How to Love and Help an Addict in Recovery
Recovering addicts are often counseled to avoid romantic relationships for at least the first year they’re in recovery. It takes a long time not just to break the chains of physical addiction but to heal the past relationships and personal stumbling blocks that are the hallmark of addiction.
Most addicts need at least a year to uncover their true personalities before they can decide if they’ve met Mr. or Ms. Right. Diving headlong into romance before knowing who you are and what you value in yourself and others may shortchange your recovery and your relationship.
For those dating someone in recovery, think of this list of 10 things you need to know about loving an addict in recovery as your guide to understanding your partner. However, as with every guide not all of these items apply to everyone. Use common sense and good judgment, and above all, talk to someone you trust about your fears and fantasies. Loving an addict in recovery isn’t impossible; it’s just a different experience.
10 Things You Need to Know About Recovering Addicts and Relationships
Dating an addict in recovery has its own set of rewards and challenges. The following list can help you navigate relationships with recovering addicts:
- Addicts in recovery have a past. Each partner in a romantic relationship brings memories of past relationships and breakups. Addicts are no different, but their past experiences may have taken them into relationship situations that aren’t familiar to you. It’s important to listen to their past relationship history with an open, loving heart, just as you would when dating anyone.
- Addiction requires complete abstinence. Whatever substance your new love interest was addicted to, he or she can never take it again. One is too many and not enough all at the same time. Don’t even offer a drink to a recovering alcoholic, and support your partner’s abstinence by avoiding people and situations that can trigger a relapse. If you’re not sure what those are, ask. Your partner will probably thank you for your consideration.
- Addiction is a disease of relapse. Despite your partner’s best efforts, despite all the love you shower on your partner, the chance of a relapse is always there. Knowing this from the start can help you understand why recovery must always be paramount in your partner’s life.
- Addicts continually work on their recovery. Your new partner isn’t “cured” of addiction. Each day brings forth new hope and new challenges. Loving them and supporting them will help your partner continue on the path of recovery.
- There are meetings…a lot of meetings. Some people who have never been in recovery do not understand why their partner has to continue to go to meetings. Many non-addicts resent spending time with program friends, attending meetings, sponsoring other addicts or talking to sponsors. All of these activities are integral to your partner’s continued recovery and sobriety, so it is important to be supportive.
- Recovering addicts tend to hang out with other recovering addicts. Many friendships are forged in rehab, and they continue to be forged in support groups. Addicts support one another through such friendships, and they help each other maintain sobriety. You will have the opportunity to get to know many sober and recovering addicts at family or social gatherings.
- Therapy continues. Recovering addicts may wish to continue in therapy such as 12-step groups, sponsorship, or other supportive treatments. Because addiction is never “cured” but merely given what the 12-step groups call a “temporary reprieve, one day at a time,” your love interest may wish to continue attending multiple types of therapy for addiction and recovery. It’s important to remain supportive of these efforts.
- Recovering addicts may still be discovering themselves. Years of drug or alcohol abuse tends to hide an addict’s true personality. Recovery helps addicts learn who they are deep inside, but your partner may still be learning all about that part of their personality which was lost to addiction. You may need to give them space to explore other interests and be understanding when they need time to themselves.
- Accept them for who they are. As in any relationship, accepting the other person for who they are is an important part of a loving, healthy relationship. Don’t try to change them or pretend their addiction doesn’t exist. It’s part of who they are, and you should support them by promoting a healthy, sober lifestyle.
- Take care of your own emotional needs. Co-dependence is a common psychological condition. It means seeking completion or acceptance from outside yourself. Many co-dependent individuals end up loving an addict in recovery because their psychological state mirrors or matches an addict’s. Co-dependents tend to put their own emotional needs last and always serve others first, but that’s not healthy for a long-term relationship. If you find yourself neglecting your boundaries or emotional needs, you may want to take a step back and assess whether you’ve fallen into a co-dependent pattern that may be holding both you and the recovering addict back from a fuller, happier life.
Telling Your Family About Your Partner’s Past
When you’re in a new relationship, it’s normal to want to tell everyone about your special someone. However, be careful when sharing personal information about your new partner if he or she is an addict in recovery.
Make sure that your partner is comfortable sharing that part of his or her life with your family. Never divulge personal information or break a confidence. Newly recovering addicts may have trust issues, and breaking a confidence violates their trust at a deep and personal level.
