t.

I now know this and many of his other behaviors to be narcissism. Even though I felt confident about how far I had come in such a short time, I was no match for his head games, so the innocent dating ended and our relationship began.


relationships in early sobriety

Where I Went Wrong


Early in the relationship, I stopped focusing on my own recovery and instead began focusing on him. While he was in long-term recovery from his own addictions, he had other problems that would quickly interfere with the relationship. In the long run, my decision to date him became very expensive.

He manipulated me out of money, used gaslighting that led me to believe that I was the problem, and I had become so obsessed with his problems that I neglected my own. Ultimately, he wore a mask, and I couldn’t see beneath it.

Most importantly, I didn’t listen to the warnings I had heard about starting relationships early in sobriety.

Most therapists, counselors, and support groups will advise that you avoid a relationship until you have had at least one year of recovery. Here are 7 reasons you should take that advice.


1. You Need Time to Find Yourself


Often our addictive behaviors are so outside of our own values and desires that by the time we get into recovery, we have no idea who we really are. To drink without guilt, we have to change our belief system. Often those changes lead to lost careers, and relationships. Sometimes, we even put our children’s needs beneath our own need to drink. The person you are no longer matches the person you wanted to be.

Before we start thinking about a relationship, we should take the time to find ourselves again. We have to learn about our morals and boundaries and how to honor them. We should also identify our purpose. It’s important that we get back in touch with ourselves, and we need to do it without outside influence.


2. Relationships in Early Sobriety and Codependency

Often in early recovery, we have very little self-esteem and only feel worthy when affirmed by other people. As a result, we put extra energy into people-pleasing. We do this by giving to others long after we have nothing left to give. We ignore our boundaries and avoid displeasing others by saying no.

When we fail at pleasing them, our own emotions become a warped reflection of their feelings. When they are mad at us, we become disappointed in ourselves. Alternately, only when they are happy can we feel happiness, so we often work to make other people happy at the risk of our own self-care. The burden of trying to please others can become overwhelming and lead to stress that triggers our desire to drink.


3. Relationships in Early Sobriety Are Emotional

Relationships add a layer of emotions that can interfere with recovery. When a relationship is going well, we tend to feel in a state of bliss that increases confidence and decreases our resolve to stay sober. If the relationship becomes rocky, the dis-ease may tempt us to soothe our pain with drugs or alcohol.

Finally, break-ups indicate failure and a form of loss that can lead to grief. If we aren’t in a solid state of recovery, we might feel tempted to manage a break-up the same way we have in the past, with a bottle or two of wine or a night out with the gang.

emotional ups and downs

4. Relationships Can Develop into a New Addiction


The physical aspect of addiction includes a chemical reaction that increases dopamine. Studies show that we have the same increase in dopamine when we have sex, gamble, and eat. That is why these other behaviors are also classified as addictions when out of control. When we engage in romantic relationships in early sobriety, we also have an increase in dopamine that can lead to love addiction.

According to “Love, Actually: The Science Behind Lust, Attraction, and Companionship,” “Dopamine, for instance, is the hormone responsible for the vast majority of the brain’s reward pathway… the dopamine pathway is particularly well studied when it comes to addiction. The same regions that light up when we’re feeling attraction also light up when drug addicts take cocaine and when we binge eat sweets… In a way, attraction is much like an addiction to another human being.” The article further adds, “addicts going into withdrawal are not unlike love-struck people craving the company of someone they cannot see.”


5. Relationships in Early Sobriety Distract from Recovery


Recovery takes work. In early sobriety, we face having to learn how to feel without substances that previously numbed those feelings. We have to find new ways to spend our time that don’t include partying. We may even be trying to figure out what our future will look like. These are all things that we should be focusing on, even when we don’t want to.

While we might welcome a distraction away from constantly obsessing about the fact that we can’t drink, the distraction of a love interest can prove too intense and interfere with mental and emotional healing.


6. Perpetuates Unhealthy Relationship Cycles


When we haven’t experienced or seen healthy relationships, we don’t have a good model to follow.

As a result, we often make unhealthy relationship choices. Often, we are attracted to people who have things in common with us. We feel they understand us. We become attached to toxic people and to people who, like us, drink too much. Unfortunately, that means that if we are in an unhealthy state, the people we feel most attracted to will also be in an unhealthy state. Relationships like this either do not last long or they come with years of turmoil before they end.

Instead of jumping into a for-now relationship that causes more difficulty for our recovery, it’s best to wait it out until we have acquired some healthy habits, so we can also attract people with similar healthy habits.


relationships in early sobriety

7. It’s Not Dating. It’s Sex.


 Many people, both in and not in recovery, have difficulty making the distinction between sex and love. Often this has something to do with prior abuses. For example, a child who suffered abuse may have been told that this is what people who love each other do.

As a result, they end up believing subconsciously that sex equals love. On the other hand, a person who felt abandoned as a child may also feel starved for affection as an adult. They quickly learn that sex is a form of affection that they desperately want.

While we may think, it’s just sex, for some of us, the inability to distinguish between sex and love makes “just sex” a slippery slope. Just sex could lead to more complicated relationships in early sobriety. Sex does not equal intimacy, but often that’s difficult for us to understand.


Relationships in Early Sobriety Pros?


There is another way to look at this though. Believe it or not, you can benefit from having a relationship in early sobriety. Part of recovery is learning how to make our own decisions and how to live with the consequences while staying sober. It’s about discovering our authentic selves and learning about what we want. Dating in early recovery, while it does come with risks, is one way to do that.

Personally, I learned how important it was for me to focus on my own recovery as a result of my relationship failure. The relationship magnified my own tendency to fix other people to a point that it became an obsession. It helped me understand that if I didn’t find emotional sobriety, I would continue to attract people who also didn’t have emotional sobriety.

Like with any mistake, if we can look back on the event with a willingness to embrace our failures, we can learn from them. We can create good out of bad to make dating in early sobriety a learning experience. You should note though that it doesn’t come without risks that could derail your recovery.

Furthermore, relationships won’t bring happiness. Rather, we must find it from within. We have to learn that it is okay (and in some cases better) to just be with ourselves for a while.


Here’s What I Suggest


Before entering into a relationship in early sobriety, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I given myself enough time to learn to feel and understand my emotions again?
  • Do I know what I want, and have I found a purpose for myself?
  • Do I love myself?
  • What are the pros and cons of getting involved in a relationship right now?
  • Would the added distraction of relationships in early sobriety delay my recovery?
  • Would I want to date myself as I am?
relationships in early sobriety

Wanting Connection Is Normal


Let’s face it. We crave connection. In early human evolution, connection meant the survival of the individual as well as the species. As such, wanting a relationship isn’t an unnatural desire, especially in early recovery when a relationship can replace much of what we have lost by not drinking. Relationships in early sobriety give us comfort, distraction, and those happy hormones. They also take away the sadness and loneliness.

While you may be better in early recovery than you were in active addiction, the person you are today may not be the person you want to be for the rest of your life. If you think you have more change in your future, consider avoiding dating, so the person you become aligns with the person you fall in love with.

Your decision to get involved in a relationship is yours and yours alone, but it is a decision that should not be taken lightly as it can lead to unwanted results.


Now Sober Coach Can Help


If you are still struggling with the decision to have a relationship in early recovery, contact me. As a sober coach, I can help you muddle through the mess of recovery, so you can make the best decision for you.

recovery programs

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