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Romantic Relationships as a Relapse Trigger


A common reason for why people will relapse during early recovery can be romantic relationships. This seems to happen more frequently with women than men, but it is a danger to both sexes. Romantic relationships can be a real threat to individuals in early recovery, and this is why it is generally recommended that people avoid these relationships for at least the first year of recovery. Those individual who rush into a new relationship as soon as they become sober will be taking a huge risk.

Avoiding Romance in the First Year of Recovery

When people walk away from alcohol or drugs, they need to make this their priority. This means that they need to not allow anything to get in the way of their recovery. It is for this reason that newly sober people are advised not to begin any sort of romantic relationship within the first year of recovery. If they are already in a romantic relationship when they become sober, that is different, but they should not begin a new relationship. There are some good reasons for why this suggestion should be taken seriously, including:

  • When people begin a new romantic relationship, it is going to demand a good deal of their time and attention. During the early months of their recovery, the individual will need to put all their attention on getting better – if they fail to do this, they will be putting their recovery at great risk.
  • New romances can be very stressful and emotional, and they can put too much strain on the person who is trying to find their way in early recovery. These first few months of getting sober can already be very stressful, and this period is often referred to as an emotional rollercoaster. By taking on the additional challenge of a romantic relationship, the person can easily become overwhelmed.
  • The individual can use this new relationship as an excuse to relapse. They may believe that this new person in their life has changed them in some way, and that they are stronger than they ever were before. The person can be tempted to believe that they will now be able to handle alcohol or drugs because they have this romantic partner in their corner.
  • When people give up alcohol or drugs, they are at high risk of addiction substitution. This means that they can become as obsessed about this new relationship as they once were about mind-altering substances.
  • The individual may be using this new relationship as a way to not have to deal with their problems. It is just another attempt for them to hide from life, and it will lead to the same end result.
  • During the early months of recovery, the individual is at high risk of making bad choices. This is because they are still finding out what they do or do not want from life. It is often the case that the major decisions people make in early recovery are ones they later regret. This is why it is strongly advised that they avoid making any major decisions until their thinking has cleared and they have a better understanding of what they want from life. If people rush into a romance in early recovery, there is a good chance that they will regret it later on.
  • The biggest danger is that the individual will begin a romance with another person in recovery. This means that both of their recoveries will be at risk and they will both be taking their problems into the relationship – such romances are usually doomed. The only time when romance between people in recovery seems to work out, is when both of the participants have been sober for a long period.
  • If the individual falls into a relationship with a person who is drinking or using drugs, it will be a huge temptation for them to relapse.

Romantic Relationships in Recovery

If people are already in a romantic relationship when they become sober, they will need to be careful that this does not get in the way of their recovery. Some of the things that need to be considered in this regard will include:

  • When people first become sober, their partner is often overjoyed, but they can also feel a bit threatened by this change. They will have needed to make changes to their life in order to be able to live with somebody addicted to alcohol or drugs and now they will need to make further changes. In some cases, the other person may even have become so wrapped up in taking care of the addicted individual that they are now co-dependent. This is why in many instances it will be recommended that both partners receive some counselling to help them deal with this new situation.
  • Newly sober people often experience a sense of being born again, and they can become so enthusiastic for their new life that they end up rubbing other people up the wrong way. The romantic partner may have spent years clearing up this addicted person’s mess, and it can be irritating for them to be now on the receiving end of lectures from this same person about how they should be behaving.
  • The individual will have made a very positive step by giving up their addiction, but it is unrealistic for them to expect that their romantic partner will be able to offer them a clean slate right away. It takes time to win back the trust that has been lost, and the individual will need to prove that they are deserving of this trust. In the meantime, they just need to keep on doing the right things by focusing on their recovery.
  • It is unfortunate but in some cases a relationship that survived addiction can fall apart in recovery. This is a period of great change and it can put too much stress on a relationship. In some cases, this ending of the relationship will be unavoidable, but in most instances the relationship will be saved by counselling or other types of support.
  • The partner may benefit from attending a support group like Al-Anon. Here they will get to meet other people who have been through the same thing, and they will have an outlet for voicing their worries, concerns, and frustrations.
  • It is important that the other partner understands that recovery has to be the priority for the individual try to become sober. The individual is trying to recover from a life-threatening condition, and their recovery is going to demand most of their resources.
  • It is not possible to demand that the partner be supportive of recovery, but it is reasonable to demand that they do not get in the way of recovery. If this partner is preventing the individual from staying sober, it may be time to end the relationship.

The advice about not making any major changes in the first year of recovery does apply to ending romances as well. If the individual feels unsure if the relationship has any future, it is best to wait until a year or so until they are better equipped to make this type of decision. On the other hand, if the relationship is threatening the person’s recovery, the best option may be to end it.

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