Creating new relationships during recovery is a common experience. Many of those relationships with peers can enhance the life of a person in recovery and help them stay on the path to sober living. Romantic relationships, however, may not offer the same value to a person with a substance use disorder. Today, let’s talk about some of the risks connected to dating while in recovery.
Dating in early recovery can seem appealing. While a romantic relationship can eventually be a life goal, rushing into one in the first year of recovery may present some challenges to a person creating a new, sober life. Romantic partners may distract you from the goal of defining your sober self. Dating too soon can be a way of replacing a past addictive behavior with a person you put all of your focus on. It’s helpful to keep your focus on yourself and your sober goals in the beginning of recovery before exploring the dating world again.
Five Reasons to Hold Off Dating in Early Recovery
1: Dating distracts you from your main goal of discovering and defining your sober self.
The beginning of a recovery process is all about learning a new way to live. This work involves learning new skills, practicing the disciplines needed for a new way of life, repairing relationships, seeking support from other people in recovery, and more. You’re creating a healthy new version of yourself, your sober self.
Romantic relationships can be demanding. They require a great deal of time and energy. Dating while getting your recovery started can find you putting your focus on another person when you’re still not quite ready to take care of yourself properly.
2: Dating can contribute to a risk of relapse in early sobriety.
Even harmonious relationships have a level of stress that can distract someone from the work of recovery. New relationships bring with them a sense of uncertainty at the beginning that can cause stress, too. These stressors in any relationship have to be managed, and a person early in recovery may not yet have the tools to manage them.
Relapse can be caused by other factors besides stress. It may come from an inability to focus on developing positive character traits or how to establish healthy boundaries. The person you’re involved with may themselves not be in a healthy place in their life as dating began. A major life change could occur for one or both of you. As you’re still needing to focus on your sober goals, such as learning to be selfless and service-focused, volatile circumstances can lead you back to drinking or drug use to cope.
3: Dating can be a way to repurpose addictive behaviors by becoming consumed with a new person instead of a drug.
Addictive behavior isn’t limited to substance use. It may show up in a preoccupation with something or someone. Focusing on a new relationship and the good qualities of new love can become an obsession for some people early in recovery.
The end result of being consumed by a new partner can vary. Your constant desire to spend time with them might push them away. The quick intense start of the relationship could burn out quickly with too much time spent together. They may see you as overly needy in the relationship, too.
4: Dating comes with rejection that can bring on intense feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
While dating can boost a person’s self-esteem, a breakup can have serious consequences on their physical and mental well-being. Rejection by a romantic partner can feel devastating. Someone who’s already experiencing mental health issues may find their symptoms intensify.
Even a couple ready for a healthy relationship can find they are not aligned with each other’s wants, needs, and goals. For a person in recovery, the choice to date anyone who seems interested makes that lack of alignment more likely. As you’re still unsure of who you are and who you are becoming, attracting the right partner to you becomes more difficult.
5: Dating someone who knew you before treatment can keep you tied to past behaviors and substance use.
There is comfort in reconnecting with someone from your past. They’re familiar to you and you can skip right past the awkwardness of a new relationship. It seems like a logical direction to move in. Unfortunately, dating someone from your past life can actually present some risks to your wellbeing.
A romantic partner who knows you from your drug or alcohol use period may be more accepting of how you respond to situations in unhealthy ways. They may excuse your self-destructive behaviors and write them off as “just a way to cope” with your feelings. In addition, they may often remind you of moments in your past that don’t serve you to reflect on anymore. These may be embarrassing incidents, legal consequences of your substance use, or traumatic events that will interfere with your work to shape the new sober version of yourself.