When Is It OK to Start Dating Again in Recovery?
Recovery is a personal journey. During early recovery, it’s a time to heal, establish boundaries, seek and accept support, mentally and spiritually grow, reflect, and continually assess one’s own well-being. Overall, recovery is often characterized as a process in which someone re-establishes their identity. So, when does diligent and dedicated recovery allow for romance? When is there enough flexibility to safely incorporate another person into our personal recovery journey? When is it OK to start dating again in recovery? The short answer: It depends.
Stable Recovery Is First
There is no hard-fast, universal rule concerning dating in recovery. However, many experts, as well as 12-step guidelines, recommend not dating for at least one year after becoming sober. The philosophy of this recommendation is understandable. In early recovery, we should focus on ourselves, learn how to cope with stress, and try to minimize emotional triggers. While romantic relationships can be empowering and supportive, they can also be stressful and emotional. However, a good foundation in recovery can help us better measure ourselves in the relationship, as well as the relationship itself.
The Risk of Codependency
Early recovery can be a lonely time. Often, we’ve needed to cut ties from the people, places, and things that facilitated our addiction. Since a new setting for socialization may take time in recovery, many may look for romantic relationships to fill this social void. Or worse, replace their addiction with the emotional and/or sexual highs of a new relationship. In this case, we’ve merely replaced one urge with another without recognizing this risky pattern of behavior.
The core of codependency is dependency. While the term is often used in respect to unhealthy relationships, codependency underscores all addictions, whether that dependency is on a substance, irrational thinking patterns, or our relationships with others. So, if we form a romantic relationship too early in recovery—without changing or examining the fundamentals of ourselves—we risk relapsing back into this mindset of dependency. In other words, if we don’t advocate for our own personal growth, we continually risk measuring our worth through someone or something else. We also risk self-medicating to mitigate the emotional turmoil that often accompanies this mindset of dependence and victimization.
Be Mindful and Take It Slow
While forming a romantic relationship does come with risk, it’s equally important to acknowledge that a relationship may be wonderful. Human beings are social creatures, and forming intimate bonds is something that makes us whole. As we become more confident with ourselves and our recovery, we form better coping mechanisms and emotional resilience. But no relationship is perfect and dating itself can be fraught with rejection and disappointment. That’s why it’s prudent to practice mindfulness and to take it slow.
The more mindful we are, the better we’re able to implement strategies to remain emotionally balanced. The slower we take a relationship, the more time we have to remain mindful. While whirlwind romances are great for movies and novels, pragmatism and diligence may help preserve our recovery while adding more substance to a budding relationship.
Honesty is Paramount
In essence, recovery is 90% honesty and 10% behavioral changes. After all, no matter what treatment modality you’ve adhered to, “admitting” we need to change something (or everything) is typically the first required action to getting help. Relationships should be no different. When forming a relationship in recovery, we need to be honest with ourselves and our expectations, the other person, as well as our support network.
Since staying sober takes precedent, we have to be upfront and honest with our dating partners. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in triggering places and situations that are not conducive to our well-being. It may also be important to share with your therapist, support group, friends, or sponsor that you’ve started dating and express any feelings that you may have. By doing so, you’re more easily able to recognize any potential emotional pitfalls.
While there is no exact time period that makes it safe to date in recovery, there are ways you may be able to recognize your preparedness. Talk to your support network and/or truly and honestly evaluate the emotional and mental gains you’ve made in recovery. Everyone is unique, but remember, we’re not able to truly love another until we truly love ourselves.