When it comes to dating, popular culture narratives are largely about finding this hot, rich, witty, and borderline perfect person with whom you just click and go off to live the rest of your perfect suburban life with. Real-life, however, does not fit so neatly in a bow. People are not nearly so well-put-together and are often times dealing with a lot of to put it lightly, crap. Addiction is one of those personal struggles that is guaranteed to complicate the dating process and relationship but that should not necessarily be a deal-breaker. Here are some tips for dating someone in addiction recovery. The focus will largely be on alcohol and drug addiction but should suffice even for other forms of addiction such as sex and gambling addiction.
Empathize and be understanding
You may not have any personal experience with addiction and the compulsion to do things that eventually harm you but you can empathize. Try and understand why and how they got addicted. Try and understand why they got on this journey of recovery. Try not to be judgmental when they share their experiences and failures. Even if you haven’t struggled with addiction, you know what it feels like to constantly fail, make mistakes, disappoint yourself and others. A little empathy and understanding to recovering addicts who are trying to forge a new path go a long way.
Do your independent research about the addiction your partner is struggling with. Find out more about the treatment and recovery process as well as the unique struggles of their condition. Find out more about the common triggers and withdrawal symptoms. This will help you understand the severity of the issue so that you can determine whether you are able to handle it and if yes, how you can help your partner.
Carry out some recon work. Find out from them what they were like before recovery. Find out from their friends and family what they were like before recovery, while they were still living in addiction. Believe your partner and believe their friends and family. Once you understand how bad it is according to them and people who know them you will be more clear about the situation you are getting into. It will also help you appreciate the boundaries they set and the measures they have put in place to aid in their recovery. For example, knowing this will keep you from pressuring them to go to a bar or associate with people they associated with before they sought treatment.
Talk Honestly & Set Ground Rules
As much as there are commonalities in the addiction and recovery process, it still is a highly individualized experience. You need to create open and honest channels of communication so that they can share their experience. Talk about their triggers, withdrawal symptoms, and how they think you can best help them.
Talk about what they can and cannot do. People in recovery have different experiences with some alcoholics for example able to go into bars without being tempted while others cannot at all. What for example might you have to stop doing entirely, for example like having strong painkillers or alcohol in the house? If they are not comfortable being around you when you are drinking, that is a boundary you need to set and respect.
Have honest conversations not just about what they are able to do but also what you are able to do in terms of supporting them. You need to set clear expectations and ground rules. For example, what happens if a trigger situation arises? What happens if you suspect your partner may have had a relapse? What happens if they have a relapse?
This is definitely not a one-time conversation but one that will likely be revisited over and over as the intimacy and trust grow and as the recovery journey advances. Like in any other relationship, create an atmosphere where you can ask questions to better understand them and their condition.
Accept the baggage
There will be baggage. A person in recovery may have accrued debt, legal problems, and have fractured relationships. These are all issues that will crop up and need to be addressed at some point, especially if the relationship progresses to a long-term one. You need to evaluate their baggage and determine if you can handle it. If you can, accept it and don’t hold it over the head of your partner. If you can’t it is better to end the relationship.
Be prepared to leave
No one gets into a relationship expecting it to end, but relationships end. It happens. If it ever becomes too difficult or compromises your own health and well-being, you may have to leave. If the person relapses and is a danger to you, for example, a violent alcoholic, you may have to leave. If they need to focus more on their recovery and not have to juggle a relationship as well, you may have to end the relationship. Do not feel that because this person has this particular struggle you have to stay in the relationship.
Don’t start dating someone who started recovery yesterday
Addiction is difficult to beat and addicts are guaranteed to fall off the wagon multiple times especially in the beginning. It’s also difficult to know this early if they will remain sober in the future. Relationships are hard and addiction is especially hard so it’s not really in their best interest to put them in a position where they have to work on two new and difficult things at the same time. A good rule of thumb is not to date someone who hasn’t been sober for at least a year.
Don’t forget about yourself
Recovering addicts have these support systems to help them through. They may go to regular meetings, have therapy sessions and spend a considerable amount of time working on themselves and their personal relationships. There is also a significant danger of falling into the role of caregiver for your partner. Find your own support group because you will need it. Surround yourself with people who care about your well-being and are honest with you and will let you know if you are losing yourself in this relationship and not being concerned about your own well-being.
Don’t try to support them alone. It is too difficult a burden to shoulder alone. Alcoholics Anonymous for example has support groups and meetings for people like you who have a loved one in recovery. This is a place to share your struggles, triumphs, and stories with people who get it. You get to talk about things you may not be able to share with your partner or friends in a safe anonymous space. You can join one, start one, talk to trusted friends or even a professional therapist.
Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated
Just like everyone else addicts will make mistakes, just don’t allow them to get away with it allowing them to use their recovery as a scapegoat. Recovery is not a valid excuse for not acting like a mature considerate partner in a relationship.
Every relationship has its difficulties with addiction presenting even more struggles. This does not make it impossible to have a happy and healthy relationship with someone in recovery. It may just require a lot more talking, boundary setting, and intentionality in the relationship. The longer the person has been in recovery, the higher the chances they stay the course and the higher the chances the relationship stays solid. Some empathy and understanding as we all deal with our personal demons will go a long way here. Relationships: What To Do If A Family Member Is Addicted To Drugs
For more, check out this piece on ways to help someone struggling with addiction.