What You Should Know About Dating Someone in Recovery
Though the stigma attached to addiction is gradually being shattered, there is still a lot of misconceptions and negative attitudes towards the disease. The reason that addiction and other mental health issues have had a stigma attached to them for most of history is the symptoms of the disease are not only present in the body; they are present in the behaviors of the sufferer as well, which affects their loved ones and often leads to legal consequences. Thankfully, more people are getting into recovery as a result of the stigma being shattered and increased awareness of the resources that are available.
Just like anyone else, people in recovery are their own unique people. They have their own personalities, idiosyncrasies, talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Those who are genuinely working their recovery, which means they are abstaining from all mind-altering, mood-altering substances and addictive behaviors and are working on changing their life, can be the healthiest people to date and be in a relationship with. However, they are special types of people that require understanding about their issue. Dating in recovery is work for both people.
The Do’s of Dating Someone in Recovery
-Get Educated about the Disease of Addiction and the Different Paths to Recovery
Education about the disease of addiction is the most powerful tools for dating someone in recovery. Ignorance will set up the relationship for failure. Even though it has many behavioral components to it, addiction is just as much of a disease as cancer or diabetes. Even though a person may have chosen to use drugs or drink excessively in the beginning, addiction is defined by the loss of choice. He or she had to use to feel physically and mentally normal. Addiction is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease.” It is defined as a brain disease because the brain’s reward system is being affected. Most addiction experts agree that drugs, alcohol, or behavior is not the problem. Rather, an underlying mental health issue (e.g. trauma, low self-esteem, and a co-occurring disorder) are the real problem.
The paths to recovery that the general population is familiar with are 12-Step Programs and inpatient rehab. Those are the oldest and most popular paths to recovery. Modern addiction treatment includes 12-Step-Alternative Programs, various levels of outpatient treatment, and medication-assisted treatment.
-Communicate with the Person and Ask Questions if Needed
Communication is the foundation of all relationships, but it is essential in dating someone in recovery. From the beginning, the partner who is not in recovery should make their concerns and expectations clear. If the partner who is not in recovery has burning questions about addiction, recovery, and the recovering partner, he or she should ask them early on in the relationship.
Boundaries prevent one person from doing anything that hurts the other person. Just because someone is in recovery and/or has been through a lot is not an excuse to behave any way he or she wants. The partner who is not in recovery needs to set boundaries. Likewise, for the partner who is in recovery.
The life of a recovering individual has more grey than black and white. Recovering individuals are often free-spirited individuals. You will need to be open-minded to their lifestyle and personality. Being open to their personality, lifestyle, and the path to recovery is essential.
-Attend Support Groups
Even though the recovering partner is not using anymore or may not have used for a number of years, you can always benefit from support. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, CO-SA, and SMART Recovery Friends and Family are the three most common support groups for friends and family members of individuals who are or have previously have struggled with addiction. These groups educate members about addiction and provide tools for dealing with all types of relationships through the members sharing their experiences. There will definitely be people dating in sobriety.
The Don’ts of Dating Someone in Recovery
-Make Assumptions Based on the Misconceptions and Stereotypes
Not all addicts are “bad people”. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone differently. While people who are in active addiction share many common traits and have turned to similar to methods to support their habit, not all active addictions are the same. Addiction can happen to anyone regardless of what type of family they come from.
-Tolerate Unacceptable Behavior
Love and pity can easily be confused. Just because someone is in recovery or has been through a lot is not an excuse to not respect other people’s boundaries or behave unacceptably. Relapse is a part of recovery, but it is not an excuse to mistreat a significant other.
-Pry for Information about their Active Addiction
The stories of active addiction are troubling to the recovering people themselves. The details of their active addiction are not important or indicative of who they are. Who they are in their active addiction is most likely not who they are in their recovery; therefore, they may get upset and offended if someone is constantly asking about the details of their active addiction.
-Constantly Ask about their Recovery
Recovery is only the responsibility of the person who is in recovery. No other person can maintain his or her recovery. Constantly asking about his or her recovery will not make it more likely that he or she will stay on that path.
Recovery does not guarantee that a person will not have a bad day. Recovery also does not mean that people do not still have negative emotions. Their partner should not automatically jump to the conclusion that he or she is using again or is not working their program. They may just be having a bad day or are being human. Only be concerned if it is a consistent pattern.
-Rush into Dating Someone Who Has Less than One Year in Recovery
Addiction experts suggest that dating in sobriety should be put off for at least one year for the recovering individual to get his or her life in order and discover who they are. Someone who has less than one year and wants to start dating in recovery shows is not a good sign.
-Stay Despite Evidence of the Contrary
Dating someone who is in recovery is not easy for everyone. Partners who think that it is not for them should not stay if they think that they cannot handle it or are unhappy. Staying despite evidence of the contrary will make ending the relationship even harder on both people.
If you or your loved one is struggling in their recovery, contact us today for resources.