6 Reasons Not to Get into a Relationship in Your First Year
If you’re in recent recovery, you’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t start dating. In fact, you might have had therapists, your sponsors, and other professionals specifically warning against it. That can be difficult to process, or to adhere to, especially when you meet someone. Unfortunately, saying no, asking that someone to wait, or taking things slowly and staying out of the bedroom can be the best thing you can do for your recovery. Love can feel great. It can make us feel like we are fixed. And often, that’s exactly the problem.
Whether you’re looking for reasons for yourself or you’re trying to talk to your loved one, these 6 reasons not to get into a relationship should help.
1. You Have to Focus on Yourself
The earlier you are in recovery, the more you have to spend time on support, counseling, and building up the habits and coping mechanisms that will keep you in recovery. If you start a relationship, the nature of a relationship means you focus on them, what do they like, what do they need, how can you fit yourself into their life. The thing is, you have to figure all of that out for yourself. The longer you’ve been addicted, the truer that is. If you’re still figuring yourself out, you can’t figure someone else out. Most importantly, if you have to focus on your own healing and growth, focusing on someone else and on growing a relationship will interrupt your healing and growth. You won’t notice it, especially not at first. But if things do go bad, you will definitely notice it, and you’ll be left without much of the groundwork of having spent that time building up your own coping mechanisms.
2. You Don’t Have the Time
If you’re coming out of recovery, you have a lot of responsibilities. Those might include things like your job, your school, spending time rebuilding relationships, spending time learning hobbies, etc.
For many of us, the first year after rehab also includes ongoing therapy, ongoing counseling, and daily or weekly visits to self-help groups. That’s a lot of time commitment. And, it leaves little room for a romantic attachment which might demand a significant amount of your time and attention. Getting distracted could mean skipping those vital parts of your recovery. You don’t have the time for that, because that impacts the rest of your life. And, if you tell someone you’re interested in, they will agree that you have to focus on those things first for your health – if they actually care about you.
3. You Don’t Have the Mental Space to Be a Good Partner
Addiction does a lot of things to the brain, the body, and the mental health. It negatively impacts how you make decisions, how you process emotions, and your self-esteem. For example, addiction causes emotional blunting, where the neuroreceptors in your brain are damaged and unable to process serotonin and dopamine at a pre-addiction level. You feel less in response to normal emotions and activities. And, that doesn’t usually recover until anywhere from 3 months to 12 months following quitting. Addiction and substance abuse also increase impulsivity and sensation-seeking – you’re more likely to chase anything that makes you feel good, just because it makes you feel good. That can be dangerous in a relationship – but you can’t make the kind of thought-out decisions your partner deserves.
Eventually, if you’re not mentally healthy and getting into a relationship can prevent you from becoming mentally healthy, you can’t be a good partner. The first act of choosing to sacrifice your own recovery for a partner says that you are willing to make irresponsible decisions that could hurt them. Of course, you can always ask them to wait – which is a better decision but could still result in causing hurt if feelings change in the meantime.
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4. You Can’t Communicate What You Need
Most people coming out of rehab have only the most tenuous idea of who they are, what they want, and where they want to be as people. That makes it incredibly difficult to navigate a relationship, where you have to communicate wants and needs early on. While not communicating those needs certainly isn’t a dealbreaker for many people, it does mean that it’s that much harder to build a satisfying and mutually beneficial relationship. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t share it. If you don’t know where you’re going with your life, you can’t take steps to be with someone who can join you on that. It’s important to figure yourself out before complicating that by adding a partner or a relationship to it.
5. Love Makes You Feel Good
Love makes us feel good. That rush of early relationship serotonin and dopamine to the brain can make cravings go away. It can feel like getting a hit of your old drug or drinking again. It can make you feel like everything is okay and you don’t have to try anymore. And, that’s exactly the problem. The emotional and chemical response to love makes you feel good, usually for 3-12 months, and then it goes away. When it does, you’ll be left in the same state you were before. People who start relationships in early treatment often decide they are better. For the moment, they are. But, choosing to leave treatment and ongoing care means you give up on any support, social support, and foundations you would have learned during that time. And, that can be detrimental to your future recovery.
6. Love Chemically Mimics Addiction
The serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine response to love and sex is remarkably similar to the those triggered by many substances. That can backfire on recovery, because it can extend the period where you get neurotransmitters and hormones in those high doses – and that can be difficult to replace once early love “wears off”. That’s even worse if you have a breakup and crash afterwards, because you’ll go from high reward to heartbroken, and your chance of relapse will be that much higher.
Eventually, it can be difficult to say no to a relationship. Whether you meet someone at work, school, or even your sobriety group – giving up on chemistry can hurt. That’s okay. You’re not ready and chasing it will likely hurt more. If you’re in early recovery, it’s important to focus on yourself, to put your goals first, and you can’t do that in a new relationship. You can have an honest discussion with the person in question and mention that you’d be willing to try if they’re still available in a year – but that’s a long shot for most of us. Most importantly, it’s important to talk to your therapist, your support network, and your loved ones to get insight, support, and the care you need.