Dating a recovering alcoholic

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I Have been dating someone for a little over a month. He has told me a little bit of his past with drinking. He said that he was in an unhappy relationship with someone for over three years and had been drinking, one night he hit rock bottom and slept with someone else. His relationship ended and he decided to get help through AA. The thing is he works in a bar.. AA asked him kindly to stop sharing stories with the rest of the group because they did not agree with him working in a bar. At that time I think he shied away from it. Didnt drink for five months. then slowly he would have a beer here.. a beer there. but never ever more than three. He didn’t like the feeling of his face feeling hot. He also feels that he went to AA for preventive measures.. before it got even more out of hand. Then he meets me.. and its amazing between us.. and i know both of our feelings are invested. I take him to a dinner party..its just us and another couple. He tells me he is not going to drink.. cool. I go in the fridge get him an ice tea.. I was told he wanted a glass of wine. The night progresses.. and I see him drinking more than a glass, I kindly hand him the tea and go out of my way to ask him if he would like some water. That night we get to his house and he tells me he drank over what he feels comfortable with and never wants to do that again. The next day we discuss it again.. and thats when I get the full blown story of him being a recovering alcoholic. That day he decided to he needed to go to an AA meeting and his going to re-check himself. I adore him but I felt that day… I was on pins and needles with him.. His mood changed. Up and down. He felt extremely guilty for that night at dinner.. to allowed himself to go that far.. and I have never been in this situation or even know how to deal with this.
Help?
I don’t want out.
But I don’t know what to do.
I’m 29 and want a healthy relationship can this happen.. if so.. how?

A: Of course a healthy relationship can happen. But it takes work on both your parts. Your boyfriend needs to decide once and for all that he is more invested in his relationship with you than his relationship with alcohol. Good intentions aren’t enough. He needs to take his recovery seriously. AA is a wonderful organization but it isn’t for everyone. If he isn’t getting enough support through AA, he should consider getting himself into therapy with an addictions counselor or a psychologist. Although most people couldn’t handle working in a bar and staying sober, there are people who do. If he is incredibly honest with himself, he might be one of those who can pull it off. That’s one of the many issues that he could work through with his therapist.

For your part: You might find it helpful to take a look at the website for Al-anon. Al-Anon is an organization for partners of recovering alcoholics. Meetings provide support and practical help. If your boyfriend does get into therapy, you might ask to be included now and then to talk about how you can support his recovery and what changes he is willing to make to deserve your trust.

You’ve only been in this relationship for a month. It’s too early to decide whether he is the one for you. How he takes on the challenge of recovery will tell you a lot about his strength of character. If you see tremendous potential in the relationship (as it seems you do), give it a few months. You both have work to do if you want to give it a chance. Whether or not the relationship works out, participating in recovery work will teach you more about how to maintain your own boundaries and how to avoid being pulled into someone’s addictive behaviors.

I wish you both well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jul 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Dating a recovering alcoholic. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/03/dating-a-recovering-alcoholic/