Substance Use

Things to Protect in a Sober Relationship

couple high fiving on couch

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We’ve touched on the topic of dating and relationships while in recovery before: some believe a good relationship can aid your recovery, while others urge focusing on yourself without a partner. While I tend to believe each case is unique and should be treated as such, there are a few valid reasons for concern:

  • The early days of recovery may leave you feeling vulnerable and willing to accept less than you deserve in a partner.
  • Getting swept up in romance and focusing on your partner can make sobriety less of a priority, opening up the potential for relapse.
  • The emotional fallout of being with someone or ending a relationship can be intense, causing some to fall back on old, negative habits.

That being said, if you are mindful and ready for new love, there’s nothing wrong with enhancing your life through romance. Just remember, your relationship is the icing on the cake, not the entire cake itself. Don’t get so lost in love you lose the person you are becoming.

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When it comes to a sober relationship, taking it slow and carefully is the best choice. This way you take your time getting to know your partner as they should also do with you. Taking your time helps you determine if your partner is a good fit for you and your commitment to sobriety- and they must be if it’s going to work out long-term.

Going into a new, sober relationship means you have to know what you want in a partner, what you are willing to give in a relationship, and where your boundaries are. It’s okay to have a few things you won’t budge on: in fact, you should. Here are 9 things to protect in a sober relationship.


Autonomy in a relationship is a right- remember that. While we all should give our partners due consideration and respect when it comes to our actions, at the end of the day, they are ours to make. A giant red flag of a potentially dangerous relationships is an attempt to hamper your independence.

Things like requiring you to report your every move, using money to control you, or emotional manipulation to make you feel obligated to stay with them should not be ignored. It’s okay to want to spend a fair amount of time getting to know your new love interest- just don’t forget you are your own person, too.


If your sober relationship is bringing you more strife than happiness, it may be time to walk away. All relationships go through their ups and downs, yes, but if yours is causing you more pain than happiness, reevaluate if it’s right for you.

Turmoil in your relationship can cause an increase in urges and vulnerability to relapse. You shouldn’t sacrifice your happiness for the sake of maintaining a relationship that is not feeding your emotional well-being.

Dreams and Goals

Part of your on going recovery is setting up goals and striving to accomplish your dreams: why would a sober relationship detour you from the things you want to achieve? It’s easy to get distracted by the promise of love- but don’t wake up to regret because you let those things slip away.

Be especially cautious when the reason you aren’t accomplishing your goals is because of interference from your partner. Helpful advice and an alternate perspective is okay, but if you hear things like ‘you can’t/shouldn’t do that’ or the like, take a moment to assess your priorities.


Don’t sacrifice your self-respect and morals in the name of love. Being forced to do things you don’t agree with isn’t a sign of love, it’s a sign of control and manipulation. You have to live with yourself no matter if your lover stays or goes, sacrificing your morals or self-respect for a bit of romance is not only unadvised, it’s risky.

Anyone who would ask you to compromise yourself that way doesn’t love you. Toxic people will look to you to satisfy their needs with no respect for your own; they will push you as far as you will allow, so why don’t you just introduce them to the door?


This one goes hand in hand with self-respect. The basis of who you are as a person stem from the beliefs you carry and the morals by which you guide your life. While it is okay (and encouraged) to have your eyes opened and your mind broadened by learning about the experiences and beliefs of others, don’t change your own just to match your partner’s.

A strong, sober relationship begins at the ground floor: if  your beliefs and morals clash enough to cause an issue, this may not be the person for you.

Friends and Family

It’s one thing if your new partner helps you realize some of the people in your life aren’t advantageous to your sobriety; recognizing enablers, naysayers and the like will make your path run smoother.

However, if your new lover is jealous or outright controlling when it comes to you communicating with other people, look out. Not only is this stressful and unbecoming, but it could be a very real sign of abuse. Alienating you from the people you love has no place in a good sober relationship, or any relationship at all.


Transparency in a relationship means being open and honest about what you’re looking for from your partner, what you want the future to be and the like- it doesn’t mean living under constant scrutiny.

Wanting to protect your privacy does not mean you have something to hide, it means you are setting forth a boundary that is to be respected. However, secrecy in a sober relationship can lead to negative consequences such a relapse: be honest with your partner if you feel like you are slipping. Establish trust early on and make it clear that you reserve your right to privacy.


It is so important to protect your identity in a relationship- especially if you are young, inexperienced, or easily swept away by romance. Again, please remember you are your own person. Not only will losing yourself in your partner create an imbalance of power, but it can be a sign of problems you need to address in yourself.

Things like insecurity, low self-value, or other emotional issues are something you must remedy within; the solution never lies in someone else. The same is true if your partner is attempting to become a symbiote- don’t get so wrapped up in healing them that you forget to protect yourself and your continued sobriety.

Ability To Make Decisions

If your partner is attempting to take over every facet of your life- to the point where you can’t make your own decisions- it’s time to bail. That kind of ultra controlling behavior is never okay- even when it’s masked in helpfulness. Part of your recovery journey is learning to self-govern and continuing to practice that is important to maintaining sobriety.

You should be involved in all the decision making processes that impact your life and your relationship with your partner. A surprise here or there can be romantic, but don’t allow them to force their will onto you. That’s not okay.

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