There are lots of things to consider when you’re dating a recovering alcoholic. A lot of the factors depend on when you enter into the relationship. Was your partner already sober, in the middle of getting sober or just starting out? You’ll find that what you need to know depends on where he or she is on the sobriety spectrum.
In general, anyone trying to get a handle on his or her sobriety is taking steps to improve their lives for any number of reasons, and this is a good thing. However, getting sober is a challenge and a struggle for so many people and it’s not easy.
When you’re dating a recovering alcoholic it’s important to understand why sobriety is important (or necessary) for them. Is it because they don’t like how they act when they’re drinking? Have they been ordered to get sober? (In this case you should probably ask why, just to protect your own safety)
The vast majority of recovering alcoholics want to maintain their sobriety no matter how difficult it is. If you’re dating a recovering alcoholic you’re part of their journey so it’s important to understand how you can support your partner, as well as knowing what you might encounter in your relationship.
Things to Know when Dating a Recovering Alcoholic
Since each person will have a different journey to sobriety, it’s important that you understand your partner’s specific needs. Never make assumptions. You need to have a conversation about where your partner is in the journey and how you can support him.
One of the first questions people ask when dating a recovering alcoholic is whether or not you should drink around him. That will vary on a case by case basis. Like dating a vegetarian or being with someone with strict religious convictions, a recovering alcoholic may or may not want to be around people who aren’t sober. Odds are good that they will be fine with your drinking, but it’s important to be clear on the issue so as to avoid problems.
Having alcohol in the house (if you live together) could be a huge – and unnecessary – temptation that should be avoided. Going out and having a drink is one thing, but the last thing you want to do is to keep alcohol around and put your partner into an uncomfortable situation.
And when it comes to drinking in social situations, this too requires a mutual understanding. Be sure to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about drinking in social situations. Should you drink in their presence at parties, events or dinners? Should you avoid situations where alcohol will be served?
These are important things to understand when dating a recovering alcoholic, but they’re just the basics. Below are some of the other considerations to keep in mind.
Sobriety Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Going cold turkey on anything in life is hard. Quitting drinking is easy for some people and harder for others. There are so many considerations to factor in, from how much you drink to how much you want to drink, and lots of things in between.
Some people quit on their own, going cold turkey or slowly tapering consumption until they stop entirely. For other people, quitting drinking isn’t something they can do without support. They have been to rehab, or they have support groups. Once they have quit, many recovering alcoholics attend Alcoholics Anonymous regularly to make sure they stay sober.
Sobriety comes in various forms, and it can come about quickly or it can take a long time. When you’re with someone who is just starting out, be advised that it’s going to be a very stressful time for him. He will feel withdrawals, and there will be times when the urge to drink is almost overpowering. He might mess up. But just know that over time, it should get better.
There are some recovering alcoholics who struggle with sobriety every day, even after decades of being sober. The bottom line is that you need to understand where your partner is on the journey and be sensitive to their needs.
Stress Can Derail Progress
Since sobriety is already a tenuous process, being with a recovering alcoholic during stressful periods can trigger the urge to drink.
Holidays are hard on everyone, but they can be especially difficult for a recovering alcoholic. Being around family is hard enough, and not being able to drink can make it even harder. The entire holiday season can lead to depression, especially if your partner is missing a family member or is stressed out by seeing family again. Make sure you’re aware of how your partner feels ahead of the holidays so you know what could happen.
Stress in one’s daily life can also trigger the need to drink. A bad day at work, car trouble, an argument with a friend or financial trouble can all serve as triggers. Some people are better at dealing with those stressors than others, so again it’s very important to be there for your partner to redirect the stress and keep him on track.
Stay Safe, Above All
When it comes to being with a recovering alcoholic, you have to understand your place. If you have a normal relationship, great. If you were the victim of abuse when your partner was drinking, then you need to be aware that when she slips up you could be in danger once again.
There are support groups for people who have loved ones who are recovering alcoholics. These groups provide resources for family members, spouses and children of recovering alcoholics, and they’re a great place to learn about how to support your partner if you’re new to the relationship.
The Bottom Line
Dating a recovering alcoholic is something that could go a variety of ways, and so you’re best served by being aware of what could happen so that you’re ready for it.
Some recovering alcoholics live totally normal lives after getting sober while others struggle to maintain that sobriety. Be prepared for when your partner slips up, because it can absolutely, especially during periods of high stress.
When possible, be supportive of your partner when they slip up, provided of course that they’re trying to stay sober. A momentary lapse is one thing, but falling off the wagon and getting back into old habits is a red flag. And if you are in danger when your partner slips up, then you need to seriously consider whether this is a good relationship for you. At the end of the day, though, remember that most recovering alcoholics want to remain sober, so as long as you’re seeing progress your relationship is going in the right direction.