Some people in sexual recovery are in a relationship or marriage that existed prior to their being treated and often prior to their addiction being found out. These people are on a journey that already involves a partner and are motivated enough to work on transforming that relationship and making it succeed in a healthy way. However, there are those whose marriages did not survive or who have no partner in their lives and find themselves in recovery and wishing to find a romantic relationship.
When recovering from sexual addiction you cannot just assume that you know how to go about the dating process in a normal way. In fact you may never have approached the possibility of dating in way that was not somehow distorted by your addiction. When you begin dating in recovery you must be especially conscious of what you are doing. I knew a woman in sexual recovery who had been addicted to acting out bondage scenarios. She told me laughingly that in early recovery, she thought she could find a normal relationship and then act out her bondage scenarios within that relationship. But even if you are very strong in your recovery, you must be aware that your addiction can seep into your relating in ways you are not aware of. That is why you need to be vigilant as you proceed.
When you were active in your addiction you may have had a relationship that appeared normal and was totally separate from your acting out behavior, but the partner you chose was certain to be different in many ways from the partner you would choose in recovery. Why? Because in your addiction the part of you driven to sexual acting out, your “addict”, was in charge of choosing your partner. You chose a partner who in some way served your need to pursue your addiction, someone who wore blinders, someone who was needy and enabling, or someone who was just “checked-out” in one way or another.
High drama relationships or relationships built around unhealthy sexual or emotional scenarios, unavailable or abusive partners, etc. may have been part of your life before recovery. These relationships most likely related to a pattern laid down in your earliest experiences with intimacy and sex. They may reflect fear of abandonment, the need to dominate, the need to degrade or be degraded in order to feel adequate, or any of a number of unhealthy emotional “scripts”. When you start dating in recovery you need to be vigilant as to the people you choose to date, but you also need to be aware that your own behavior patterns may include seductiveness, predatory flirting or objectification.
Even in recovery, you are still going to be susceptible to that peculiar feeling of “instant connection” with someone, that feeling of “familiarity”. That feeling should be a warning signal to take stock of the situation and be aware that an instant connectedness may indicate that you have come across someone who fits your past pattern of relationships in which healthy love and commitment are not possible. In other words it may be an illusion. Can you ever Trust your instincts? My own feeling is that the healthier you become the more you can rely on your intuitions and your first impressions.
Many people have questions about how and when to share their sexual history with a person they are dating. Obviously if the person you go out with is also in sexual recovery then it would be appropriate to share your histories with each other right away. Likewise, it is easier to tell more sooner if the person already knows that you have been receiving treatment for sexual addiction. In this case, the process of eventually disclosing everything and relating in an open way will be accelerated. As to people with no knowledge of your sexual recovery issues, it will be necessary to get yourself to begin to share something about your problem right away. This will not have to be the whole story, but remember, you will be taking the dating process more slowly and carefully than many other people and you will need to let the person know what’s going on with you in general so they can make sense out of the experience.
As you get to know someone you are dating, you will have to share more of the “gory details” of your story so that the other person can know the real you; don’t forget to include the part about how well you’ve done in your recovery! If and when you want to be really intimate and committed, you will have to be prepared to share everything – no secrets. Anything less will sooner or later come home to roost as a betrayal. This is because the other person will feel that regardless of whether things have gone well or badly, they were not able to base their own decisions and behavior on reality. They will likely feel that their reality has been manipulated and will correctly see this as less than caring on your part.
The sober dating plan outline will ask that you put down in some detail your own individualized plan relative to the key questions about dating including some rules about how and when you will let a relationship become sexual. It is important to realize that having sexual feelings for someone you are spending time with and even having sexual fantasies about them are most likely normal experiences and as such should not cause any alarm. The problems arise when you allow yourself to believe that your sexual attraction to someone means they are automatically right for you. It takes considerable effort and feedback from trusted advisors to hold on to the reality that you still do not really know a person and that you may not be compatible with them and may not even like them. Until you figure these things out, you may be headed for a casual sexual encounter. This would not be part of the plan for recovering sex addicts. Also you should bear in mind that fantasies are one thing, but if you begin to obsess about or sexually target a person, even someone you know well, this is a definite red flag.
The time to construct a sober dating plan is before you start dating, even before you think you are really ready to start dating. Many addicts in recovery are fearful of dating. They may think they have something to be ashamed of, they may not know how to go about it, and they may have spent years hiding in their addiction. Make a plan and try to stick to it (or modify it if you need to – nothing is perfect.) Remember to check in with others as you go along and listen to their opinions. It’s a learning process.