Any relationship comes with a unique set of challenges. As no two people are quite the same, no combination of two people is the same. However, when dating a recovering addict, you’ll be presented with a set of challenges unique to life in recovery.
There are plenty of negative stereotypes surrounding the life of an addict, but often these stereotypes fail to address the complex challenges of recovery. With patience, compassion, and a little education, there is no reason you can’t find happiness while dating someone in recovery.
This post will cover essential ideas you need to consider when dating a recovering addict.
Addiction is a Chronic Disease
Addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a character flaw or sign of weakness. Addiction doesn’t discriminate according to class, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Look past the stigma of addiction and see the person behind the condition.
Like heart disease or diabetes, addiction is caused by complex and interconnected factors such as genetics and biology and other external factors like socioeconomic status, environment, and circumstance. Namely, there are many reasons why a person might develop an addiction, and no one factor is to blame.
Seeing addiction through the lens of disease can help to humanize your partner. Would you not date someone because they have diabetes? Fundamentally, addiction is no different than other chronic illnesses.
Relapse is Always a Possibility
When a person successfully completes a rehabilitation program, they aren’t “cured” of addiction. Because addiction is a chronic illness, there is always a chance of relapse—like with other chronic diseases. In fact, the chances of relapse for an addict are between 40% and 60%, which is actually less than other chronic illnesses. Relapse for other chronic diseases like hypertension and asthma ranges between 50% and 70%.
With proper treatment—which usually involves a combination of medication and therapy called medication-assisted treatment – the chances of relapse are reduced significantly. When dating a person living in recovery, you need to always be aware of the possibility of relapse.
That’s why it is imperative to educate yourself about how best to support your partner in their recovery journey.
Educate Yourself On How To Support Your Partner
There is a whole collection of content—literature, youtube videos, and blog posts—that deal precisely with dating a person in recovery. Take the time to learn how genuine relationships—where one person is a recovering addict—work.
Learning about other peoples’ experiences is a great way to see which strategies work and which don’t. Plus, seeing other people struggling with the same questions and uncertainties that are bothering you lets you know that you aren’t alone in managing this kind of relationship.
Some Ways You Can Support Your Partner
Learn what triggers your partner so that you can avoid those triggers. This might involve abstaining from alcohol or other substances when around them. If not drinking is a deal-breaker for you, then the relationship probably won’t work out.
Be willing to go with them to treatment centers, group therapy sessions, and other meetings. This show of support demonstrates that you want to be an active part of their recovery journey.
Never use their past as a weapon in arguments. Nobody can change the past, and—more importantly—everyone has done things they later regret. Leave the past in the past. This is especially true if you knew your partner while they were actively using.
Encourage open communication. Let your partner know that they can tell you anything—potential urges, cravings, or even setbacks in their recovery journey. This would be expected in any other relationship, so why not yours?
Set clearly defined boundaries. You need to make it clear that you are not their savior. You can’t possibly be the sole reason they are clean, and you have your own private life outside of your relationship. This might be hard for the more empathetic of us, but a recovering addict needs to stay sober for themselves, not for anyone else.
Embrace the Give and Take
Your partner may have had to give up a lot—by making many behavioral and psychological changes and possibly completely uprooting their previous life to get clean. The person you are dating now might be completely unrecognizable from the person they once were. If they were able to make changes for the sake of the relationship, you should be willing to meet them halfway. This might mean abstaining from alcohol around them or planning a day out at the park instead of a night out at the bars.
It’s Like Any Other Relationship… Complicated
Dating a person in recovery is no different than dating someone with dietary restrictions or religious restrictions. Essentially, it’s just a relationship between two people. Each person brings their own unique struggles to the table, and both people have to figure out what works for them.
There is no “best way” to date a person in recovery, just as there is no “best way” to date anybody. Ultimately, if you move forward with love and compassion in your relationship, then you are doing the right thing.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery.