The Pros and Cons of Recovery-Based Romantic Relationships

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

There are several schools of thought on the concept of romance and recovery. This especially applies to romantic relationships in early recovery. Some addiction specialists say overall abstinence must be enforced for anywhere from six months to a year. A few go so far as to say two years of the single life and no sex should apply. The less common—but certainly more popular amongst those in early recovery—idea is that recovery-based romantic relationships promote successful recovery for not merely one individual; but two.

Recovery-based romantic relationships refers to those which begin within recovery between two recovering individuals. Often, two people meet in an addiction treatment center or a recovery meeting. Because they clearly have similar life paths, pasts and not a lot of explaining to do, the relationships begin with a great deal of ease. For objective readers, naïve to the harsh realities of the disease of addiction, this might seem like an offbeat fairytale in the making.

For those of us in recovery, there are varied experiences and resulting differing perspectives. Since many addiction professionals are also in recovery, much of their viewpoint is based on personal experience. But, of course, a great deal more originates in research—typically observational.

The reality of recovery-based romantic relationships is threefold:

  1. Relationships and/or sex can become a substitute addiction – The occurrence of substitute addictions is quite common among recovery individuals and can include anything from nicotine, caffeine and sugar to religion, exercise and sex. Often, individuals in early recovery are looking for a way to fill the void now experienced with the loss of their drug of choice. Relationships and/or sex easily takes the place of substances and quickly takes on the same obsessive/compulsive qualities.In these cases, relationships and/or sex can become extremely dysfunctional, fast. For this reason, it is often advised that individuals in early recovery give themselves six months to a year to “get their mind right” before involving or subjecting someone else to their current state of thinking and living.Incidentally, professionals who agree with this perspective typically jokingly refer to such attempts by recovering individuals to spark up relationships in early recovery asthe 13th Step.
  2. Relationships can act as a distraction which can be both good and bad – When it comes to drug cravings, distraction therapy is often used as a tool to redirect a recovering individual’s thoughts and hopefully prevent relapse. Relationships can certainly serve as distractions. However, though distraction can serve a helpful purpose, it can also impeded greatly needed personal growth and potentially foster codependence.In active addiction, drugs and alcohol often provides distraction or escape from everyday life, painful emotions, uncomfortable thoughts or experiences and personal responsibilities. For this reason, healthy distractions can easily become socially acceptable—but nonetheless detrimental—addictions. The main issue is the simple fact that distractions block personal growth by preventing the recovering individual from learning to sit with the pain, stay with the thoughts, feelings or experience and heal. The lack of the latter typically eventually leads to relapse. As such, relationships that serve as distractions can not only quickly become codependent and therefore dysfunctional, but also pose a threat to successful recovery.
  3. Recovery-based romantic relationships can serve as added accountability and support for recovering individuals – Just as the vast majority of addiction and recovery professionals agree that 12-Step meetings and other recovery meetings, collegiate recovery communities and sober living communities all provide a sense of belonging and added accountability and support for recovering individuals, many agree recovery-based romantic relationships do the same. Of course, the outcome and healthiness of these relationships is up to the recovering individuals. In this way, regardless of the course the relationship takes, the process can provide an accurate measure of personal progress in recovery. In these situations and from this perspective, if accountability is lacking within the relationship, it will surely arise from the surrounding recovery community who will not only hold the individuals accountable for their actions, but the relationship as well. But even the latter can provide great mirroring for helping professionals and recovering individuals to reference in counseling.

If you have any thoughts or experiences to share regarding the pros and cons of recovery-based romantic relationships, feel free to share by posting a comment below. We love to hear from addiction specialists, recovery professionals, counselors and recovering individuals as well.

If you are in need of help with an addiction or are struggling in your recovery, call our hotline: 1-844-6-GETHELP.

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