Alcoholics don’t have relationships—they take hostages. Co-dependents don’t have relationships—they have caseloads. In spite of these common sayings, people in addiction recovery tumble easily and readily into relationship. For some, relationships turn out well; for others they lead to misery and using drugs again.
One of the joys of being in recovery is that the odds of having a healthy relationship distinctly improve. When we aren’t intoxicated there is a much better chance that we won’t screw things by bad behavior. (Yes, you know exactly what I mean.) We clean up nicely in recovery and can attract better partners. In recovery we are kinder and more predictable, we are more honest and thoughtful, less moody—at least until we get into relationship. Then the co-dependency we thought we had conquered comes to life. Fears and jealousies we didn’t even know we had make us act strangely.
Relationships bring out the best and the worst in us. As people in recovery have more to gain and a lot to lose when we enter relationship. We can gain a brand new sense of self as both lovable and loving; or we can find out that we are obsessive and unreasonable and can’t stay sane or sober if we get involved with someone. If we want to enjoy being in relationship while staying in recovery we need to make better choices than we made when we were using.
It’s not too hard for me to figure out whey my early relationships didn’t work out. When I was drinking that I actually wanted to be in relationship with men with serious flaws. The flaws were my escape route. If I wanted to end the relationship all I had to say was: “You’re a junkie,” or “You’re twice my age.” What didn’t occur to me then is that I can end an unhappy relationship without an excuse. I thought I had to have a good reason to break up so I wanted that reason on hand from the beginning.
Even after I sobered up, I wasn’t picking winners. I still wasn’t sure that I deserved a good partner so I picked men who were less strong than me emotionally, psychologically, mentally, and sometimes even physically. I picked men I could pick off the ground and, not surprisingly, they often disappointed me.
I remember being asked by some Al-Anon ladies what was I looking for when I got into the relationship I was complaining about. I was stumped by the implication that I should have given it some thought. I entered into relationship by instinct for sex and excitement. And that’s what I got: sex and excitement. But not safety or security. Not peace or serenity.
Your patterns may not be the same as mine. You may have healthy instincts and can pass this on to someone else. Perhaps you pick partners who take care of you (so you don’t have to take care of yourself), or you pick partners who are unavailable—married, crazy, actively addicted, self-absorbed, or distant. Maybe you pick partners who worship you, which is grand until it becomes smothering. Or partners who make you look good, but really but don’t fit otherwise. It may be helpful to notice the patterns you have in picking partners, but noticing patterns and changing patterns are two different things.
In recovery, I became discontent with my own patterns of choosing partners. I was tired of the series of boyfriends, but I didn’t know how to change. So I decided to ask my Higher Power to arrange my next relationship.
Here was my thinking: I had been to India several times and had conversations with women whose parents had arranged marriages. I could see that the marriages of the Indian women I met were often better and more stable than the marriages I saw in the USA. Yes, I know there’s a lot of news about abusive and destructive arranged marriages but the women I met were happy. So I asked them their thoughts about marriage and here is what they said:
Our parents love us and want the best for us. They want us to be happy. They know us well. So when they arrange a marriage for us they think a lot about who would make a good partner for us. We marry without a lot of expectations, so if he has a sense of humor we are happy. If he doesn’t snore loudly we feel blessed. If he is kind to us we are grateful. In time we come to love our husband and our husband comes to love us.
In contrast, Americans fall in love and then get married. No one has screened your man to see if he is really a good man. You get married at the height of love and it is all down hill from there. The first time your husband leaves his underwear on the floor you are disappointed. When he leaves the cap off the toothpaste you are annoyed. Soon you are ready for divorce.
After yet another painful breakup with yet another disappointing man, I asked my Higher Power to arrange my next relationship. The good news is that this plan worked really well. The bad news is it took six years. But it was worth the wait. I am in the best (and last) relationship of my life with someone I would never have chosen on my own. Paul is tall, strong, intelligent, capable, reliable, sane, and quirky. He’s a big guy. I can’t pick him up.
I grew a lot in the six years I waited to meet Paul. I started my own coaching business and earned a good living. (By the way, I didn’t date or look for Paul; I just waited for my Higher Power to come through.) Maybe you don’t want to ask your Higher Power to find your next partner. Maybe you want to get started right now. Either way, if you are looking for a happy relationship in recovery, I suggest you think on your own behalf as if you were a sane and loving parent or a good friend who is arranging your marriage.
What qualities would you look for in a mate? Write a list of qualities you believe will contribute to being safe and happy. Add financial stability and good work habits. Yes, you can include sexy and good-looking but don’t forget to include devoted and appreciative. How about honest and hard working? What about capacity for fun and joy and a sense of humor? Add any qualities that you think are important.
This is your partner we are talking about so add detail, state your must-haves and can’t-stands. If you are willing to wait, turn this whole project over to your Higher Power. Or try your luck with online dating. Or pay a maven to find you a mate.
Carefully and consciously choosing a good person goes a long way toward having a happy and satisfying relationship in recovery. Awareness, discernment, patience, and choice will bring you positive results.