Harry and Sally took risks – for the sake of love…

Harry and Sally found each other in the 12 Step recovery rooms and it was “love at first sight.”  Both had long histories of romantic failure that included two previous failed marriages for Harry and one divorce for Sally. Both had vowed that their new sober relationship was going to be different than all the rest since neither had been sober in romance before. 

When we first met them, Harry was struggling to stabilize his recovery after a relapse which interrupted a five year period of abstinence from his drug of choice.  Sally relates that she had recently returned to her Anon meetings out of fear of Harry’s relapse but that her “program of recovery” has never been more then occasional meetings with no sponsor, no step work, and no service work outside of her marriage to Harry. 

Harry regrets that he strayed from meetings after he and Sally had their first child in recovery and acknowledges that he had never progressed beyond the Fifth Step.  Sally had heard of our work with couples in relapse and gave Harry an ultimatum to participate in a Shared Program of Recovery or get a divorce.  Our first meeting with the couple was a memorable one as it was one of the first couples that confirmed for us that there were certain preexisting conditions that couples would need to have firmly established for our work with them to be successful.

Our work with Harry and Sally reinforced for us that a couple’s desire to have a sober romantic life that will be different from those in their individual pasts is not sufficient enough to ensure a lasting change.  Sally and Harry had hit the “restart” button so many times in their romance that they were beginning to lose hope in their individual and collective ability to be successful in romance.   They had reached this point of desperation despite the solemn surrender and commitment to change that preceded each attempt at reconciliation. They found themselves being afraid to have hope.

But Harry and Sally took a risk that involved challenging the conventional wisdom they were continuously being taught in their parallel 12 step recovery rooms. In a motivational – and inspirational – moment they decided that they would do whatever it took to get well together. At that moment they agreed to begin sharing their recovery programs with each other. Sure enough, this model was like a new lease on the life of their marriage!  Now they look for opportunities to share their hope with other couples.

This is a true story.  Harry, Sally, and now hundreds of other couples have been successful in building a sober romance. They combine the insights they gain with the lessons they painstakingly learn in their own romance to be of service to others and carry the message and romantic promise of a shared program of recovery.


This article was written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The content of this article is based on their soon to be published couples book from Leadem Counseling titled: Awakening To Your Soul Mate: A decision to be IN Love (Leadem & Leadem, 2013)





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    Last reviewed: 5 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Leadem, J. (2012). When Harry Met Sally: The True Story of a Sober Romance. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/couples/2012/10/when-harry-met-sally-the-true-story-of-a-sober-romance/


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Elaine Leadem, MSW, LCSW & John Leadem, MSW, LCSW are authors of many books, including One in Spirit & An Ounce of Prevention.
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