"No Intimate Relationships During the First Year of Sobriety!"

By

Recovering addicts hear this all the time in 12-step programs. However, this sound bit of wisdom is rarely heeded. Many have a hard time accepting that a hiatus from intimate relationships is necessary. In their minds, dating and new relationships seem benign. As long as I'm not using and we're not using and are in a program, I'm safe. Not so fast. Getting into an intimate relationship prematurely is, as my mother would say, "Ill-conceived, ill-advised and ill-consummated."

Odds are more than fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce for the general population. Want to venture a guess as to the odds for those in early recovery who test this cardinal rule

Despite one's best laid plans or intentions to not re-enact the same dysfunction and failures of previous relationships, the odds are overwhelmingly against the relationship -- doomed to be dysfunctional or have a shortened life expectancy.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but assuming that we would not want our emotional and mental well-being to hinge on a miracle, is it worth the risk? But this is not what the recovering addict is thinking about. When it comes to delaying gratification, when it comes to "choosing" between "one step at a time" versus "all at once," thinking in terms of gradual and taking time to develop and being objective and realistic are not how addicts are wired. There is no point of reference. Most recovering addicts don't realize that admitting to being out of control and surrendering to their powerlessness, as having done so in Steps I and II, also apply to their emotions when dating and in early stage relationships.

The problem is not the relationship or the intimacy. It's the sex. Sex tends to increase one's level of emotional involvement and intensity of feelings, especially for women. Men tend to cope by splitting off from their feelings; that is, are more likely to engage in sexual relationships while remaining emotionally divorced or superficial. Sex is a trigger for emotional over-involvement or under-involvement relative to the stage of relationship. Either way, each one's inability to manage his/her own emotional needs and provide self-nourishment will eventually jeopardize the developing relationship.

What often happens is that sex, exciting enough as it is, often leads to an infusion of romantic feelings, which can further heighten the excitement, which then awakens the "sleeping giant" -- the backlog of unmet emotional needs from previous relationships. The "giant" awakens (emotionally) ravenous and is not aware of the extent his/her hunger drives the relationship. Our unmet emotional needs reside in our unconscious and are sealed off from our awareness.

It's during the first year of recovery that the addict is to learn how to break the cycle of addiction. A year of sobriety and "relationship abstinence" is meant to allow a sufficient amount of time to deal with one's own emotions without having to resort to his/her addiction, to build self-awareness and to become responsible for one's own emotional care. Rather than relying on an external source for relief or emotional gain, which is what s/he is accustomed to do, s/he begins to look internally, to rely on oneself as a source of emotional nourishment.

"The most important relationship is with oneself" poses a complete paradigm shift to the recovering addict.

Ask The Experts

Have a dating or relationship question?
Visit Ask YourTango and let our experts and community answer.

FROM AROUND THE WEB