Love, Trust & Recovery: Navigating Intimacy After Addiction

Steve Trevino
February 8, 2024

Relationships, dating, and marriage are complicated enough. But addiction adds another layer of complexity to the dynamics. It creates emotional distance between partners, takes more time away from the couple, and affects sexual health, among other things. This explains why couples with partners who abuse alcohol or drugs report problems with intimacy after addiction.

They argue and fight a great deal, and the fighting itself can create a situation or environment in which the partner with drug or drinking problems abuses these substances to manage their stress. It's like an unending cycle where the conflicts lead to substance use and vice-versa. Over time, substance abuse destroys trust, communication, love, and stability, all of which are the foundation of healthy relationships.

So, it doesn't come as a surprise that those in the early stages of addiction recovery face the challenge of recovering their intimate relationships. Since substance use comes with isolation, secrecy, and social distancing, spouses in recovery have to start from ground zero when it comes to rebuilding their intimate relationship. This means rebuilding love, trust, and communication from the foundation up.

How to Navigate Intimacy after Addiction

The good news is that there's hope for rebuilding intimacy after addiction. It's a challenging journey, but with commitment and the right strategies, loved ones can reconnect and build a stronger, healthier relationship.


Here are some practical steps to help you navigate intimate relationships in recovery:  

Don't start a New Relationship.

Valentine's Day is around the corner, and it's natural to want to have someone by your side. However, experts recommend waiting at least a year or more before starting new intimate relationships. This allows them to focus on themselves and their recovery. And that makes sense because it's hard enough to focus on oneself in recovery – let alone factoring in another person's needs. Besides, the emotional challenges that come with relationships can trigger relapse.

Be Honest and Direct

The conflicts that you experience in your relationship don't go away when you stop abusing substances. So, both partners need to own their role in the conflict as you begin the repair process. Take an inventory of your behaviors and account for them. Be honest and direct with your loved one when talking with them about the impact that the addiction had on the relationship.

Focus on Your Recovery Journey

A strong foundation for a healthy relationship begins with your well-being. Reflect on the progress you've made during your addiction treatment program, and identify the coping skills and self-care strategies that work for you. This can include exercising, proper nutrition, a good night's sleep, etc.

You can also incorporate mindfulness practices, journaling, yoga, etc., for your mental health. If you're yet to join a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous, do so and stick with it. Such groups have been shown to provide peer-level support that helps people stay sober long-term.

Take it Slow

Intimacy won't happen overnight. Allow time for both partners to adjust, rediscover themselves, and learn to navigate life without the crutch of substances. This deliberate pace helps build a solid foundation for a healthier connection, ensuring that you and your loved one are emotionally prepared for the challenges and joys of rebuilding intimacy.


Build a Culture of Open and Honest Communication

One key aspect of fixing intimate relationships after addiction is learning to communicate feelings healthily. Make it a habit to share your feelings, concerns, and aspirations with your partner, and encourage them to do the same. Discuss the challenges and victories of your recovery journey openly to foster a deeper understanding of each other's experiences. Effective communication builds trust and sets the stage for a more intimate connection based on mutual support and empathy.

Set Realistic Expectations

Know that he process will have its ups and downs, and being patient with yourself and your partner is essential. Recognize that both of you are on a journey of growth and recovery, and there will be moments of vulnerability. Celebrate small victories, acknowledge progress, and communicate openly about challenges.

Spend Quality Time Together

Be involved in activities that promote emotional connection and create positive shared experiences. Quality time allows both partners to rekindle the joy and companionship that may have been overshadowed during the challenges of addiction. Whether exploring shared hobbies, going out on a date, enjoying nature, or simply having meaningful conversations, dedicating time to each other strengthens the emotional bonds crucial for rebuilding intimacy.

Reintroduce Intimacy Gradually

Approach the reintroduction of intimacy with patience and a gradual mindset. Physical and emotional intimacy may have been strained during the period of addiction, and it's essential to take small, deliberate steps. Begin with gestures of affection, such as holding hands or hugging, and gradually progress as both partners feel more comfortable and connected. This gradual reintroduction allows for a sense of safety and ensures that both individuals are on the same page as they navigate this sensitive aspect of the relationship.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

Clearly define and communicate what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This includes setting limits on substance use, fostering open communication about personal space and individual needs, and respecting each other's boundaries. Healthy boundaries create a sense of security within the relationship and contribute to rebuilding trust, an essential component of intimate connections.


Do Away With Toxic Relationships

While your attention might be on fixing strained relationships, it's also an excellent time to eliminate unhealthy relationships. For instance, if you have friends or family who still use or don't support your recovery journey, or if you are in a romantic relationship that perpetuates toxicity, it may be time to consider cutting ties. Toxic relationships can be bad for well-being, and hinder personal growth and recovery progress.

Seek Couples Therapy

Couple's therapy is critical in helping you navigate the complexities of intimacy after addiction. It can help you set relationship goals and facilitate communication, address underlying issues, provide tools for conflict resolution, and promote emotional connection.

At More Than Rehab, we offer comprehensive addiction treatment programs that recognize the importance of addressing not only individual recovery but also the dynamics of relationships. If you're having a hard time staying sober or navigating intimacy in recovery, we can help. Contact us today to begin your journey toward lasting recovery and healthier relationships.



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About The Author: 
Steve Trevino
Steve Trevino is married to Julie, his high school sweetheart and they have two daughters. He is the founder and executive director of CrossCentral Church and Recovery Center. With experience in both non-profit and for-profit treatment, he has helped thousands find freedom from addiction through residential programs, recovery workshops and consulting around the world.

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