Dating in Recovery: Does Your Partner Also Have to Be Sober?

To Date or Not to Date During Recovery?

Embarking on a new journey to sobriety is a big transition — a positive one, but still a significant change. In general, therapists and treatment centers alike recommend that someone who’s new to sobriety aims to achieve at least 12 months of recovery before starting to date or enter into a more committed relationship. After all, once you’ve taken the first step toward breaking your addiction, you owe it to yourself to devote much of your time to rediscover yourself, helping to heal past relationships with loved ones and doing whatever it takes to keep you on the recovery course.

In many ways, dating someone new can become a distraction from your main objective. That said, it is possible to begin a new relationship or nurture an existing one while still protecting your sobriety. And while there’s no single “right” path to pursue, there are elements you should consider to boost your chances of success, both in staying sober as well as building a strong, healthy relationship.

Make recovery your top priority.

When first dating someone, it can be tempting to focus more on the other person and find ways to maximize your time together. But you owe it to yourself to “stay your recovery course”: continue to do whatever you find is helping you resist the urge to turn to drugs or alcohol, whether that’s attending 12-step meetings every day, fitting in regular exercise, or frequently meeting your sponsor. Be honest when addressing your priorities with your partner. Ultimately, if they are worth your time, they will understand and want you to succeed in staying sober as well.

Know your triggers.

Because you’re in recovery doesn’t always mean that the other person also has to abstain. There are healthy relationships between one individual who drinks and one who doesn’t, but again, honesty and a willingness to be true to your needs is critical to making this work. For instance, your previous lifestyle may have entailed regular happy hours at the end of the day. Your partner may be fine with letting go of that routine and replacing it with something that better supports your recovery, or they may still want to meet friends on occasion.

It’s up to you to identify your triggers, and if accompanying your partner to a bar at the end of the day makes you feel anxious about revisiting a familiar situation during recovery, opt-out. Don’t feel guilty about not wanting to challenge your newfound sobriety, just be upfront with your partner so they understand your motives. Similarly, if your partner typically keeps a stocked bar at home to entertain, it’s OK to ask them to consider relocating the liquor cabinet to somewhere out of the main living area.

Establish clear boundaries.

Finally, sit down together and talk about the importance of setting boundaries. What concessions are you willing to make, what are your non-negotiables, and what kinds of consequences will follow if boundaries aren’t respected? For example, if you find yourself out late and you’re ready to go home but your partner is not, agree in advance that you can head home when you’ve had enough and they are free to call a rideshare at the end of the evening.

Once you’ve agreed to healthy boundaries, you need to consider how you’ll react if and when those boundaries are ignored. Possibly not the outcome you’re hoping for, but in the end, you need to be open to the idea that if someone can’t respect your boundaries and fully support your sobriety, they may not be the best partner for you. Recovery is personal growth, and if your partner isn’t willing to help you grow, keep your own company until you find someone who wants what you want.

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