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10 Tips for Building Healthy Relationships in Early Sobriety

Whether you are working on rebuilding a romantic relationship that barely survived addiction, connecting with new friends, or just trying to get along with coworkers at work, there is an art to building healthy relationships in recovery. Especially for those who are new to socializing without the use of drugs or alcohol, it can take some time to learn how to function healthfully without “social lubrication” and to learn how to make genuine connections comfortably.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. You are a great person to be around. No matter how you feel about yourself right now – or how people treat you based on events that transpired during your active addiction – you are changing and growing into a healthier, more balanced person every day. Because you are doing the hard work to better yourself and make healthy choices every day, you are a good friend to have around and a positive influence on the people around you.
  2. The past will play a role. Especially if you are in the process of repairing a relationship that began before or during addiction, it will be impossible to completely excise your addiction history from your current relationships. That is not necessarily a bad thing – it means that you have the opportunity to look back at how you have functioned previously in your relationships, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to make changes that will improve all your relationships going forward.
  3. Your first relationship is with yourself. Take the time to truly get to know yourself and allow yourself to evolve in recovery before trying to acclimate to the needs and desires of others in relationships. The stronger you are in your self-understanding and the stronger you are in your sobriety, the easier it will be to build strong relationships with others.
  4. You need to be stable in recovery before taking on serious relationships. It is one thing to develop acquaintanceships with people at work and it is quite another to start dating in early recovery. Before you attempt to develop serious relationships that have the ability to impact your emotions and therefore your ability to stay sober, it is important that you pause and honestly assess your recovery. Determine whether or not you have the ability to manage the ups and downs that are inevitable to new romance.
  5. You can learn from past relationship patterns. Though some of your choices during addiction were influenced heavily by drug and alcohol use, the patterns that you exhibited in prior relationships may very well rise again in sobriety – especially early sobriety. Consider what has happened in your past relationships – the good and the bad – so you can know what to look for in order to circumvent trouble.
  6. Codependency may be an issue. For many in recovery, codependency played a key role in addiction and may be something significant to overcome in relationships of all kinds, from the workplace to “the rooms” to home. An imbalance in relationships, codependency is often defined by manipulation by one party and an unhealthy need to please in another. The problem is that this can enable a return to addiction because there are no healthy boundaries in place – a primary concern in early recovery.
  7. Hiding your past in addiction isn’t healthy. As you meet new people, you will be faced with the task of determining when it is appropriate to talk about your recovery status and how much about your addiction past you should divulge. This will vary depending on the person you are talking to and your current relationship with them, but if you are seeking to have a new friend in your life who will be more than an acquaintance, then honesty about your sobriety is essential.
  8. You are not automatically the least healthy person in a new relationship. Many in recovery assume that they are the ones who are “sick” and therefore everyone they meet is healthy by comparison. Not true. It is important to remain vigilant when bringing new people into your life and to notice any red flags. Dishonesty, violence, drug and alcohol use, or any kind of unhealthy behavior should be a warning sign that it is time to move on.
  9. It is important to take things slow. Moving too quickly in a friendship or romantic relationship can get you enmeshed in an unhealthy connection that gets in the way of your recovery. Go slow in all your new relationships and allow them to unfold naturally over time.
  10. Your recovery must always take precedence. No matter how amazing a new person in your life is or how good you feel when you spend time with someone, it is important to make sure that your number one priority is your recovery. Continue to attend 12-Step meetings, show up to therapy sessions, and put your daily health first (e.g., eating healthfully, getting good sleep, working out regularly, etc.). This is the only way you can ensure that you will continue to make positive progress in your sobriety and be a great friend or partner while healthfully managing any stressors that arise in the new relationship.

What have you learned from embarking on new relationships in recovery? How do you work to keep your new connections healthy and place your recovery in the forefront of your life?