If you are dating someone who has admitted to a past history of addictive sexual behavior you will need to know what to expect going forward. If the person you are dating has been in sex addiction treatment for upwards of a year or more, then the chances are that he (or she) will not relapse into the prior behavior. Or at least will not take up the full-blown version of the compulsive behavior such as cybersex, prostitutes, pornography, anonymous sex, and so on.
Positive signs to look for
You should feel encouraged by signs that the addict is in “good” recovery. Here are some of the indicators that the person has done the necessary work on himself and is ready for a healthy relationship.
Recovery history: The addict has had some combination of appropriate treatment and self help support programs such as therapy with a certified sex addiction therapist, treatment in a residential or intensive outpatient program if needed, group therapy, 12-step group participation.
Commitment to growth: The addict makes his own recovery a high priority in his life. He continues to work on himself and to be engaged with other people in recovery. You feel in your “gut” that you can trust him to be aware of and take responsibility for his own continued growth.
Insight: The addict is aware of what went wrong in his past relationships and understands how he retreated into his addiction, avoided intimacy, and hurt his partner. He understands that the relationship dynamics of the past are no longer what he wants.
Healthy communication: The addict is open and honest about what he feels and communicates his needs. He doesn’t heap blame on his past partners or project blame onto you. He takes responsibility when he is wrong.
Problems to expect
Sex addicts can be expected to have residual intimacy issues. They come out of the initial stage of recovery vastly changed in many ways, but they will still be fearful of relationships will have imperfect relationship skills.
Bonding problems: Addicts often have had early attachment issues with parents or grown up without ever having any appropriate models of healthy bonding. They may fear abandonment and feel that commitment is dangerous. If this is a problem they need to work on it in therapy.
Other addictions: Addicts seldom have just one addiction. Researchers have found that 83% of sex addicts interviewed had at least one other addictive behavior.
Subtle acting out behaviors: It is not unusual for subtle mini-behaviors to creep in such as contacting an old girlfriend “to catch up,” or looking at “harmless” videos on facebook or ads on craigslist. These things may not mean anything but sometimes they can be driven by the addiction in unconscious ways. They may seem eminently “deniable.”
Issues around sex: The recovering sex addict will often have had little or no experience with healthy sexual relationships. He may be ambivalent or avoidant about sex. Sometimes the addict will try to bring addictive behaviors into the relationship in some way. This may or may not be OK with you.
What to do?
Ask a lot of questions: Don’t be afraid to pry. Make sure you get the details of the addicts sexual acting out behavior. Many times addicts will give people a “sanitized” version of what their lives were like before. Often they will leave out a whole set of behaviors that they are to embarrassed to talk about. You need to know these things even if you don’t think you want to.
Don’t be placated: Addicts have spent many years not talking about things and just saying whatever they think someone wants to hear. This means they haven’t ever gotten used to talking about their feelings and needs with anyone. Let your addict know when he is not being open and when he seems to be putting you off. He needs to practice asking for what he wants.
Be clear about what you want: Set appropriate boundaries for yourself including what you are OK with sexually. Protect yourself and decide what your limits are. Likewise be clear about what you want in a relationship and make sure you ask your addict what he is looking for in a relationship. This is not being pushy, it’s important.
Get connected: Talk to other people or go to one of the many websites that deal with partners of sex addicts and get as much support and information as you can. Educate yourself about sex addiction, and if the relationship gets serious, feel free to make an appointment wit a certified sex addiction therapist to discuss things. Getting therapy together at some point is never a bad idea.
Nothing is for sure when it comes to relationships but dating someone in good recovery, particularly if you have done some work on yourself, can be very rewarding. You may end up in the best relationship ever. But if so that will be because you too are committed to learning and growing. One thing is for sure: relationships are to learn from.