By Ioana Cozma

Updated: 05 June 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Starting a relationship too soon in your recovery journey may lead to relapse because you may be subjected to unnecessary stressors and more likely to replace a drug addiction with a behavioral one. This article discusses the best time to start dating in recovery, the benefits of waiting, red flags to avoid, and how to maximize your chances of building the right relationship.

Love After Addiction - Recovery and Relationships

When is the right time to start dating in recovery?

Most advice for dating in recovery suggests waiting at least six months to a year before looking for a romantic partner.[1] However, some individuals may need more than one year to unlearn their unhealthy coping mechanisms and patterns of dysfunctional relationships.

Learning to tackle your dependency is just one piece of a larger puzzle that includes learning to create healthy relationships with yourself, others, and real-life situations. Therefore, the right time to start dating in recovery is after you understand yourself, your triggers, values, and morals.

The benefits of waiting before dating again

While learning to manage and maintain a sober routine on your own terms is already a strong benefit of waiting before dating in Recovery; there are other examples of how a little patience can yield results. 

1. You can stay focused

Addiction treatment is just a part of the wider recovery process, which entails (re)learning how to live a good life. You must develop new skills, repair broken relationships, and build healthy coping mechanisms instead of responding emotionally to triggers.

This road to sobriety is paved with numerous challenges, and while a pre-existing romantic relationship can give you support, new ones are uncertain and demand more effort to build. Moreover, the initial infatuation can easily become addictive because those who have not remitted from substance use disorder have twice the chance of becoming addicted to something else than those in remission.[1]

2. You increase your chances of staying sober

Early sobriety is full of opportunities to relapse, specifically when people do not stick to routines or face unexpected stressors. New romantic relationships are both stressful and unpredictable, so tackling the challenge may be difficult in early recovery.

Additionally, you may have developed negative attachment patterns in addiction, making you likelier to choose an unfit or toxic partner. Dating later in recovery after creating a new understanding of relationships aids relapse prevention.

3. You learn healthier mindsets

Waiting before dating in recovery allows you to learn healthy discernment, such as recognizing when a feeling or behavior pattern becomes addictive. For example, you will learn not to turn your infatuation or dates into a new dependency.

You will also learn healthy coping skills and habits in case the relationship becomes tougher. These abilities and tools will help you maintain your sobriety even when dealing with increased anxiety. Additionally, learning these new skills helps cultivate a healthy, respectful relationship in which your new partner can thrive alongside you.[2]

4. You learn to choose better partners

If you wait at least a year before dating in recovery, you have more time to deal with co-occurring disorders, such as mental health, attachment, and relationship issues. You will learn to recognize unhealthy dating or romantic patterns in your past and overcome them to build a healthy relationship with the right individual.

Individual therapy and 12-step group programs allow you to reach emotional maturity and, therefore, pick emotionally mature partners. As a result, you will develop stronger, healthier bonds that help support the relationship, as well as the individuals inside that relationship.

5. You can support your partner

Relationships are reciprocal. However, early sobriety demands increased work and concentration on the self too. You must dedicate considerable time to learning new skills, healthy behaviors, and repairing relationships.

All this can stop you from giving your new partner the attention and care they require. But if you wait before dating in recovery, you will have more time and skills to become a supportive, attentive partner.

Things to keep in mind when dating again

If you are planning to or have just started dating in recovery, you must prioritize your sobriety, well-being, and your partner’s needs. Below are some tips.

  • Set healthy boundaries.

  • Continue your therapy and 12-step program.

  • Connect with your sponsor often.

  • Avoid pressuring your partner by using emotional tactics.

  • Try to practice the new coping mechanisms you have learned instead of becoming clingy or waiting for someone to rescue you.

  • Don’t try to fix or be fixed by your partner.

  • Avoid turning physical attraction or infatuation into new dependencies.

  • Consider couple’s counseling.[2]

Red flags of unhealthy partners in recovery

Dating in recovery entails knowing how to respect yourself, forming solid relationships with other people based on respect and trust, and navigating day-to-day stressors with healthy coping mechanisms.

Red flags to look out for include:

  • Poor communication

  • Lack of trust

  • Patterns of lying and infidelity

  • A partner with untreated addiction or unhealed trauma

  • Previous drama

  • No intimacy

  • No conflict-solving skills

  • A dismissive partner

  • Violence or abuse inside or outside the relationship

  • Controlling tendencies, such as requests to abandon therapy, hobbies, or friends

Dating someone in recovery - how to help

If you are dating someone who is in recovery, you can help support them and your budding relationship by following the advice below:

  • Offer your emotional support and practice empathy, but ensure your new relationship does not become a crutch.

  • Remember that people in recovery need positive reinforcement and insurance. Practice good communication and try to limit the anxiety stemming from uncertainty.

  • Try to identify and solve your own issues surrounding relationship attachment, communication, and anger management.

  • Support them on their road to sobriety. Try to limit your alcohol consumption around them.

  • Practice healthy behaviors, such as reading, walking in nature, and helping others.

  • Help your partner manage their emotional triggers healthily.

  • Ensure your loved one continues therapy, group support, and potential medical treatments. Offer to accompany or drive them to and from visits.

  • Help your partner build a relapse prevention plan.

  • Celebrate sobriety milestones, sharing recovery quotes to remind them of their goals.

  • Take care of your own mental and physical health to share a positive model.