This is a topic we have been discussing a lot in the office this week, so I wanted to explore it a bit further? Why are romantic relationships in rehabs so common? What are the dangers? Can they ever work?
Firstly, I am going to put it on the record that I do not agree with relationships in rehab; I have seen first-hand the damage they do and think they are to be avoided at all costs. The majority of rehabs will have very firm rules in place stating that should an inappropriate relationship develop, the parties involved may be asked to leave. The simple reason is that people in the early stages of recovery are too vulnerable to be putting themselves in a situation where the needs of another addict need to be taken into account. When going through a period of intensive therapy, it can be easy to misinterpret emotions. Identification and empathy for another person in a similar situation can be confused with intimate feelings.
Starting a relationship with another person in rehab is all about the individuals’ involved inability to understand and respect boundaries. That in itself is part of the problem with addiction, that the person is not able to exhibit self-control, they act on compulsion. Therefore, being told not to start a relationship with someone in rehab is a setting of boundaries which needs to be respected in order to continue being able to appreciate boundaries in future.
Starting a relationship in rehab also provides the opportunity for the people involved to become isolated from the rest of the group, and the group is an integral part of getting well. Remove the feeling of belonging from the group and you are right back to square one; isolated with nowhere to turn. The rest of the group may experience resentment that these two individuals are sharing something away from the group and this resentment could have a damaging effect on their recovery too.
Relapse must also be considered as a factor in rehab relationships. Whilst in the rehab, if one of the partners decides to self-discharge and leave early, it is highly likely the other person involved will consider doing so as well. These relationships therefore have the potential to jeopardise the recovery of both parties. Should they successfully complete treatment and decide to have a relationship once they have left, there is the danger that they will be bad influences on each other. If one stays motivated to attend meetings and continue with their recovery programme, but the other does not, where does this leave them both? Is an addict who is new to recovery expected to resist using if the substance is used in their presence?
That being said, I am not saying relationships between addicts can never work, however I would suggest that both parties need to have a long history of recovery behind them, at least 5 years’ worth. Otherwise, the risks are just too high. My recommendation is to embrace the friendship offered by others in recovery, but to focus on yourself and getting yourself better first and foremost; it is the only way you will have the rest of your life ahead of you.
What are your thoughts? Can relationships in rehab ever work? Do you have experience of a relationship in rehab or recovery? We’d love to hear your thoughts.