Two people sitting in front of each other.

Discovering Romantic Intimacy and Healing in Sobriety

Recovering from addiction is not easy, and trying to rebuild, repair, or renew a love life while in recovery may seem like a herculean task. As a life coach for entrepreneurs, I want to assist you in navigating this journey with as few bumps and as little heartache as possible on your road towards joy.

In this article, we will discuss romantic relationships while in recovery from addiction, including codependency or people-pleasing.

Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to you and prepare you for what might be a challenging read.

Thanks for reading something that may p*ss you off

Again, I want to express my gratitude for taking the time to read this article. What I have to say may not be easy to digest, and I understand that some may find my content offensive. If you were raised to hate the gender you feel sexual attraction (and yes, that includes same-sex attraction), then it’s likely you won’t appreciate most of what I’m saying.

However, if you want to connect with people in a non-controlling and manipulative way, you deserve to hear and read what I’m saying. The truth is, if your parents didn’t excel in romantic relationships, so repeating their patterns won’t benefit your life.

As a recovering addict, discovering real intimacy with another person can be daunting. At least, that was my own personal experience. I was so preoccupied with my own inner shame, self-pity, and desperation that I didn’t consider how my actions impacted others. In the next section, we will discuss discovering real intimacy.

Real intimacy in sobriety  

Have you ever thought about what love really is?

The other day, my son asked me, “Mommy, who do you love?” and I paused to think about it for a second. To be honest, I didn’t fully understand what love meant until I was 5+ years sober. This is despite being a wife for many years. 

I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family environment where you were only praised when you made others feel comfortable and safe, but never at ease. Everyone was always on high alert, and nobody could feel good about themselves because everyone felt afraid all the time. As a result, I couldn’t take anyone who would make me feel vulnerable because my fragile ego wouldn’t allow it. Moreover, I couldn’t even handle criticism or any kind of honest feedback from anyone.

So how could I say I loved or felt love when I kept everyone emotionally at arm’s length? It took me a really long time to learn what love is, and that it’s not conditional or rule-based. 

Intimacy is possible while in recovery 

Healing and recovery taught me the true meaning of love. Sobriety helped me melt away the hard protective shield that I had built up, and allowed me to see people as less of a threat and more of an opportunity to love and be loved. 

Discovering love and learning to receive it takes time. You need to unlearn the unhealthy behaviors and express gratitude for yourself and others. First, we will discuss why it is hard to connect with others in romantic relationships.

The pleasure of pain in intimate relationships

People don’t like it when I say that emotional pain is addictive. Who wants to admit that? Two great reads about addiction to pain in romantic relationships are “A Taste for Pain” by Maria Marcus and “You Were Not Born to Suffer” by Blake Bauer.

Anyway, I choose to suffer emotionally in my relationships. At the height of my sex and alcohol addiction, I really thought people were out to get me and that I was unlovable. How could anyone love someone who is deeply focused on themselves?

Why is there an attraction to emotional pain?

You may be addicted to emotional pain if you grew up in a home where there was constant conflict, confusion, and drama. You may have underdeveloped emotional intelligence (see the image below). As a result, pain and confusion may feel more normal than peace and serenity.

Unfortunately, all of that pain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. In high doses, norepinephrine can damage your immune system, mutate cells, and cause cancer.

But there is good news: you don’t have to develop an illness or repeat the same dysfunctional patterns from your childhood. You have a chance to heal. And it all starts with unlearning unhealthy habits.

A table with some words that are in front of two people.

Intimacy requires unlearning unhealthy habits

If you want to change your habits, you must change how you approach them. James Clear‘s book, “Atomic Habits,” is an excellent resource to read. “Atomic Habits” discusses the idea that the key to success is making consistent, small changes over time. The reason most of us don’t make significant changes to improve ourselves is not due to lack of desire but rather a lack of support.

In recovery, as in so many other areas of our lives, we need to recognize which tendencies or habits we need to amplify and the bad or unhelpful habits we need to minimize. If we want to be sober and have healthy relationships, we must work on destroying the bad while building up the good. Otherwise, we will unconsciously sabotage the best of our intentions.

How to create good habits

To create good habits, we must make them attractive, simple, and easy to do and satisfying. To minimize bad or unhelpful habits, the converse is true: we must make those bad habits invisible, difficult, and unsatisfactory.

The table below explains how we can nurture the traits we want to embody within our lives. I added extra text to explain how we can create intimacy with others while in recovery.

Create Good HabitsDestroy Bad Habits


As an addict, there is a tendency to deny, avoid, and deflect emotions and personal failures.

How can you share your fears and anxieties in a way that makes you feel safe?


Addicts often punish themselves for perceived or actual mistakes.

How can you nurture yourself when engaging in self-destructive behavior such as avoidance or defensiveness?

Simple and Easy

Name at least three ways you can the remove stress from an uncomfortable conversation? 


When feeling anxious, fearful or embarrassed, it’s tempting to run away. How can you make it harder to leave a conversation?


How can you reward yourself for speaking up about your physical, emotional or spiritual needs?


Who or what can hold you accountable when denying your needs?

In the next section, we will discuss how we can mistake intensity for intimacy and copycats to real, genuine relationships.

Resisting faux or fake intimacy 

If you are in recovery, you may be tempted to seek quick and easy solutions and may try to avoid uncomfortable feelings. As a result, you may have been drawn to superficial relationships instead of authentic ones.

You or your past lover may have:

  • deflected ones fears by constantly asking the other person about their own fears or concerns
  • coerced the other person to reveal intimate details prematurely 
  • put all of their time, money and energy into the relationship before there was clarity about commitments with respect to continuity, compatibility or long-term goals 
This idea can be summed up in the following tweet, as shown below:

The truth is that real and authentic relationships are slow and boring. It takes time to grow trust between each person. But the upside to this is that they are stable, predictable and reliable. You don’t have to worry about the next “crisis” or when you are going to have your next make-up sex. There is no drama because you and your partner are focused on healthy communication.

In the next section, below is some guidance on how to build intimacy with a romantic partner while in recovery.


Intimacy Tips

Advice for singles

Please do not start a relationship if there is a part of you that still craves the excitement and danger from when you were active in your addiction. If you are unmarried or not involved in a long-term relationship, I highly recommend avoiding dating or committing to anyone in a romantic relationship. Old habits are hard to break, and you need this time to develop self-love for yourself and to address the underlying issues that supported your addiction.

Advice for those in long-term committed relationships

Unless they are abusive, it is not a good idea to tell your spouse or partner, “You leave or I leave because I am in recovery.” While you need to invest in your recovery, your whole world doesn’t need to be thrown upside down. I highly recommend working with a marriage or couples counselor who has experience with addictions or trauma. They will teach you how to communicate with each other without intimidation or threats.

Final Thoughts

All relationships, especially romantic relationship require two emotionally healthy people. You owe it to yourself to examine your past in order to prevent it to from damaging your present and future happiness.

Also, intimacy requires that honest reflection about your habits. Choose to cultivate a life where you encourage real and authentic connections with others. Work with me if you need help understanding how to relate with others as a recovering addict.

Dig deeper: Learn more about healthy relationships by listening to this episode from my podcast or press the play button below.


The information in this article is for informational purposes only. No material in this article or website is to be a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read from me or anyone else online.

Also, this article is not designed to diagnose or treat you or anyone with a suspected mental health illness. Please, if you need help, seek appropriate help from a lawyer, health care provider or law enforcement officer.

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