Do Married Couples Have to Be Celibate in Addiction Recovery?

By Christian Castaneda, LCSW, Program Director at Promises Malibu Addiction recovery is a vulnerable and healing time when people must learn new ways of creating healthy relationships with themselves and others. Singles must remove themselves from unhealthy sexual encounters and refrain from starting new romantic or sexual relationships for one year. But what if you are in a marriage or partnership? It is often recommended that married couples refrain from sexual relationships for 90 days into the addicted partner’s sobriety, especially when sex addiction is involved. This is because you must first get sober and let your recovery program get underway. Then you can work on your relationship and on being together in a healthier way.

Can We Go Back to the Way it Was?

Reconnecting with your partner intimately is an important part of the rebuilding process so couples are encouraged to find ways to be close again. But not every sexual situation is ideal for a recovering addict and it is important to be aware of any pitfalls in your path to true intimacy. For people trying to restore relationships impacted by addiction, you want to nurture your love as much as possible. But some relationships must be re-evaluated and may require a healthy boundary if there are inherent challenges. The best way to assess the situation is to ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your mate in active addiction or a bad influence?
  • Was your marriage toxic or abusive before your recovery from addiction?
  • Is sex with your mate turning into a new addiction?
  • Are you using sex to deflect reality or avoid pain?
  • Are you using your mate only for the sexual exchange?
  • Do relations with your mate trigger your addictive behaviors?

Self-Care Before Sex

You may be anxious to reconnect with your partner but it is important to ask yourself these deeper questions and answer honestly. Honest communication with your mate is an important new skill to practice. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling if needed. The reason married or committed love is treated differently than casual sex or a new relationship is that there is more history with the person and more of a bond. While attraction is normal and can be fun, it’s difficult to have a deep level of communication with individuals you newly meet. With your wife or your husband, you can talk about the situation and work to resolve issues, together. In a committed relationship, you can work to rebuild intimacy, communication and trust. In those cases, sexual love can be healing. But the urge for the dopamine rush may be present in recovery for a long time so you have to be mindful that intimacy with your beloved does not turn into an attempt to satisfy a dopamine urge and a need to feel high.  

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