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Considering Marriage or Commitment to a Person in Early Recovery

Should you marry a person in early recovery?

The love of your life is a good person with a bad disease. Maybe they hid their illness from you. Maybe you were committed before they relapsed. It’s understandable that you’d have reservations and fears moving forward. Before you take that next step, take a long look at both your partner and yourself.

The Dilemma (Controlling the Uncontrollable)

The story I most often hear is that, “When s/he is sober they’re wonderful and I couldn’t be happier. When they use, they become someone I don’t know and don’t want to know.” The classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde leaves us simultaneously drawn and repulsed.

Promises get made and sometimes hearts get broken. We seek to guard against making the wrong choice relationally, while confronted with the reality that we cannot control the thing that scares us most (relapse or continued use). For all that we may choose, we must make ourselves our highest priority.

It’s All About You

Too many of us are poised on the edge of our seats, monitoring our loved one and holding our breaths. One of the most basic tenets of recovery is making our lives manageable. If you put your life on hold while you wait for the other shoe to drop, your stress will remain high and your overall health is likely to decline accordingly.


  • Accept that you are powerless over whether your loved one uses. You cannot cause them to drink/use, nor can you prevent it.
  • The absence of the problem (a period of sobriety alone) will not make your fears go away.
  • You needn’t face your fears alone, nor are you obligated to keep your partner’s addiction a secret. Your partner should be comfortable with your needs being met by entrusting loved ones to keep confidences.
  • It’s completely appropriate to expect that your partner communicate their wants, needs, and feelings with you.
  • Seek accountability from your partner and don’t hesitate to ask if they are clean/sober.
  • Resolve above all else to take excellent care of yourself independent of what they choose to do.

Sometimes It’s Déjà Vu

I urge folks to consider whether what they’re experiencing in their romantic relationships feels familiar? We tend to gravitate toward the types of folks we grew up with. I often find that folks are looking to achieve outcomes with their partner that they could not achieve in their family of origin. For those who are Adult Children Of Alcoholics/Addicts (ACOA) I cannot urge you strongly enough to read up on the subject and consider how your past may be impacting your present.

Taking Their Inventory (Reading the Signs)

Everyone judges. It’s necessary for making healthy decisions. There’s no need to feel guilty about looking out for yourself. In making the choice to continue or advance your relationship, you could consider these objective concerns:

  • Does your loved one clearly acknowledge that they are an addict or alcoholic? (There’s a world of difference between alluding to a “slight drinking problem” and stating, “I’m an alcoholic”).
  • Does s/he identify a clearly defined plan that supports not using? Relapse prevention plans can come in countless different forms, but the absence of a plan is a form of denial.
  • Does s/he have support systems that include people who understand addiction and are able to spot potential relapse red flags?
  • Is your loved one open to suggestions from you regarding what you feel would be helpful?
  • Do they maintain relationships with people they abused alcohol and/or drugs with?
  • Does your loved one show accountability and management of their responsibilities?
  • Do they manipulate to get what they want?
  • Are they avoidant of conflict to the point of sacrifice or deception?
  • Are they impulsive or seemingly incapable of regulating their mood and/or actions?

Listen to Your Gut

Please briefly consider your answers to the questions above. Then stop thinking. Folks in recovery learn early on that the longest distance in the world is from our head to our heart. It’s the same for we who love them. I urge folks to listen to their “gut feeling.” It saves a lot of energy and sets aside our tendency to doubt ourselves.

Please don’t agonize. Write it out and talk it out. As long as our struggles remain ours alone, we will continue to be uncomfortable and uncertain. Please don’t pressure yourself to make a decision. Take your time and set any boundary you need to with your partner regarding how and when you’ll move forward.

If you find that you simply can’t make a choice but wish to maintain status quo for a time, I urge you to record everything you can about what you hope for and fear. Then date it and put it in your sock drawer with a plan to revisit at a specific juncture. This gives you a means for comparison and a sense of where you’ve been and for how long. Above all, to thy own self be true.

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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