Healthy or Toxic? Knowing Right from Wrong Relationships in Recovery

healthy relationships in recovery

Relationships are one of our most basic and innate needs as humans. Biologically, we are programmed to desire a closeness to others; we long to feel supported and loved, and want others to accept that love and support from us. Our hearts, as well as science, say that we need these relationships to live life fully. Without, we’re more likely to feel depressed or alone.

Yet relationships are tricky. There are strong, healthy relationships that make us feel happy and at home. Then there are the toxic ones, full of heartbreak and transgression. Often, relationships fall somewhere in between, with both ups and downs, highs and lows.

Relationships in recovery are sort of a conundrum, then, as it is relationships that will bring us happiness but also relationships that have brought us down so many times before. You may know this firsthand. Now being on the other side of addiction, you may look back and realize that it was toxic relationships that drove you into the addiction cycle in the first place: Your “close” friends peer-pressured you into trying drugs. Your significant other at the time was using, and encouraged you to do the same. Drugs became your chief connection with one another. If you stopped using, you felt your relationships too would stop.

You are not alone. Of the 20-plus million people battling addiction today, many were first introduced to drugs by a peer or someone they love. Yet for most, it was also loved ones who encouraged them to get clean and find treatment. For many in recovery, it was newfound friendships that helped make long-term sobriety possible.

At the core of addiction recovery lies healthy relationships. If you are in or have completed an addiction treatment program, you know this well. In recovery, you begin to restore relationships that were previously broken by drug use. You also begin to form new, positive relationships founded on recovery and respect.

If you are here because you are in recovery and desire to build or rebuild relationships, know that it is possible. However, you should first determine which relationships are healthy and worthy of constructing (which will support your sobriety), and which relationships will only threaten your recovery. Below are some tips on how to identify positive and negative relationships in recovery, and how to navigate them as they arise.

Romantic Relationships and Recovery

You’ve heard it time and time again. Do not start a relationship in recovery. Do not get romantically involved with someone in the early stages of sobriety. Do not put a relationship or another person above your goal of staying sober. Keep focus on yourself.

As much as you want romance to work in recovery, it is not advised. Recovery is a time of self-healing, full of personal reflection and self-assessment. It is a time of learning, in which you gain positive coping skills to handle any negative feelings or temptations that come your way.

Recovery is also a time of vulnerability. Especially in the first year, your sober life will be a brand-new life and can bring an array of overwhelming emotions. When you add a relationship into the mix, that emotional rollercoaster may only elevate and complicate your journey. If you do not have full grasp on your sober coping mechanisms, one stress in the relationship could jeopardize your recovery.

Recovery requires dedication and focus, yet romantic relationships can be distracting. New relationships are especially exciting and take up a lot of one’s time, thought, and energy. So much, in fact, that you may become obsessed with it, replacing your drug use with the relationship because it feels so good. As a rule of thumb, take any relationships slow in the same way you take your recovery slow – one day at a time – and do not lose sight on your true priority: yourself. Remember, you must be healthy and happy with yourself before you can have a healthy and happy relationship.

Identifying Harmful Relationships in Recovery

If you are well into your recovery and feel ready to rebuild relationships, you may desire to reach out to old friends or peers that were present during your drug-using days. As tempted as you may feel to recover lost friendships and make amends, it is important that you stay away from any relationship that may put your recovery at risk.

Try to take an inventory of your past relationships and friendships. Who supported you and your recovery when you decided to stop using? Who believed that you could make a change? Who respects the boundaries and goals you’ve set for your recovery? Those are the people that you should keep in your life.

The toxic relationships are with the people who laughed when you said it was time to make a change. The people who made you feel bad about yourself, that were abusive, controlling, or overbearing. The people who continue to offer you drinks or drugs, despite your commitment to sobriety. The people you used to take drugs with, and the relationships that were founded on the basis of partying and getting high. These are the people that can threaten your sobriety, the relationships that will only be toxic for your future.

Now, consider those toxic relationships carefully. Take note of how they made you feel before, why you were drawn to them, and what made those relationships end. Think about any mutual patterns that occurred in those previous, harmful relationships. Those are what you need to avoid when building relationships in recovery.

Building Healthy, Sober Relationships in Recovery

Think back to your days in drug treatment. You might remember that it was also relationships that helped you through the bad days, the hard days, the days you felt hopeless or lost. You might recall that you were never alone completely in drug rehab. You had close mentors, support groups, and sober peers to help you navigate the trials and errors of recovery. You always had someone to call or a shoulder to lean on for support. These were not toxic relationships. These were sober, healthy, positive relationships – the cornerstone of a successful recovery and life.

In life and in recovery especially, it is important to know what traits are vital to healthy relationships and friendships. Think about your sober network from treatment and what qualities they carry. What makes these relationships so successful? Only then can you start building relationships that carry the same:

  • Honesty and open communication
  • Trust and safety
  • Positivity and empathy
  • Accountability and reliability
  • Acceptance and respect

Keep healthy expectations of any relationships in recovery. If someone has an issue with your sobriety (inevitably, this will occur), know how to walk away. Negative relationships can place a lot of stress on your recovery journey, while positive relationships can help you find the support and esteem you need to maintain sobriety long-term.

To learn about Turnbridge’s recovery program for young adults, please call 877-581-1793.