Significant Other Drinks but I’m a Recovering Alcoholic
Relationships are difficult enough, but compound that with a relationship with an alcoholic and the strain is unbearable. Since relationships are two-way streets, so is recovery.
If you are in the early stages of recovery for alcohol use disorder, being in a relationship with an alcoholic creates a dangerous situation. On the other side, if you do not have alcohol use disorder, being in a relationship with an addict or even a recovering addict has its own set of challenges.
Regardless of the dynamic of the situation, having a relationship with an alcoholic may force you to make some heartbreaking decisions. But those tough decisions could save your life. Our experts can help you figure out your next steps. Call 614-502-6247 today to get more information about addiction and relationships.
Are you worried about your significant other drinking but you are in recovery? Continue reading below for resources on how to handle a situation like this.
There’s no doubt our nation has a drinking problem. 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
About 7.9 percent of adults who had AUD in the past year received treatment. An estimated 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes.
Couples who have similar drinking patterns report being happier. In other words, couples in which both partners drank or both abstained were happier than couples with different drinking habits.
New Beginnings, Old Problems
If your recovery is still new but you are in a relationship with an alcoholic, you have to understand the risks you are facing. Here are some tips for dating an alcoholic to help you protect your fledgling sobriety.
Put your recovery first
Make your recovery your priority and do everything you can and must to keep it safe. This advice comes from Anita Gadhia-Smith, a psychotherapist who practices in the District of Columbia and Bethesda, Maryland.
She says this means making the hard choice of putting your counseling sessions and support-group meetings ahead of spending time with your partner. If you are in dating an alcoholic who is having a negative effect on your emotional, professional or physical well-being, it’s time to change your priorities and put yourself first.
Develop a sobriety support network
Many people who are in the early stages of recovery are advised to develop a sobriety support network. That may mean breaking away from your old group of friends because they are still drinking. Also, by building a support team to guide you through recovery, you can continue to heal even if your addicted partner isn’t there for you. You won’t have to shed your relationship with a partner who is still using — unless you want to.
Don’t get dragged down trying to help
If from your new vantage point of sobriety, it’s clear your partner’s drug and alcohol use is careening out of control, suggest they join a support group or get treatment. You can even help organize an intervention. But remember — trying is all you can do. If your partner’s drug or alcohol abuse worsens you should seriously think about walking away. It’s tough, but you fought hard for your recovery.
How Recovery Affects the Always-Sober Partner
We know that when two alcoholics are dating, and one gets sober the relationship shifts. But that same thing also happens when an alcoholic with a partner who doesn’t drink enters recovery. This new destabilization in the relationship opens the door to positive changes.
However, it also can be a tricky transition as the partners find themselves playing new roles, especially the sober partner.
First, the sober partner is living with the knowledge that other periods of non-drinking by her partner didn’t last. So, it’s understandable that the straight partner is wary of a potential relapse.
If this time around, the recovery is on a firmer footing, the sober spouse may lack purpose. Counselor Darlene Lancer writes in PsychCentral that the new sobriety leaves a void.
Feelings of anxiety, anger, loss, boredom, and depression may arise. The spouse is now ‘out of a job’ of watching, enabling, and checking up on the addict, also taking over responsibilities.
The spouse will also worry about not being loved or longer being enough, as the newly sober partner becomes more independent.
Lancer writes that “partners are accustomed to their roles — the addict being unreliable and dependent, and the partner being a super-responsible fixer.”
Shaking those roles is difficult. Recovering addicts likely will feel shame and guilt for what they put a partner through. The partner may become resentful about their partner’s past actions. Then there’s the hurdle of the sober partner letting go of control of her newly sober spouse. This is happening at the same time the recovering spouse is trying to become more self-sufficient.
In this new dynamic, couples need time to rebuild trust and confidence in each other. Outside help in the form of support meetings will help the team learn new coping and communication skills.
Maintaining Recovery and Relationships
While it’s a good thing that a partner has entered recovery, as we’ve seen, there is a shift in the relationship dynamic. One major change is the recovering partner’s desire to immediately make things right with a loved one.
However, a relationship that took years of damage cannot be repaired overnight. As recovery expert Dan Mager writes in Psychology Today, the process of recovery requires the newly sober to realize that life brings pain and to accept it.
“Part of this process is accepting that repairing the damage your addiction has done to your relationships will only happen gradually over time — based on what you do rather than what you say.”
Instead of worrying about fixing relationships, he advises that the newly sober partner focus on their recovery. Through this approach, relationships are likely to improve over time. The best way to resolve relationship issues is through slow, incremental change.
Healthy relationships are critical during the recovery process. These are found through treatment, services, and community-based programs. Family members, friends and other loved ones also can be a part of the recovery process.
As a person in recovery moves from the isolation of addiction into the wider world, benefits and challenges will appear. You should take inventory of your relationships and sift through which are helpful and which will trigger you. Part of the process is extricating oneself from toxic relationships. As a recovering alcoholic, it is equally important to not begin dating an alcoholic that puts your new sobriety at risk.
If you’re becoming close to someone, be upfront and tell them you don’t take drugs or alcohol. If you are in recovery, having a relationship with an alcoholic puts your sobriety as risk, especially if this person has just entered your life.
Dating an Alcoholic
As a recovering alcoholic, should you continue dating an alcoholic? This is really your call. If you’ve been sober for years, you’re likely on a strong footing. Is it wise to be in a relationship with an alcoholic? Again, that’s your call. Here are some tips for dating an alcoholic.
If you believe your partner has or is developing a substance use disorder, set the ground rules for your relationship. These rules will keep your recovery on track and possibly help your addicted loved one. Here are some boundaries you can agree on:
- Alcohol and other drugs are not allowed in the house
- Your partner is not allowed in the house when intoxicated
- Drug– or alcohol–using friends are not allowed in the house
- Personal communication when intoxicated is not allowed
- Your partner cannot ask to borrow things such as money or your car.
Put energy into maintaining your own self-care routines. This will build resiliency and allow you to help your partner without sacrificing your well-being.
You’ve been there. If you help your partner enter the treatment you can expect recovery, but you will also be prepared for relapse. Your own experiences have shown you that while some people can achieve a long-term recovery on their first attempt, it may take others multiple attempts over several years.
You must also be prepared for the possibility that no matter how supportive you are, your alcoholic partner is at the point where they are unable to make rational decisions to seek help. You may have to involuntarily send them to treatment by using your state’s civil commitment laws. If you feel you physically may be in harm’s way or the relationship is threatening your hard-earned sobriety, it may be time to end things with your partner.
While it may seem counterintuitive for a recovering alcoholic to be in a relationship with an alcoholic, the romantic heart makes it possible. But if you have gone through the fire of treatment to reach recovery, you also have the knowledge that being in a relationship with an alcoholic may not be what’s best for you. You can be dating an alcoholic and love them, but also understand that their substance use disorder is not your responsibility.
To learn more about dating an alcoholic while you are in recovery, please reach out to our addiction experts at the number below. We have the knowledge and treatment resources you need.
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