Dating and relationships after getting sober

Is the “no intimate relationships during the first year of sobriety” suggestion important to follow? Here, we explain why dating and starting new relationships in early recovery is not recommended.

minute read
By Judith O’Callaghan

New possibilities in early recovery

Early recovery opens up a world of possibility. Along with the excitement of new beginnings, you might find that getting sober can be lonely. After all, you’ve given up so much! Even though toxic relationships with people, places and things can release you, they also create a big hole.

You might be tempted to jump into dating, starting a new relationship, or even ending an existing relationship or marriage and start over. But should you get romantically involved while in early recovery? Can dating endanger your progress in recovery or sobriety? Should you or shouldn’t you?

Experts recommend that people refrain from making big decisions and significant changes right away (for at least 12 months after getting sober). We invite you to continue reading to explore more on the subject here. Then, we invite you to send us your questions at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all reader comments with a personal and prompt reply.

Dating in early addiction recovery

As eager as you are to rebuild your life, you will do well to take it slow and not make any major changes in at least your first year of sobriety. Why is this? Early sobriety is a time for you to get to know yourself and learn self-acceptance. Oftentimes, being involved with someone else takes the focus off of you and puts it on someone else. Coping with changes in relationships in early recovery can put your sobriety at risk.. So, why open that can of worms?

Remember, your primary objective is to take care of yourself and avoid distractions while you are still vulnerable. This is your time to work in therapy and with a sponsor to examine your past behaviors and patterns. This is your time to focus on introducing consistent activities to fill the void now that you are no longer involved with your drug of choice.
Here are a few ideas:

  • join a gym
  • take a class
  • discover a new hobby
  • get involved with a home group
  • find a sponsor

What if you are already in a relationship?

Understanding yourself and being comfortable with yourself in recovery, before introducing others into your life, helps build a better foundation from which other relationships can grow and thrive. But what if you’re ALREADY in a relationship when you get clean?

Unless you are in an abusive relationship or one that threatens your sobriety in some way, the “no major changes in the first year” rule also applies to previously existing relationships/marriages. This may be the time to go to couples therapy and learn new ways to relate to and communicate with one another. It may be helpful for your partner to learn more about addiction and how it is reflected in the roles that you play.

When is a good time to start a relationship?

It really depends.

Eventually, you will be ready to share your new life with someone else. You will have some solid sober time behind you, a good working relationship with your sponsor, and a strong program of recovery. Plus, you’ll attract someone who can vibe on your level of physical and emotional health.
Still, remember to take it slow!

3 things to keep in mind about recovery relationships

And keep these points in mind:

1. Avoid dating people with significantly less sobriety than you have. If you choose to be in a relationship with someone else in recovery, make sure you protect and prioritize your own sobriety and do not “blend into” each other. Each of you needs to be vigilant about your daily commitments and stay sober.

2. Avoid “testing yourself” by going to bars and other high risk places. Look for new opportunities to meet people in sober settings, such as volunteer groups, classes, etc. Seek advice and support from your sponsor and other peers in recovery.

3. A relationship is no guarantee of happiness, if you are not happy with yourself. Always keep your sobriety your priority.

Got any questions?

If you would like to learn more or discuss about addiction recovery, sobriety, dating and relationships, we welcome you to share your questions or experiences in the section below. We try to respond to all legitimate inquiries with a personal and prompt response.

About the Author: Judith O’Callaghan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Medication Assisted Treatment Specialist, and nationally and internationally certified Co-Occurring Disorders Professional. She has extensive experience working with individuals, couples, and families on a wide variety of issues, including addiction, co-occurring disorders, family and marital problems, grief and loss, and school and career issues. At Mountainside, Judith works as an Outpatient clinician, providing clients in the early stages of recovery with the tools necessary to manage the daily life stressors associated with reintegration to life after residential treatment.
About the author
Mountainside is nationally recognized for the effectiveness of its drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs. Our Integrative Care Model provides a comprehensive set of treatment and care offerings coordinated by a multidisciplinary team of experienced addiction treatment professionals. We are lauded for our ability to partner with each client and the client’s family and healthcare professionals in developing and executing individualized treatment plans that promote long-term sobriety.
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