Sober Dating: Six Tips to Finding Romance Without Compromising Your Recovery
For those of us recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, dating can be a complicated and confusing world. When you finally do decide to start dating again, it is important to seek sober dating advice from those in your support group to make sure the time is right.
When you finally do decide to start dating again, it is important to seek sober dating advice from those in your support group to make sure the time is right.
Many people are aware of the “one-year rule” in 12-Step programs, which suggest waiting at least a year after getting clean to begin dating again. While this is just a suggested time period, many treatment professionals and old-timers have seen the consequences of dating in very early recovery. Whether it is a replacement to fill the void that drugs and alcohol used to fill, or a distraction from actually working on yourself, getting into a relationship too early can lead to complications and consequences for you and your partner.
Recovery and Dating: Building a Strong Foundation
If you are planning to ease back into dating, it’s key to build a strong foundation that can carry you throughout the journey’s ups and downs and keep your sober lifestyle intact. This starts with knowing your boundaries and honestly communicating them to your partner early on (and dating someone who actually respects these boundaries).
For a relationship to thrive, open and honest communication is an absolute must. After all, your partner needs to know the “why” behind your boundaries if they’re going to date you. Being vulnerable and authentic about your history of struggles, as well as your recovery journey, not only establishes trust in a sober relationship, but it also gives your partner the opportunity to be an encouragement along the way.
Practical Sober Dating Tips
Communicating boundaries is a good place to start, but here are a few more tips that can help you navigate the new world of dating in sobriety
Tip #1: Choose Your Dating Pool: Recovery or “Normies”
This can be something that changes over time or on a case-by-case basis, although there are many who typically only date one or the other and still achieve sober relationships. While there are a lot of benefits to dating those in recovery, it can also lead to risky situations. Often, there are times in which one partner relapses and the other follows, though not always.
If you decide that you want to date non-recovering people, it’s best to have some clean time under your belt and be solid in your recovery, as this can lead to tempting situations. You should also always be upfront about your recovery. Honesty from the beginning will help build the foundation for a lasting relationship. Although the idea of dating people with a history of drug and alcohol use can be a turnoff for some, it won’t be for everyone. Being honest will also help establish accountability within the relationship that can enable your new dating partner to help you stay healthy.
Tip #2: Define What You Want in a Partner
One of the best suggestions when it comes to dating in sobriety is making a list of all the qualities you are looking for in a partner. There are many sponsors in 12-Step programs who will suggest that once you make that list, you aim to achieve many of those qualities yourself, then you naturally attract people who have those qualities. If you’ve heard the old saying, “water seeks its own level,” this is what that speaks to. If you find yourself continuously attracting the “wrong” type of partner, this is a great way to figure out exactly what you want in a sober romance.
Tip #3: Prioritize Your Recovery
One of the most important points to remember when dating in recovery is making sure your recovery is always your top priority. There are many exciting parts in the beginning of a relationship. For someone in recovery, that can lead to missed meetings, missed calls to your sponsor, and slacking on participation in your daily program. All of those are ingredients that can lead to relapse, so maintaining a recovery-life balance is key to not only lasting recovery and a sober lifestyle, but also lasting relationships.
One of the most important points to remember when dating in recovery is making sure your recovery is always your top priority.
If you decide to date someone who is in recovery, another important piece of sober dating advice to remember is to keep your programs separate. This means limiting meetings that you attend together and limiting the amount you talk about your own recovery programs. Remember that your program is your own, and the same goes for your partner.
Tip #4: Be Mindful of the “Love Drug”
On top of the excitement that accompanies meeting a potential new partner, we also experience a surge of various hormones scientifically proven to amplify this excitement. It is crucial for you to be aware of this phenomenon often referred to as the “love drug.” A new relationship has the potential to become a substitute for addictive substances.
Many confuse infatuation with love, so it’s a good idea to take it slowly. Again, make sure that you are at a place emotionally that can handle all the new feelings that come with sober dating and be prepared if relationships don’t end the way you expected.
Tip #5: Apply Recovery Principles in Your Relationship
When you enter a new relationship, it doesn’t mean that sober love will automatically happen on its own. Rather, it is essential to take the principles you learn in your recovery program and apply them in your new relationship. The last thing you want is to give up on these principles in this new, important area of your life. Dating without compromise should be your mindset and practicing the 12-Step principles in your relationship will help you stay sober and focused together.
Applying the 12 steps to your relationship can also create a great, lasting foundation if you mutually put the work in throughout your dating experience. Consider the principles behind the steps and see how they’re vital building blocks to loving, sober relationships:
- Honesty creates long-term trust between you and your partner.
- Integrity keeps you committed to your values in any circumstance.
- Open-mindedness allows you both to grow and change for the better.
- Faith gives you hope in something bigger than yourselves.
- Humility leaves room for sincere apologies, cultivates forgiveness, and avoids stubbornness or hurtful arguments.
- Empathy provides a way to understand each other when difficulties arise.
- “Keeping your side of the street clean” helps you stay positive in challenging or hurtful situations.
All these principles, when applied, create a blueprint for relationship longevity. That means regardless of life’s twists and turns, you can stay the course in your sobriety, relationship health, and commitment to each other in both your dating journey and in marriage.
Tip #6: Celebrate Sober Milestones Together
As you’re in recovery and dating, it’s only a matter of time before you reach future sober milestones. When this happens, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate these milestones together as a couple. But that doesn’t mean you have to celebrate by using. Having a nice dinner together, participating in community service, enjoying a spa day, and buying a special gift are just a few celebratory sober date ideas you can consider.
Celebrating these milestones together gives you both the opportunity to encourage each other’s personal growth in sobriety (if you’re both in recovery). As you do, you’ll realize that a supportive partner can make a world of difference in keeping you motivated for the long haul.
Dating Without Compromise: Closing Reflections on Sober Dating
These are just some of the life hacks for sober dating. There are actually many more you can discover from speaking with others in recovery who have been there. The Washington Post also offers some encouragement for those wanting to try sober dating and says it can make initial dates more fun and less stressful, as well as give you a clearer head to gauge mutual compatibility. Experts even say you may feel more confident in being yourself on first dates when sober. Plus, you can plan more creative dates than just going to the bar and you’re more able to prioritize your own needs when searching for a partner.
So as you start dating again, there’s no reason to compromise the recovery work you’ve already done. Instead, you can embrace sober dating with confidence, knowing that it’ll help you be (and find) a better partner, as well as build a strong foundation for long-term success in your relationship. After all, sober love is way better than anything alcohol or drugs can bring into your relationship. Recovery and dating can both be prioritized along your journey.
Just remember, it is impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself. If the relationship you have with yourself is healthy, it leads to genuine, lasting relationships with others. Keep this in mind as you dive into the seas of dating in sobriety. And if you find yourself struggling along the way, just know we are here for you. For Meadows Alumni, you have lifelong backing through Onward, a resource that offers tools and connection to support your recovery. The Meadows Outpatient Center is also here if you or your dating partner find yourself getting off track. Just reach out any time, 24-7, to learn how we can assist you in getting what you need.