It’s finally happened. You’ve met this perfect person who just gets you and with whom you have fun and can even see a future. Everything has been going so great. That is, until they tell you they’re sober – and not just sober but going to AA meetings and working the steps sober. Your mind is suddenly flooded with questions: Can this work? Is this even a good idea? How can I be a supportive partner? So. Many. Questions.
Dating someone in recovery when you’re not has its challenges; however, it’s not altogether impossible. If you really care about this person there are ways to work through it together.
Here are a few tips on how to navigate the world of dating someone in recovery:
Understanding and Empathy Are Key
Dan* has been sober for 25 years and married to his wife, Alana*, who is not sober, for 30 years.
“If you’re going to be with someone who is not sober when you are, make sure you find someone who is the most understanding person in the world. It sounds like an overstatement but it’s really not.”
This is likely your first experience being touched by the disease of addiction. You don’t know what it’s like to be so in love with but equally in hate with alcohol. As an adult, however, what you do know is pain and heartbreak. Think back to those times in your past when you experienced profoundly deep pain. Take those feelings and think of how you would have wanted to be treated or supported. These experiences don’t by any means amount to the exact same thing, but pain is, at the very least, relatable.
There is an Alcoholics Anonymous for Family Members
It’s called Al-Anon and if you’re really serious about making your relationship work it’s probably one of the best things you can do for yourself and your partner. Each meeting consists of a group of people who just like you love someone who is an alcoholic. Everyone shares their struggles, triumphs, and stories which helps them recover from the effects of their loved one’s drinking. Sharing is encouraged but not mandatory and just like a regular AA meeting, al-anon meetings are anonymous.
Find a meeting by searching the Al-Anon website or by calling 1-888-4AL-ANON.
Everyone in Recovery Has Baggage (and You Need to Be Okay With That)
Everyone has emotional baggage – even you! — but when you’re in recovery it can be a huge deterrent to dating.
Liz* shared her experience:
“Before I started dating my now husband, I was super up front with him about my past. I said I’ve done this, this, and this. If you’re not cool with that then I don’t think this is going to work. Which is a weird way to go about it but I just knew I wasn’t going to be okay being with someone who was going to make me feel like shit about my past. Take it or leave it.”
Keeping your search for sober singles within the confines of the AA community can work out much better. You’re more likely to find someone who will not only be accepting of your past but who can also relate to you from their own experiences. But – and this is a big but – you can start something with someone who is in AA even when you’re not. Liz’s honesty and openness may have made for an uncomfortable conversation, but transparency and sincerity are an important part of any relationship’s foundation, sober or not.
Be Prepared to Walk Away
Speaking of honesty, you need to know when your relationship is healthy and stable or if you must make the difficult decision to call it off, even if only temporarily.
For example, Jenna* started dating a guy in AA but after a few months, he started getting distant:
“Things were going really well then he started to pull away. I questioned him on this and he ultimately came clean with the fact that he is currently in AA and working on his 12 steps and has been discouraged by his sponsor to date.”
If your significant other needs to put their focus on recovery 110%, you should do anything you can to be supportive. That might mean having a real conversation about your role in their recovery, but it can also sometimes mean walking away from the situation. Despite your feelings, it can ultimately be the best thing for both of you. But no one can tell you if it’s a good idea. You kind of just have to follow your heart in such matters. Just be honest with yourself and with your partner and together you’ll make the right decision.