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Healthy Romantic Relationships in Addiction Recovery

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this time of year can get us thinking about relationships. For those in recovery, healthy relationships are necessary in order to successfully navigate life.  Relationships are needed to create deep bonds and provide emotional support needed to thrive. Healthy relationships can bring out the best in us and increase our personal wellbeing. Unhealthy, or toxic relationships, are quite the opposite and can lead to negative interactions while decreasing emotional and physical well being. If unhealthy relationships are left unchecked, they can lead to a potential relapse. 

Having a healthy romantic relationship in recovery can be one of the most fulfilling experiences one can have. Some relationships in recovery, especially with newly sober individuals, are far from healthy. For the purposes of this article, we will be focused on romantic relationships in recovery. 

Psychologist and author, Terence T. Gorski wrote an entire book called “Addictive Relationships – Why Love Goes Wrong in Recovery” where he coined the term “addictive relationships” referring to unhealthy relationships in recovery. Gorski suggests that people from functional families have learned unconsciously how to relate in a productive, healthy and intimate manner with others. According to Gorski, there are only about 20 to 30 percent of adults that grew up in functional families, which means 70 to 80 percent come from dysfunctional families. Those from dysfunctional family units are more likely to experience an unhealthy relationship compared to those who grew up in a functional family unit. Whether or not you grew up in a functional or dysfunctional household, knowing the characteristics of a toxic, unhealthy or addictive relationship can be helpful. 

Unhealthy relationships can be difficult to spot if you grew up in a dysfunctional family situation. Unhealthy relationships are toxic, consisting of draining and damaging dynamics. Examples of toxic behaviors in relationships:

  • Blame-shifting (or lack of accountability)
  • Guilt-tripping
  • Manipulation 
  • Controlling behavior  
  • Bullying/intimidation
  • Mental abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Lack of respect
  • Invasion of privacy/boundaries
  • Disrespectful of emotions
  • Isolation from family and friends 
  • Putdowns/shaming
  • Invalidation

This list is not all inclusive, but gives you an idea of what to look out for in an unhealthy relationship. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, it’s best to work with a licensed therapist who can help you with underlying emotional problems that led to the relationship in the first place. We have licensed therapists on staff at Collective Recovery. Click here for your free benefits review.  

On the flip side, healthy romantic relationships are the ideal type of relationships most people strive for. They bring joy and support, encouraging the other’s growth. Healthy relationships are based on shared interests, shared values, and shared long term relationship goals. Here are some other characteristics of healthy romantic relationships: 

  • Honesty
  • Respect
  • Vulnerability (with safety) 
  • Mutual trust
  • Reciprocity in effort 
  • Support/encouragement
  • Communicated expectations 
  • Fun and lightheartedness 
  • Individual healthy boundaries

In order to avoid the heartbreak of an addictive relationship, it’s important to follow these guidelines:

Build your relationship slowly. Allow the relationship to naturally unfold through each stage of relationship building. There are three stages a relationship should go through before entering the romantic stage. The romantic stage of a relationship is where you commit exclusivity in dating to the other person. These stages are: superficial involvement stage, companionship stage, and the friendship stage. 

    • Superficial involvement phase is where two individuals interact in a very casual way and have little investment and absolutely no commitment. This is the stage where you meet and start to make arrangements to spend quality time together.
    • Companionship is the stage that allows for two people to come together for the purpose of sharing in common activities (or shared interests). This is the phase that one really explores if they want to move forward to dating, remain friends, or go separate ways. 
    • Friendship is the stage that absolutely must be established before entering into a romantic union. This is the stage where two people come together more deeply realizing that they not only have aligned values, but also shared long term relationship goals. Friendship is a foundational stage where relationship expectations should be set before entering into romantic love. 

If one of these stages is skipped, the chances of the relationship becoming addictive, toxic or unhealthy is greatly increased. 

Understand and exercise your own personal boundaries. Be honest with yourself about your own deal breakers before entering into a romantic relationship. If you set boundaries, you then attract people who are willing to respect you and want good things for you. Knowing your own personal boundaries can help eliminate entering into unhealthy relationships. Here are two types of boundaries to consider:

    • Physical boundaries which refer to your body, your personal space and privacy. This is where you get to decide what you are ok with and not ok with. This can refer to physical intimacy or just your own personal space and privacy. 
    • Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. This includes taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs.

Be honest with yourself and the other person. A healthy relationship is based on rigorous honesty. Two healthy people, before making a commitment will want to share with their partners who they are.  First this requires self honesty, understanding and knowing individual shortcomings and assets to being a partner, then honesty with another person. Being honest with others about who we are will not only create a foundation for a healthy relationship based on unconditional love, but allow for greater deepening and intimacy in the relationship. 

Learn to communicate and handle conflict in a healthy way. Healthy relationships require a lot of communication. Healthy relationships also require the ability to successfully navigate conflict. If you struggle with communication and handling conflict, it’s best to seek the help from a licensed therapist who can coach you through how to communicate and handle disagreements in a healthy way.

Healthy relationships contain equality and comfort, ensuring each partners’ hopes, dreams, and fears are respected. Communication and commitment are key in creating deep emotional bonds. There’s no cut and dry way to have a healthy relationship but understanding what to look for in an unhealthy relationship, and following the guidelines here can give you a great start on how to have a healthy romantic relationship in recovery. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, please give us a call at 1-866-UTAH-HOPE or click here for your free benefits review.