How to Have a Healthy Relationship In Recovery

After a year or (preferably) two of sobriety, growth, and healing, we are ready to seek a partner for more than just sex. Our biggest obstacle is usually the fear of getting hurt again. Too many of are distrustful and cynical. Getting what we need requires letting go of expectations and pain from the past.

No matter how much we change, we retain an uncanny ability for getting in our own way. We crave intimacy but fear vulnerability. It’s not our partner’s job to tear down our walls. It’s up to us to lower them. Before we seek acceptance from a partner, we must first come to accept ourselves.

Intimacy = In to me, see. In the context of recovery, we met folks who were willing to accept and care for us despite our being a complete mess. In a dating relationship, our expectations tend to be unclear and unspoken.

I’m tired of all the worn out labels and rhetoric. Everybody and their cat is codependent. Everyone’s family was/is dysfunctional. All of us have “trust issues.” Right. Sure. I get it. Let’s get past all the dumb shit and take responsibility for ourselves. It’s part of our insanity that we have to convince people of the many reasons why they shouldn’t want to get with us before we let them.

We take the inventory of people we meet and wonder what the hell they’re thinking in being attracted to us. Just as recovery is a program of attraction, we are free to (God help me) take the advice of Louise Hays and become the kind of person we want to attract.

Folks talk to me about dating sites and blind dates and everything that never works. I suggest exploring hobbies and making connections without the pressure of dating. I had someone give me the quintessential alcoholic answer to that recently:

“They say do the things you like and you meet the people with whom you have the most in common. However, I always thought it would be weird if I came home to find someone sitting on my couch watching a movie.”

<Face Palm> Right. We have to be willing to move outside of our current comfort zone because what we want does not exist within the familiar. Again, no matter how much we transform, there are aspects of being an addict that never go away. Chief amongst these are our desire for short cuts.

The biggest short cut is jumping into bed after the first cup of coffee. We treat going out for java the way non addicts treat going out for cocktails. Mainstream people blame it on being tipsy, which is bullshit. People do what they want to do when they’re uninhibited. We do it because we’re not sure what else to do.

Dating is messy and relationships are work. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. We seek to develop healthy partnerships despite the fact that we’ve never closely observed one, much less had one.

Here are the keys:

– Be yourself (don’t be in a partnership until you have a pretty good idea who that is)
– Never tolerate abuse of any kind.
– Say things simply and directly – don’t hint, allude, or intimate.
– Ask for what you want and need.
– Say how you feel.
– When you don’t know what to do, ASK.
– Stay out of your head. Don’t analyze. If there’s an issue, work it out together, not alone.
– Put no one before your partner.
– Conversely, never put your partner ahead of your program.
– Be a team. Go through Hell together and trust that you’ll come out on the other side.
– Believe nothing you see in movies or TV shows. Happily ever after happens one day at a time and is not a once and for all proposition.
– Again, relationships are work. Do the work. Reap the rewards.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.