If your family has no experience with recovering addicts, they may have a lot of misconceptions about what being an alcoholic or drug addict means. Unfortunately, television and movies have painted a stereotypical picture of addiction. People without personal experience with recovery may not understand that such pictures don’t reflect most addicts, especially those in recovery.
You may want to speak with an alcohol and addictions counselor about your questions and how to introduce your new partner’s past life to your family. Parents, siblings and others care about you and want what’s best for you. They may look unfavorably on your relationship with a recovering addict until they understand the nature of addiction and the promise of recovery.
Should a Recovering Addict Be Involved in a Relationship in the Beginning?
Most addicts are cautioned to avoid having a relationship in early recovery. They’re counseled to wait at least one year after entering rehab before starting any serious relationships. There are many reasons for this advice, including:
- Newly sober addicts may still be learning how to handle daily living. Finding a job, living on your own and making sober friends is challenging. Adding a romantic interest to a newly sober life can sometimes be too much to handle.
- Recovering addicts are still learning who they are and where they want their lives to go. Bringing another person into the mix means putting aside dreams and plans that may have been deferred to addiction long ago. It’s healthy to want to embrace the fullness of your life when you’re sober, but it can be hard to manage that component when there’s another person in your world.
- Recovery takes a lot of time and energy. A new romantic partner will naturally demand both. Recovery is the time to focus on personal healing, so it may be best to avoid romantic relationships if they interfere with that healing.
Marriage and Addiction
Most couples never dream that one partner will end up in rehab. When you said your wedding vows, you probably didn’t understand that “in sickness and in health” meant a possible recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Recovering from addiction changes a marriage, but it does not mean the marriage must end in divorce. Although 7.3% of divorces are due to substance abuse, you can heal a marriage after addiction wounds it. Here are some ways you might be able to reconnect with your partner after rehab:
- Build a new marriage. Marriages aren’t static, despite the calendar years that pass since your wedding day. A marriage may last, but it’s never the same two days in a row. Instead of looking back at the “good old days” of your past, forge a new relationship in the present. Build a new marriage. Attend marriage counseling or retreats to learn new coping and communication skills to build a new and better relationship.
- It takes time to forgive: You may never be able to forget, but give yourself space and time to acknowledge and work through the hurt with your partner. Addiction leaves scars on both the addict and those they love. Like a cut on the body, your spirit may be wounded and need time to heal completely.
- Addiction is a family disease. It’s rare that addiction happens in isolation. Family factors, marriage tensions and many other psychological and social factors contribute to genetic and environmental triggers. It’s important to work with the rehab and recovery center your partner is enrolled in to heal your family and support your partner’s recovery.
- You may need counseling, too. As your partner continues in therapy and 12-step groups, you may need your own support system. Al-Anon, for partners, friends and family of alcoholics, is a great group for people married to recovering alcoholics. Ask the rehab center treating your partner for recommendations for your own counseling, group sessions or other activities for spouses.
Loving an Addict in Recovery
Love isn’t just what you feel. It’s what you do. When you show support for your partner’s needs in recovery and take steps to demonstrate that support, you’re experiencing love in action.
One of the benefits of loving an addict in recovery is the unique perspective and renewed appreciation for life lived one day at a time. Because they’ve taken the time for introspection during recovery, many recovering addicts have a much stronger sense of their strengths and weaknesses than the average person. This type of partner can bring wonderful insights and clearer communication into a relationship than most people. That’s when recovery is a gift for budding relationships.
12 Keys Rehab: Mind, Body, Spirit and Family
At 12 Keys Rehab, we know that recovery involves the mind, body, spirit and family of an addict. If you’re married to an addict, or the partner of an addict in recovery, we can help you understand what your partner is going through and heal broken relationships without compromising your integrity.
Individual and family counseling are included in our rehab services to ensure that all areas of recovery are adequately addressed. 12 Keys Rehab offers both a practical approach and beautiful, comfortable surroundings to help everyone who enters our doors heal from drug or alcohol addiction. Our low client to counselor ratio provides personalized attention, and counselors are former addicts who understand the problems and promise of loving an addict in recovery. We also offer transportation to and from our facility.
For you or someone you love, 12 Keys Rehab can help guide recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. Our admissions counselors are available 24/7 and are happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today to get started on your path to recovery.