With the impending flood of Valentine’s themed everything this month, something to consider in the world of addiction is how dating fits into it, and tools for coping with addiction in relationships. Can you have a healthy relationship with an addict? Does love really conquer all? When should someone in addiction recovery start dating again? This article seeks to answer these and other questions regarding the whirlwind that is dating and addiction.
If you find yourself romantically inclined towards an active addict or someone in recovery, before taking the plunge, take a step back to really consider things. For instance, if you believe addiction is a weakness of character, or you are looking for something casual, or you think you can fix your partner with love, don’t get involved. If you believe these things and you’re already in the thick of it, do both of you a favor and end whatever you’re doing. Though that’s easier said than done, the bottom line is, dating someone in recovery or active addiction means prioritizing their recovery over everything and dealing with the consequences of their past (or present) in ways you may not be ready to take on.
People with addiction are as lovable as anyone else, but you have to consider that there is always the shadow of addiction following them around. The general rule or suggestion is that someone with addiction be at least a year into recovery before they begin dating, as that first year is a time consumed by introspection and work on oneself. Even if legal or health issues are dealt with, the psychological work and self-improvement is never over, as relapse is always looming and possible, even years into recovery. Furthermore, the illusion that love conquers all is not only wrong, but it may be a sign of another major issue, something known as co-dependency.
Co-dependency is a concept that originally applied to people in relationships with addicts, but has been expanded to apply to anyone who participates in unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships. People who are co-dependent typically exhibit low self-esteem and compliance issues that manifest in relationships where they are needed or gain control and satisfaction by being the functional partner who is “rescuing” the other. This is sometimes colloquially referred to as “broken bird” syndrome, where one person obsessively and often selfishly takes in birds with a broken wing, preventing them from healing and flying on their own. In this way, they compulsively deny their own emotions and needs under the guise of good intentions and the power of “being needed.” For the “broken bird,” co-dependency can mean being constantly enabled or permitted to abuse or take advantage of their partner in some way, and never having to learn the error of their ways (heal their wing) or attend to their partner’s needs. Thus, co-dependency is unhealthy for both people in the relationship.
Still, it is possible to have a healthy relationship with an addict or someone in recovery. The key is educating yourself on the subject of addiction, so you can prioritize recovery and have preparations or a definitive plan of action for when relapse strikes. You’ll have to adjust your life in a number of ways in order to receive and give support, and a personal understanding and communication of your own needs is absolutely critical to keep the relationship healthy and balanced. Remember: love is work, love is wonderful, but love, unfortunately, does not conquer all. Whether you are in recovery or you are dating someone in recovery, taking care of yourself and knowing where to draw the line according to what you can handle emotionally and psychologically is of primary importance. Moreover, relationships are a two-way street; if you are working on yourself and your relationship and your partner is not, consider that maybe you aren’t a match. In the end, dating is experimental, so if things aren’t working despite your best efforts, you can always start over again, to the benefits of both partners.