Dating and Recovery: When Should I Get Back in the Game?

I recently got to sit down with Lia, a counselor at Duffy’s and talk about the ups and downs of dating in early recovery. There are so many opinions out there when it comes to romantic relationships in the program and her wise insight cut through all the clutter and confusion providing practical tips relevant to anyone wondering about the reality of dating in recovery.

Q: Lia, is it dangerous to date early in recovery?

A: Yes, it can be dangerous to date early in recovery. If people are still building the foundations for their sobriety, they may not have the tools they need to get through a breakup. So a breakup can then lead to relapse, and since no one is guaranteed to come back after a relapse, that can be a scary thing.

That’s why we talk about it here at treatment, because for someone who does identify as an alcoholic or addict, they may need to approach new relationships differently than they have in the past.

Q: So do you need to spend time becoming a whole person on your own before you enter into a new relationship with someone else?

A: You need to find out more about who you are. That’s something that should never really stop, but it’s important to take some time to do that for yourself before you hop into a new relationship.

Q: Figuring yourself out is an ongoing process, but how do you know when it is a good time to look for a romantic relationship?

A: I’m always hesitant to put a specific date on it, but many people give the timeline of the year and for good reason. A year gives you some time to make some changes in your life.

If someone’s interested in doing a 12 Step program, this gives you time to work those steps with a sponsor, or develop your support group in AA meetings. If you’ve worked the Steps, you will have a better foundation as to how to handle the things that come up in relationships.

It is a different and personal decision for everyone, and I wouldn’t want to make that decision for someone. But taking some time, could be 6 months or 3 years (it really just depends on where it is you came from), to really work on yourself is important. And it should be a substantial amount of time.

The more that you know about your maladaptive coping mechanisms—they also refer to them as character defects or liabilities—the closer you are to being able to change them.

You can’t change your liabilities if you don’t know about them. Just being aware of these takes time. You don’t need to be a perfect person in order to date, but if you’re at least aware of your character defects you at least are able to take responsibility for them when they come up in a relationship.

Maybe before, you used to blame the other person or shut down when conflict arose, but if you’re aware that these are things that you naturally do, you can acknowledge that when these issues come up.

This sounds a lot like the things that are involved in working the Steps.

Big time! The Steps do a really good job. They are designed to allow us to take a look at what our liabilities are and take responsibility for them moving forward. That’s one of the great things that the Steps provide for us. Duffy’s is a 12 Step oriented place. Not everyone who comes here wants to participate in those 12 Steps, but the reason that we talk about the steps is that it’s a style of program that’s free, available almost everywhere and it works really well for most people.

If you are worried about what it’s going to be like to be in a relationship after treatment or are worried about your character defects and if they’re going to come up, maybe working the Steps first would be a great option for you. No one is going to be perfect, but at least you would know that you’re on your way to gaining some emotional maturity.

Lia has been at Duffy’s for almost 3 years now and loves helping people in her role as counselor. She’s also fond of running and taking care of her sweet rescue pets when she’s off the clock.