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Recovery and Relationships: How to Talk About Your Addiction

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Starting a new relationship in recovery can be difficult. These tips can make it easier.


Starting a new relationship can be difficult. There’s a lot to learn about one another, and it’s important that priorities and values align. With recovery and relationships, things become even more complicated. Talking about the past can be difficult, as can learning to trust again. However, taking the time to focus on high-quality communication helps. Let’s look at 8 ways to discuss your addiction in your relationship:


Find the Right Timing

Discussing your recovery with your partner is a key part of dating in recovery. Talking about addiction and recovery will take a good bit of emotional energy for both of you, and it’s important that you not enter into the conversation lightly. Instead, be sure that you both have plenty of time to discuss the topic, so that you aren’t rushed. In addition, it’s important to make sure that it’s the right time in the relationship to have the conversation. Is this a person you date casually, so you’re indifferent to them knowing about your history? Or is this a more serious relationship with an individual that you’d like to add to your support system?

Discussing addiction too early in a relationship may seem alarming, as if you’re attempting to move the relationship along too far, too fast. For this reason, it makes sense to be sure that you want to stay in the relationship for awhile before you share this information. On the other hand, if you’ve been dating for a longer period of time, you may want to discuss the topic for a few reasons. Since recovery is a lifelong process, it’s important to talk about your history so you and your partner can support one another. Your partner can also become more mindful of behaviors, such as drinking, or scenarios that may be triggers for you. 


Find the Right Environment

As you prepare to talk about your addiction with your partner, it’s also important to find the right environment. This isn’t a conversation you can have in front of the television, at a sporting event, or in a crowded restaurant, for example. Intense emotions may come to light, and it’s important that you both have the space and privacy you’ll need to process them.

Instead, set aside time in a calm, quiet environment to have the conversation. Consider taking a walk, or setting up an evening at home over tea or coffee. Do your best to keep the environment neutral and non-threatening. Avoid special dates such as holidays and birthdays, when the topic might feel unexpected. 

Be Open and Honest About Your Past

Dating in recovery can be difficult, but it won’t be any easier if you’re not forthright about your past. It’s important that you be willing to talk to your partner about your addiction and recovery, as well as stressors that you experience that could be triggers for relapse. This honesty will allow you to grow closer to your partner, but it will also help you to receive the support that you need for life in recovery.

When you speak openly about a topic as difficult as addiction, it will help your partner to understand that being honest with them matters to you, and that you can be trusted. Addicts often have a reputation for hiding information about their drug usage, so being willing to speak openly about what you’ve experienced is likely to help your partner see that the relationship is important to you. In addition, you can discuss how they can help you and how life in recovery may affect your relationship. 


…But Respect Your Own Privacy

It’s also important, however, that you respect your journey. Not every part of your story is for sharing, and there may be some elements of your struggle with addiction that you’d prefer to keep to yourself. You don’t have to share every detail of your past just because you’re in a relationship, and in some cases, your partner may prefer that you not go into too much detail. 

Practice setting boundaries about what you are and are not comfortable discussing, so that when these topics come up in future conversations, you already have an idea of what to say. Often a simple, “I’d prefer to leave that in the past,” is enough to let the person you’re dating know that you respect what they are asking, but aren’t comfortable talking about the details. 

You may be comfortable telling them which substances you abused, for example, but opt not to share more graphic experiences. You may choose not to speak about losing a friend, a trip to the hospital, your own illegal behavior, or the people you were with when you used. It’s important to respect your comfort levels and boundaries, as well as those of the person you’re dating. As you prepare to have this conversation, give some thought to what you are and are not comfortable talking about. 


Share Your Recovery Journey

As you discuss life in recovery with your partner, it may seem like there is a lot of negative information. However, don’t forget to focus on where you are in your recovery journey today, as well as the things you’ve learned. It takes perseverance and dedication to get up every day and continue to live in recovery. Sharing the positive things that you now have not only help you to be more grateful for them, but also help your partner to see that recovery is truly possible. This may help them understand a bit more about the issues you’ve experienced, as well as what other individuals deal with as they work through recovery. This transparency is an important part of recovery, as it helps your loved ones see what you’re struggling with as well as how they may be able to help you. 


Ask for Support

Often, when you share experiences that people aren’t expecting, they can be at a loss as to how to best respond. When you discuss your life in recovery with a partner, they may not initially know what to say. It may be best to think of some things that they can do to directly support you. After you’ve disclosed your addiction, explain that you understand it’s tough to know what to do or say. If your partner is able to, they can help you in the following ways.

  • Take Care of Themselves: Explain that you understand that living with someone in recovery can be stressful, and that it is not their job to heal you or make you better. Ask that they practice self-care skills to the best of their ability.
  • Consider a Support Group: Be prepared with information about local support groups for the loved ones of those who have suffered from addiction, and provide them with this information if they are interested.
  • Briefly Discuss Relapse: Talk with them about what to do in the event of a relapse, or set a time to make a plan together for how to handle a relapse if it occurs. 

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Rehearse with a Friend

If you’re feeling anxious about having this conversation, it may be a good idea to find a close friend and practice it in advance. Often, this type of role play can help you walk through any potential pitfalls, while helping you to organize your thoughts. Rehearsing with a friend ahead of time can also help you to feel less anxious overall. Choose a friend or a family member that knows where you are on your recovery journey and has been supportive. They will understand how hard you have worked and the effort that it takes you to stay clean. They can also help give you some tips about questions that they may have had along the way, so that you’re more prepared to have a conversation about life in recovery with your partner. 


No Matter What, Value Yourself

There is no way to predict how a conversation about dating in recovery will go. Hopefully, it will go extremely well, and you’ll be able to add another person to your support network. Having a partner who understands that you struggle with substance abuse can be incredibly helpful as you enjoy life in recovery. Often, this person can help you overcome obstacles more easily than you could on your own. A solid relationship can be a great asset as you work through recovery, helping you work through the good days and the bad. However, there’s always a chance that the conversation may not go well. If this happens, it’s important that you have a solid support system in place to cope, and that you value yourself and your own journey out of addiction. The individual you’ve been dating is just that, one individual, and their opinions are not those of the entire world. Make sure that you set up a therapy appointment, attend a meeting, and take care of your feelings until you’re back on top. 

Discussing your addiction with a new partner can be an intimidating idea, but following these guidelines should help it to go as well as possible. It’s important to plan the time and location carefully, think about what you’ll say in advance, and even rehearse the discussion with a friend or family member if you’re feeling nervous. Hopefully, you’ll be able to have an open, honest discussion about your recovery that improves your relationship moving forward. 

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.