Addicts look outside of themselves to soothe themselves internally. When the substances are removed, the recovering person may look to other things outside of themselves to regulate their feelings and increase self-esteem. Relationships can be used in this way in early recovery. For this reason, relationships in early recovery can become consuming, can pose as a distraction to working one’s program thoroughly, and therefore can result in relapse.
One’s choice in partners is often a reflection of one’s self-esteem and in early recovery, it’s often deficient. The recovering individual will often choose an unhealthy partner that they may not have chosen at a later stage in their recovery. In addiction, because relationships can be utilized to mask issues of low self-esteem, the recovering person may become unaware of their feelings of inadequacy until a problem occurs in the relationship. When that happens, not only do they lack the skills necessary for coping with feelings of inadequacy, but they must also manage the pain associated with the relationship issues. With limited coping strategies, the combination may be enough to result in a relapse. Unless a recovering individual has insight into their low self-esteem and negative core beliefs, they can’t be addressed therapeutically.
Until which point a recovering person has therapeutically addressed and resolved their history of trauma, they are at risk for reenacting their history of trauma by choosing an unhealthy partner. When one’s trauma is reenacted, it reinforces one’s negative core beliefs, which can result in a relapse. Many recovering people struggle with their identity in early recovery. If one is unsure as to who they are, what they want in life, and what their preferences are, how can a person make a wise decision regarding a romantic partner?
If your partner is also in early recovery, it is possible that you and your partner will be growing in different ways during your recovery journey. Even if you and your partner are working strong, parallel programs, each partner may progress at a different pace and each may grow in different ways. Many people in early recovery have abandonment issues. Relationship issues, particularly a break-up can trigger issues of abandonment and can result in a relapse.
The boundaries of the recovering person are often poor in early recovery, which may make a person prone to being taken advantage of or being mistreated by their significant other. If this happens, one’s self-esteem may worsen further predisposing a person to a relapse. Other individuals may present as controlling and intrusive of others’ boundaries, which may harm their partner and therefore, their relationship. Your significant other may be invested in keeping you sick if you’re getting healthy threatens them. They may actively attempt to sabotage your recovery and keep you sick.
For the most part, people in early recovery have not yet resolved their own issues of low self-esteem, trauma, and/or abandonment, they are likely to choose unhealthy partners that are co-dependent and enabling. People in early recovery are often uncomfortable being vulnerable and often avoid intimacy, which is necessary for a relationship to be healthy and to flourish. For each recovering individual, the goals and time frame associated with this will vary and should be developed collaboratively with their therapist.
If you are adamant that they want to pursue a relationship despite being recommended otherwise, it may be suggested that you disclose this honestly to your therapist and sponsor. You might not like the initial reaction, but if you refrain from disclosing this information, your support system in navigating the relationship may be limited and inadequate. Of course, your friends may be able to offer some support and advice when things get rough, but your therapist and sponsor are important members of your treatment team and are the best equipped to help guide you.
In the early portion of the relationship, you may feel that things are unfolding perfectly and you may not be able to imagine that the two of you could possibly encounter any difficulties. This would be great if it persisted indefinitely but it is not realistic. Eventually, there will be a conflict, differences in communication, and even a potential break-up.
If your therapist and sponsor are already aware of the relationship, you will most likely be apt to contact them for support. However, if they don’t know about the relationship, it’s more likely that you will not go to them for support and will be left without necessary help. Hopefully this information sheds some light on relationships in early recovery and serves to caution people to at least share the status of their relationships with their therapist and sponsor.