Developing and Maintaining Healthy Relationships in Recovery

Healthy recovery begins by developing a relationship with one’s self while remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol. Through the process of self-discovery in sobriety, there will come the acceptance of a new personal identity, which will lend itself to taking inventory of one’s past behaviors and resentments, and open the door to forgiveness, change, and the development of healthy relationships in the process.

Common advice given to people in early recovery is to refrain from beginning any new intimate relationships for the first year and to take one’s time in carefully evaluating and developing new relationships in general.  The rationale behind such advice is that until there’s a certain growth and maturity in recovery, most people in early sobriety may struggle to initially grasp the skills to effectively identify, own, and process their emotions and feelings. The ability to handle emotions and feelings directly affects the quality of newly forming relationships. Focus in early recovery should begin by understanding one’s own needs, expectations, and feelings before embarking on forming new relationships.

Developing healthy relationships in recovery is desirable and can be achieved successfully. This process helps one better understand self, form a sober support system, and essentially survive in a world that will be embraced with change for someone new to recovery. One may engage or re-engage in forming relationships with a therapist, psychiatrist, recovery coach, or sponsor, or try to re-establish trust with family members or a significant other. So, how does one become successful in journeying from a position of selfishness, negative thinking, resentment, and fear to embracing the beauty of healthy relationships once sober?  Are there such secrets to the trade?  Below are five easy tips to consider when embarking on your journey.

Develop a relationship with yourself first.  The first step in the process is to develop a firm understanding of your own needs in early recovery. Who are you? Prioritize self-care, get to know your newfound self, and accept and love yourself unconditionally. If you are not likely to do this, chances are, you will second guess yourself and live in constant fear and self-doubt, or even project your needs onto others. Understand yourself first, and accept the new you.

Share in the development of healthy relationships.  It is vital to understand that a relationship outside of yourself includes more than one person. Appreciating another perspective, embracing differences, accepting differences, and asking and checking in about how someone is feeling or how their day is going, takes you outside of yourself, and allows one to focus on others, which is something the newly recovering person must get better at doing.

Communicate, communicate, and never stop healthy communication.  Talking, text messaging, and emailing your feelings and what’s on your mind can have a lasting impact on how thoughts and feelings are organized and shared. It is through communication that we understand each other, and effective communication can be learned, even if one was not good at it when drugs and alcohol were around. Keep in mind that both agreements and disagreements can be communicated, and communication should not be intimidating or hostile, and should be a healthy outlet that brings you closer to understanding others outside yourself.

Keep expectations in any relationship honest and reasonable.  One of the most common mistakes in developing early healthy attachments in any relationship is being misunderstood and having unreasonable expectations of one another. One must be able to understand his or her own expectations as well as those of others, without feeling intimidated or fearing retaliation. Communicate expectations and understand that they may not always be met, and have an action plan and a good way to communicate progress in this area, without expecting perfection. Keep in mind that one person may not understand the feelings or thoughts behind the person going through recovery, so be open, honest, and transparent about your feelings and thoughts. Never make assumptions about feelings.

Know when to walk away.  Avoid toxic relationships that may bring back old behavior. Old using, codependent, or enabling friends or significant others, and potential relationships with those who instill a sense of fear or intimidation should be avoided. These situations may bring one back to the relationship you once adored with drugs and alcohol. These situations and relationships can bring on unwanted stress, which can trigger cravings and negative thinking, as well as self-doubt, fear, and resentment, all the necessary ingredients to make you even more vulnerable to relapse. Sometimes in recovery, one may fear loneliness and it’s important to understand and appreciate one’s feelings, and that these feelings do pass. Loneliness does not have to be uncomfortable. Embrace a newly found support system, a healthy self, and avoid walking down memory lane.