Is falling in love part of recovery?


By David Joel Miller.

Does everyone that gets into recovery fall in love?

Couple in love

Falling in love
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Everywhere you look people in early recovery are falling in love. This happens whether the recovery is from drugs and alcohol, mental health challenges or just the problems of daily living. Some recovery programs lecture clients against getting into a relationship in early recovery. It is often suggested that those who fall in love in that first year are doomed to fail – at love and at their recovery. If these love and sex relationships are so problematic in recovery why do so many people go ahead and start that new relationship so rapidly?

Hooking up and “fraternization” gets more people kicked out of some drug treatment programs than relapses on drugs do. It is not unusual to have two clients in the psychiatric hospital make an effort to hook up. Plenty of relationships start before the two people involved ever hit the street.

The question is sometimes asked if love, falling in love especially, is good for or interferes with recovery. Falling in love clearly is meeting some needs. If it meets your needs why is it so universally frowned upon? What is the problem with the person in early recovery falling in love?

Sure it takes their attention off the work of recovery, but recovery is a lifelong process so we have to ask “Does this new relationship only delay recovery or might it in some particular way send the person off in the wrong direction away from the goal of recovery?”

One model for human needs is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Let’s look at the problem of new relationships and recovery from this perspective. I will not pretend that this is a full or perfect representation of this theory only that some aspects of the hierarchy of needs might help us understand why people in early recovery are so prone to be diverted from recovery into falling into a new love relationship.

In the hierarchy of needs the list goes, physiological, safety and belonging, love, esteem and self-actualization. The first four are ones recovering people are especially likely to be deficient in.

Love meets physiological needs.

People in their addiction to drugs or alcohol are prone to neglect their needs, physical and physiological. Good nutrition and sleep go by the wayside. Characteristics of depression and anxiety are changes in sleep and appetite. Sex is likely to become either a frantic desperate need or something that is neglected altogether.

When someone enters recovery they feel an urgent need to compete for a partner. Winning out in the competition for resources is a basic physiological need. Finding, getting and having a new partner becomes an urgent need. For many Love is their new drug of choice.

Love meets belonging and social needs.

Safety is a basic human need. Having others around you should increase your safety. Many people in early recovery find themselves alone. “Hooking up” is one way of engaging a support system. Believing that this other person will protect or care for you can lead the recovering person back to a state of dependence. This time the dependence is to a new relationship rather than a drug.

The risk of this rapid entry into a relationship is that it will become a dependent relationship. What the recovering person needs is to learn to be self-reliant and capable of taking care of themselves. A new relationship can delay this development of self-reliance.

Spending some time by yourself getting to know yourself can improve the chances that you will not lose that self in the next relationship you enter. Another person is not a cure for your illness.

Humans are social animals. We all need other people. The person with friends and who is a member of a tribe has an added chance of being safe. We expect that being with someone in a relationship obligates them to come to our aid and rescue. Being part of a couple should be safer than being alone.

Being in love, part of the couplehood club can make you feel like you belong. Many recovering people have never felt like they belonged except when around other people with a like problem.

Love meets esteem needs, Self-esteem and the esteem of others.

Early in romantic relationships, partners typically think of their new love interest as perfect, wonderful or other high esteem descriptions. It feels good to have someone who values you and thinks well of you. Being loved boosts your self-esteem, for a while.

Having someone who loves you or who craves your love can be a boost to your self-esteem as long as it lasts. The challenge is that in early recovery people do not know who they are and as they discover themselves those new relationships become less attractive.

Falling in love is easy, staying there is more difficult especially when the relationship turns out to be unhealthy. Falling in love while in the fog of confusion is a high-risk behavior and leads many back to their familiar problem.

Love and self-actualization.

Being the best you possible requires some time and some space to grow. It is hard to focus on yourself when you are distracted by trying to please and be pleased by another. Trees may belong in the forest but they still need some space to grow. People like trees benefit from being around others as long as they are not smothered and are allowed the room for personal growth.

There are likely to be some comments on this post telling me that they met their soul mate in the rehab or the psych hospital and have been happily together for decades. For every one of those people, there is a vast number who will tell us that those relationships begun when they were at their worse sent them back into their disorder or addiction.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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