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Sober Dating: 10 Tips for Healthy Dating in Recovery

by | Apr 21, 2021 | MENTAL HEALTH, RECOVERY, RELATIONSHIPS

Two people traverse sober dating in recovery.

Dating in today’s climate can be a difficult venture. Tag on recovery from addiction and the challenges can compound. People in the early stages of addiction recovery may crave the validation and distraction that can be found in dating, but this may not be the best strategy for building long term recovery. Successful sober dating starts with a sober mindset.

If you feel secure in your recovery, consider how you know you are ready for dating and what dating, sex and relationships mean to you. So, how do you date successfully and healthily in recovery? Read on!

What Makes Sober Dating Different?

You may find yourself wondering if it’s appropriate to divulge your recovery, and whether or not you can date someone who isn’t clean and sober. Dating already creates a fear of rejection, but a rejection based on sobriety can cause additional feelings of shame and remorse already inherent in addiction. You might quickly jump to thinking there is something wrong with you as a person rather than a mismatch of lifestyles.

Since the pandemic, many individuals rely on dating apps where the construct of sobriety can be addressed with a quick toggle; even with dating apps catered to sober people, such as sober grid. But it doesn’t address the core issue. People in addiction recovery and those in the sober community are attempting to change their life and in essence, the way they relate to themselves and the world.

Dating and romantic relationships may have ended in chaos and upset when in active addiction. It’s easy to regress into maladaptive behaviors and patterns when you lack personal insight and commitment to reflection. It may be trickier to meet people and find love in recovery, but it’s not an impossible feat.

10 Tips for Sober Dating

Develop a dating plan. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is my #1 reason for dating?
  • How do I want to date differently than when I was in active addiction?
  • Will I date people that drink or do drugs socially? Why or why not?
  • When will I disclose my recovery?
  • What are my dealbreakers?
  • How do I want to feel during and after a date?
  • What kind of communication am I looking for and what kind of communication can I give?
  • Which date ideas keep me the most safe? (i.e. a coffee shop instead of a restaurant where a date might order a glass of wine or cocktail)

Consider your “WHY”. People date for different reasons and it’s wise to be clear about your intentions. People get hurt in relationships, the difference is you don’t have to hurt people on purpose.

The beautiful thing about life is that you can change your mind. If you’re just jumping back into dating after developing single and sober time, don’t feel the need to find your “person” immediately. Dating can be a wonderful tool for understanding your needs, wants, and desires.

Learn about different types of attachment styles. 

Understanding your own attachment and moving towards secure attachment can help you avoid toxic relationships. In active addiction you may have attracted like minded fellows and now have the opportunity to attract positive, healthy individuals you can develop secure and loving relationships with.

When it doesn’t work out, it’s useful to try to accept it likely has less to do with you as a person and more to do with not being a match.

Engage in self-reflection and ask for feedback from your support network.

Evaluating your dating experience can guide you to making more elevated choices that align with your discovered values. In addiction, relationships may have been formed by who was available or who had the next high. In recovery, you can utilize the brain and the experience of your support network to make decisions until you feel confident in your intuitive process.

Sober dating includes accepting that not everyone will be okay with dating someone in recovery.

In 12-step recovery there’s a saying, “acceptance is the answer to all of my problems”.  While it might seem far-fetched, it works. Accepting and learning to practice the art of detachment can help build resilience and distress tolerance. If you are a victim of ghosting, try your best to let it go.

You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay. Try coffee, instead.

Complete a relationship inventory and assess pros and cons of past relationships.

Take time to review the past. Completing a personal inventory is an action step. It allows for perspective and critical reflection in order to learn. Take particular note of what went well and where you feel you got off track. Being drug and alcohol free means a willingness to honor the past, integrate it into your story, and move forward with grace.

Focus on building self-esteem and self-confidence through the art of dating. Let go of expectations.

Expectations can be a killer to connection. When you expect people to behave the way you do, you are essentially suggesting they live in your world. Each individual person has a unique set of goggles based on family of origin experiences, life’s teachers, and personality type. Instead of waiting for someone to put on your goggles, continue to build up your self-concept.

Active addiction tends to drive individuals away from knowing the self and from experiencing self-efficacy. In recovery, you have the ability to move towards self-actualization; the more you become aware of the person you are meant to be, the easier it will be to attract the right people into your life.

Move slowly.

Addiction feeds off of the brain’s reward system and forces you to choose more and more of what makes you feel good. As you begin dating, be mindful that your brain is primed to seek out dopamine hits, and that feeling of being high can be found through sex and intimacy. Practice getting to know someone before you make a commitment.

Often individuals show up as their representative in new relationships.  Take time to learn about someone’s values, interests, the way they treat their friends/family, and how they spend their time apart from you. Recovery can open your world to a host of new possibilities so don’t buy the first shiny object you see simply because it feels good in the moment.

Learn to listen to your wise mind and follow your instincts.

Dialectical behavioral therapy discusses the use of the wise mind in learning to trust one’s intuition and develop discernment between emotions and rational thinking. This process can help guide your decision making through the dating journey.

Instead of comparing your experience to others or basing your decisions on opinions, learn to go within. The journey of recovery can lead you to a deep level of introspection if you choose it. When deciding whether to continue or move on, take time to ask yourself these questions:

  • What emotions am I feeling right now and how are they guiding my decision?
  • What is the logical and rational decision?
  • What is in the middle, or what does my wisest self say?

Practice boundary setting for yourself and for your engagement in the sober dating process.

What are the boundaries you failed to keep in your previous relationship and how did that affect your experience of yourself and of others. It’s difficult to expect people to behave in the way that you do. Instead, change the way you relate to others. If you don’t want to talk about your addiction, make that known.

If you prefer to make plans in advance because you experience anxiety in the waiting, state your preference. People are not mind readers.  Period.

Identify potential triggers and create an exit plan.

Do you know what your triggers are? Stop reading and take 5 minutes to write them down. Done?

Now consider an exit plan.  Failing to plan is planning to fail. Addiction can be insidious. Vigilance is required, particularly if you are new to recovery. Dating has the potential to quickly move you into distress if you are triggered. Be prepared with strategies to manage your arousal and to remove yourself when necessary.

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable as you begin sober dating, try a few of these action steps to find your groove:

  • Phone a friend
  • Take a quick break in the bathroom
  • Ask to change the subject
  • Suggest you go somewhere else
  • End the date politely and leave
  • Be honest and tell the person you’re feeling uncomfortable and would like them to stop drinking for the evening
  • Rub the right side of your neck to activate the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Repeat a mantra in your head
  • Remind yourself, your recovery is worth it

Relationships are the cornerstone of life. Don’t be afraid to return to the dating world when you feel ready, but take care of your recovery, it’s your life!

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.

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Author Bio

Heather Mazzei is a Clinical Associate at Triune Therapy Group, in Los Angeles, An Associate Clinical Social Worker, supervised by Dr. Kate Balestrieri, Heather is passionate about healthy relationships and helping the people she works with to develop relationships that thrive.

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