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How do I relationship: Heidi gives advice on new relationships in recovery

I sat down with our very own Heidi Bilonick McGuirk, a lifestyle coach here at Palm Partners, who specializes in relationships. We asked Heidi a few burning questions regarding relationships and recovery that all of us have or have had at one time or another.

1. When am I ready to start a romantic relationship in recovery?

That depends…. When you think about a relationship, what do you picture? Do you focus on the wonder and excitement of the attraction stage or do you focus on the relationship reality?

This is a question I get a lot and later, I will give you some better questions to ask. Most people think a relationship is about the feelings they get in the initial attraction stage. These kinds of people subscribe to the “love at first sight” mentality and say things like, “When it’s the right person, it’s not work.” That’s probably the biggest lie we have been sold. Of course relationships take work! So, instead of focusing on the initial chemical reactions of meeting someone new (AKA- the high), focus on the reality of responsibility after that high wears off (because it will as all highs do).

Here are a few better questions to help you decipher your relationship readiness: Am I ready to negotiate and compromise my life with another human being? Am I ready to be responsible for my own feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that will inevitable be presented to me? Am I ready to see myself (strengths and weaknesses) through the eyes of another?  Do I have healthy relationships skills? Am I happy alone? Have I cleared up my “junk” surrounding my last relationship? Am I ready to teach a partner how to treat me by demonstrating self-care and self-love? What do I expect in a relationship? What are my boundaries?

I believe if most people took more time to clearly evaluate their relationship readiness, they would decide to hold off.  We can all benefit from taking extra time to work on ourselves before deciding to incorporate another person into our already complex lives. It’s good to remember that while relationships can be your greatest source of pleasure, they can also be your greatest source of pain. So, you want to be as healthy as you can before diving in. Perhaps the final question is, “How is your relationship with yourself?” It’s a great question because like attracts like. So, the relationship you have with yourself is likely the relationship you will attract. Said another way, the question begs, “Would you want to date yourself?”


2. How do I make sure the relationship doesn’t interfere with my sobriety? How do I find balance?

Variety is the “slice” of life.

Who are you? A Mother? A Son? An Addict? A Pilot? A Waitress? A Wife? A Boyfriend? A Comedian? A Helper? In other words, what is your identity? The reality is that we are MANY different people. We all have many roles we play in life. What defines who you are? People who struggle with balance have difficulty because they usually lock themselves into ONE role most of the time. Then, their life becomes unbalanced. The Mother says, “My children run my life.” The Helper says, “No one is ever there for me.” And what does the Addict say?

I suppose that depends on where you are in your recovery.

There are many parts to your life, including your sobriety. In fact, picture your life as a pie for a minute. No really- go on. Pretend each slice is an important piece of your life. Maybe one slice is “Spirituality,” another slice may be “Social Life”. Perhaps you have several more slices that include: Recreation/Hobbies, Career, Personal Development, Family, Relationships, and Recovery. Everyone’s pie will vary depending on what important to them.  If you drew out this pie and you rated slices on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being totally fulfilled (delicious) and 1 being severely lacking (terrible), where would you rank each slice? How would your life “taste?”

Those who tend to put one role or “slice” in a dominant position, tend to do the same thing when they get into a relationship. Either that “other thing” always comes first, or the new relationship comes first. The trick to balance is ensuring all slices get attention. Sure, one day you may need to focus more on spirituality, and the next, your friendships require your attention. But all in all, you have a healthy attention to all of the things that matter to make your life fulfilling, AKA- balanced.


3. If I do decide I’m ready for a relationship, how can I meet the “right” kind of partner and avoid the “wrong” kind of partner, as in, someone who isn’t healthy enough for a relationship or someone who isn’t looking for the same thing (i.e. they’re just looking for a fling)?

Probably the most frequently asked question is, “How do I attract the right person?”  I usually assume here that whoever is asking this question is asking because their dating life resembles the following: You met someone new and get really excited! She/he seems so different! He listens! She’s open! He communicates! She respects you! This person is nothing like your last relationship! You then start to imagine your future. You think about how different this relationship will be. You see all of the wonderful qualities in this new person.

Then, some time passes, and you start to feel that old familiar feeling….disappointment. “Wait a minute!” You protest. “This relationship IS JUST LIKE my last relationship!”

“What happened?” You wonder.

“They CHANGED!” You decide.

Did they change? No.  The reality is that when you first meet someone, you are high. When they say “Love is blind” what they mean is, “You’re high.”   And you are high on all of the feel-good chemicals produced in your brain by new love such as dopamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin. These drugs enable you to focus mostly on what you love about that person (beer goggles).  But, after a few weeks, the drugs start to wear off and you start to “sober up” and see things more clearly.  More than likely, this is the exact way your last relationship started and ended, and if you don’t learn the lesson, the next one after this one as well.

There is a universal law at work when you are attracting this same person with a different name and face. The law at work is the Law of Attraction.  Simply put: Like Attracts Like.  What that means to me and you is, in relationships, you don’t attract WHAT YOU WANT, you attract WHO YOU ARE.  So, if you want to blame someone for your bad relationships, it’s time to look inward. Or, if you still want to look at your partner that’s ok too, because she/he is simply a mirror, reflecting back to you how you feel about yourself.  You will attract the “wrong person” when you are being the Wrong Person for yourself.

Basically, here it is, “how do you attract the right person for you?” You become the person you seek. You become the right person for you. Ask yourself, “What do I want in a partner?” In fact, make a list of what you want in a partner. Try NOT to make it a checklist that looks like this:

1.            Attractive,

2.            Athletic,

3.            Successful

Instead, ask yourself, what character traits make up the qualities you seek. For example, if I want someone who is successful, what qualities does that person need to possess in order to be successful? I would imagine, this short list would include dedication, perseverance, charisma, etc.

Next, take a look at your list of character traits and ask yourself “How do I demonstrate that I possess these qualities?” Are you even in possession of these qualities in the first place? Now is the time to take a good look at you and ask, “Am I what I want to attract?” If not, take some time to become the person you seek. That way, you will do two things: 1. You will be sure to attract “the right person” next time and 2. You will enjoy “the right person” while you wait.

Heidi Bilonick McGuirk is a Master Certified Relationship Coach.  She has consulted for several top Matchmaking and Dating companies around the world. She has served as the Director of Operations for the Matchmaking Institute in NYC and has been in private practice for over a decade. 

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