This blog was updated January 21st, 2020
Common advice given to people in early recovery is to refrain from beginning any new intimate relationships for the first year and to take the time to carefully evaluate and develop new relationships in general. The rationale behind this advice is that until there’s a certain amount of 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. The focus in early recovery should include understanding your 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 build self-awareness, form a sober support system, and survive in a world that can pose many challenges for someone new to recovery. You may revisit or form relationships with a therapist, psychiatrist, recovery coach, or sponsor, or try to re-establish trust with family members or a significant other. So, how do you achieve success in journeying from a position of selfishness, negative thinking, resentment, and fear to embracing the beauty of healthy relationships once sober? Is there a secret to building positive relationships in recovery? Below are five easy tips to consider when embarking on your journey to overcome addiction.
How to Build Stronger Bonds in Recovery
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 and accepting differences, and checking in with someone about how they are feeling or how their day is going takes you outside of yourself, allowing you to focus on others—an essential skill for those in early recovery from addiction.
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 you were 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. Initiating conversations about recovery and unrelated topics brings you closer to understanding others outside of yourself.
Keep expectations in any relationship honest and reasonable.
One of the most common mistakes in developing early attachments in any relationship is being misunderstood and having unreasonable expectations for one another. You must be able to understand your 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. Have an action plan and an effective way to communicate progress without expecting perfection. Keep in mind that the other person may not understand your feelings or thoughts as a person in 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 you back to a relationship that once involved 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. People in recovery often fear loneliness. It’s important to understand and appreciate these feelings and know that they will pass. Loneliness does not have to be uncomfortable. Find a hobby you enjoy and try to meet people who share your interests by finding events near you or activities that attract empathetic, like-minded people. Embrace a newfound support system and a healthier self, and avoid walking down memory lane.