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How to navigate relationships in recovery

The drugs and alcohol are out of your system. You are feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a long and hard binge and detox process. Your libido is back. Your priority needs to be on staying sober. The last thing you want is the added stress of a new relationship.

Another reason for why people are advised to avoid relationships in the first year of recovery is that they need to get to know themselves better before they choose a partner. You may try to use romance as a replacement for alcohol or drugs. All you will be doing is substituting one addiction with another. Until you have managed to build a strong recovery, you will be vulnerable in a new relationship.

How to Navigate Romantic Relationships in Recovery

People in sobriety can find romantic relationships to be their hardest challenge. Some may have abused alcohol and drugs in the beginning because they lacked the confidence to meet new people. When you become sober, you may once again struggle with shyness.

These are some effective ways for people to navigate romantic relationships in recovery:

Take Suggestions

Although it isn’t explicitly written, many people in recovery and professionals in the addictions field say it is best to completely avoid new romantic relationships for at least the first year of recovery.

Get a Plant

Old timers in AA offer the following steps that people should take before beginning a romance in recovery. First they should buy a plant and take care of this. If the plant is still flourishing after one year then they should buy a pet. If after two years the plant and the pet are doing well only then should people feel ready for a romantic relationship.

Get to Know Yourself

In order for people to be happy in their relationships, they first need to be happy with themselves. Find out what interests you have such as hobbies, leisure activities, sports, etc. Get out and play. Meet sober friends.

Beware of Thirteen Steppers

Thirteenth stepping refers to a situation where an experienced AA or NA member begins a sexual relationship with a newcomer. Being newly sober, you are vulnerable. You will rely on the other members of the fellowship to help you find your feet in sobriety. Unfortunately, there are people who will try to take advantage of such vulnerability to satisfy their own sexual desires.

Be Aware of Codependency

Many alcoholics and addicts are also codependent in their relationships. This means that you put more effort into the relationship than the other person does, that you always put their needs before your own, and that you would rather stay in the relationship even if you are unhappy because you are afraid to be alone. Look out for this in others, too.

Talk to Your Sponsor

Dealing with romantic relationships in recovery is probably the most stressful challenge you will face in sobriety. Your sponsor is someone you can trust and, in fact, have trusted with guiding you through the Steps (especially think of Steps 4 and 5) so they know you pretty well. Your sponsor is a sounding board and a source for advice.


Remember: During the early years of recovery, sobriety should be your first priority. If a relationship threatens your recovery then you may need to walk away.

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