Why is it suggested to wait a year to get into a relationship in early recovery?
Updated: Jul 25
You may have heard that it is best to wait a year before getting into a relationship when you enter recovery. Be assured that it is suggested not because your treatment centre or sponsor does not want you to have love, intimacy, or connection. It is because they know that early addiction recovery is a fragile time. During the first year, it is extremely important to be careful about who you allow into your life and what kind of relationships you pursue.
A year may seem like a long time, but there are good reasons for this recommendation. This blog post will explore some of the reasons and challenges that can occur when entering into a new relationship in early sobriety. If you are in early addiction recovery and are thinking about starting a new relationship, please read on!
Brain chemistry: The brain is working hard to restore balance and heal itself from the damage of addiction. Drug and alcohol, and even behavioural addictions, alter the way the brain functions. You are also building new neuropathways during which new, healthier ones are replacing old patterns of behaviour. It takes time for those changes to reverse. Until the brain is fully recovered, it can be challenging to make healthy decisions about relationships.
Trauma bonds: A trauma bond is a close, emotional bond that forms between two people because of shared trauma or stress. We can be vulnerable and gravitate to unhealthy relationships because they mimic the chaos we had in addictions. The brain is comfortable with toxic and unhealthy relationships, and the subconscious will seek out these unhealthy bonds because it is what we know best. In order to promote healing and growth, it is vital to seek out supportive relationships and avoid those that are harmful.
Lust and dopamine: When someone is in the throes of lust, their brain releases a flood of dopamine, which gives them a rush of pleasure and excitement. This dopamine release is similar to what happens when someone uses cocaine. It can lead to compulsive behaviours and an addiction to the person or thing that sparked the initial feelings of desire.
Relapse: The neurochemistry of early recovery is such that you are more vulnerable to relapse if you get involved in a toxic or unhealthy relationship. If we enter into a relationship before we are ready, we may find ourselves in situations that trigger our addiction. We may be exposed to drugs or alcohol, or we may be put in an emotionally charged situation that we are not yet prepared to deal with. We need to be confident in our sobriety before we can be in a relationship.
Are you your best self: It takes about a year in recovery to get to know who you really are. Early recovery is a time of self-exploration and self-discovery. As we sober up and begin to deal with our issues, we learn more about who we are and what we want out of life. More importantly, we learn what we have to offer in a relationship instead of seeking something from our relationships. Getting into a relationship before we are truly ready can be unfair to both ourselves and our partners.
Learning how to love: We need to know how to have healthy relationships. Part of recovery is learning how to have healthy, supportive relationships. If we enter into a relationship before we are ready, we may not have the skills we need to make it work. We might not now know how to communicate, trust, support or respect our partner's boundaries. We may also end up in a relationship that is not right for us, or we may find ourselves in a situation we are unprepared to handle.
Focusing on YOUR recovery: When we are first sober, we need to focus on our recovery and on building a foundation for a new life. We need to work on ourselves before we can be ready to share our lives with someone else. During this time, it is crucial to focus on self-care and healing. Establishing healthy habits and routines will help support your recovery and reduce stress. The basics, like exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and taking time for yourself, are critical. These things will help to balance your mood and energy levels and make it easier to deal with triggers and cravings.
Trading one addiction for another: Our relationship or new relationships can become a new drug of choice. People can become addicted to many different things, including relationships. When a person becomes addicted to a relationship, they may begin to feel like they cannot live without the other person. They may become obsessed with the idea of being with the other person and may go to extreme lengths to make sure that the relationship does not end. This can often lead to codependent behaviour, where the addicted individual begins to rely on the other person for their emotional needs.
Tips for Staying Single in Early Recovery
If you have decided to stay out of relationships during your first year in recovery, congratulations! This is a big decision, and it can be a really great way to focus on your sobriety. Here are a few tips to help you stick to your pledge:
Learn to love yourself: Learning to love yourself is a process that takes time and patience. It can be difficult to break out of negative self-talk and establish healthy self-esteem, self-sufficiency and self-love, but it is worth the effort.
Learn to love your fellows: Relationships require fundamental skills like listening, respecting boundaries, trust, etc. Once we begin to love ourselves, we can take that love outwards to our fellows – brotherly love. One of the best ways to learn how to do this is by spending time with people who are already good at it. As they say, “stick with the winners”.
Learn the skills to love others: There is no shame in seeking outside help. You can find a mentor or a therapist. Therapy can provide an opportunity to explore relationship dynamics and learn new skills for relating to others. With counselling, you can learn how to express your needs and wants clearly and assertively, how to set boundaries, and how to resolve conflict in a constructive way. You can also learn how to create more intimacy and closeness in your relationships.
A final key reason for abstaining from dating in your first year of recovery is the importance of building a solid support system. You will make many new friends who will help you see that you can have fun in sobriety. In fact, we require it. There will be laughter, camaraderie, and brotherly love. Many adventures await you!