Intimate Relationships in Recovery

February is hailed as the month of love, whether it is treasured for its commercial value or simply for cupid’s influence in our lives, this month is universally recognized for its devotion to lovers. This month’s blog visits Intimate Relationships in Recovery: the challenges and tips to safeguard one’s recovery in pursuance of love.


A client as she was nearing the end of her treatment stay with us disclosed that one of her biggest fears was being alone. She reflected on the insight of her therapist, who strongly discouraged romantic relationships in the first year of her sobriety and found herself growing more anxious about leaving the safety of Crossroads Centre to return to a life without that special someone. This client was brave enough to share her fear so that helpful interventions could be identified; however she is not alone in this situation. Many people in recovery, emerging from the addictive cloud begin to see the world anew and find they are emotionally and physically longing for that intimate connection that was dulled during their active addiction. Sobriety is viewed by some as lonely and with this faulty perception comes the fallacy that dating someone would make it easier. Let us first note some challenges that come with dating early in recovery.

The Challenges

When in active addiction, there comes a profound moment when chaos, inconsistencies and dependency become the normative pattern of all relationships. Recovery presents an opportunity to create new, healthier norms – it is about self-discovery. A significant new challenge in early recovery is having the capacity to give to another, when you’re still learning to give to yourself. To love another when you’re learning to love, respect and accept yourself. You cannot give to someone something that you don’t have. In early recovery, it is just not possible to balance a healthy relationship with oneself and an intimate relationship with another. One will always take priority and you must make yourself the priority. It is critical that your lifestyle fit your sobriety, not force your sobriety to fit your lifestyle. Intimate relationships can become threatening distractions along the recovery journey, which put your sobriety at risk.

During early recovery, you are emotionally fragile. Energy is spent trying to navigate emerging intense and at times unstable emotions that the period of active addiction had numbed. As emotional turbulence is also a recurring theme in all intimate relationships, the challenge of having to soothe your partner’s hurt, disappointment and jealousy, while coping with your own similar heartache is a hardship, which puts you at a high risk of relapse during early recovery. Many clients leave treatment feeling equipped to address the world because of their acquired tool box of coping skills. But it is important to note that in early recovery those treasured lessons and positive coping skills are not yet mature, they are not yet second nature, but rather newly acquired and timidly applied. This means it is easy to erroneously assume that your sobriety is strong and secure when it’s not. This false assumption permits you to prioritize the emotional needs of your partner, thereby switching addictions which will put you at high risk of not detecting signs that your sobriety may be at risk.

Safeguarding Recovery while pursuing an Intimate Relationship

Regardless of the provided caution many people in recovery may still choose to pursue that intimate connection. It is our aim at Crossroads Centre Antigua to provide support each step of your recovery journey. The following three tips are shared as keys to remaining on the recovery pathway.

  1. Prepare for Intimacy
    A common mistake made by many persons is to jump headfirst into what appears to be an ideal situation or relationship, only to discover that they took on more that they were ready for. The 12 step fellowships emphasize taking baby steps. Take inventory of past relationships and identify unhealthy patterns to avoid in the future. Preparing for intimate relationships is necessary to safeguard sobriety. Find a sponsor who will support you, share with them, perhaps avoid going to the same meetings with your partner if they are in recovery. In the beginning meet sparingly, keep quality time for yourself and the fellowship. Be careful the other person doesn’t become the focus of your life. Remember: anything you put ahead of your recovery is at risk.
  1. Defining Boundaries
    It is a fact that people in active addiction find comfort in a chaotic world devoid of boundaries and honesty. Protecting your sobriety means establishing boundaries in the beginning of the intimate relationship and being honest with oneself and others – Take things slowly, sexual intimacy may not have been a big deal in active addiction – it is an entirely different matter in recovery.  Without taking the time for self-discovery, people mistakenly pursue sexual intimacy when this is not a stage their ready for. Sexual arousal stimulates the same reward center of the brain with neurochemicals as the addictive substance. This increases the risk of substituting one form of addiction for another.
  1. Prioritize your Recovery
    A recovering addict celebrating milestones in recovery knows how important this tip is to the recovery journey. Recovery is your life. It must be woven into the very fabric of your existence. Any potential relationship that threatens it must end. This is an important message that must be communicated at the beginning of the dating process. I had the fortune of meeting a gentleman celebrating his 18th year of sobriety. He noted that one evening his wife asked “Do you have to go to meeting tonight?” His response was simple “Do you want to remain married to me?” The message was clear. He was a proud sober husband because his recovery was first. Recovery must always be your first priority above intimate relationships or romance.

Reality Check: Early Recovery means vulnerability. It is easy to get caught up in substituting the “high” from intimate connection to another person for the high we had when using our drug of choice. Be mindful of transfer addictions.

Dr. Jean-Machelle Benn-Dubois
Director of Admissions & Continuum of Care

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