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.



Recommended Posts


  1. Healthy, sober, and aware sex – what a concept!

  2. After my marriage ended because of my sexual addiction, I waited
    more than a year before I started dating. I had 2 rules:
    No sex unless this was a person I could potentially committ to;
    No sex without disclosing my sexually addictive history

  3. Dear Linda,

    I always appreciate your posts about sex addiction, most of which I find highly informative and well-researched. You have done so much to educate the general public AND addicts AND partners about this tragic way of relating to the world.

    I really like most of what you wrote in this post about sober dating and how to do it. I think it’s a great guide for recovering addicts who are ready to date again. Sadly though, I take really strong issue with what you wrote here about partners of sex addicts. I think that some of your comments belie an outdated and insidiously harmful view of partners, and of the horrendous interpersonal relational trauma that sex addicts have inflicted on them. With this attitude, you create yet another layer of trauma for partners and increase doubt in the mind of their sex addicted partners that the damaged relationship could ever be healed.

    In your post, you address recovering sex addicts by writing: “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.”

    Here we go again. This is what you are telling addicts? Somehow, it is the partner’s fault, her deficiencies made the space for the sex addict to act out? And, by implication, because of the drama and trauma, this is a partner who the sex addict would be better off without. After all, who wants to be weighed down in their recovery by an “enabling” partner? Or by someone who is basically “checked out” or “needy” or is somehow unable to get out of their “denial” about sex addiction? Better for the recovering sex addict to wipe the dust off his boots and get out of Dodge, leave that mess behind, move on toward healthier partners. I am stunned! Never mind that through both his sexual acting out and through his expertly constructed interpersonal manipulation of his partner, he has shredded her body, mind, and soul. (Gee, I wonder why all the drama and trauma?) Never mind that because of an intimacy disorder he has egregiously violated the very person who tried to love him.(Gee, I wonder why all the drama and trauma?)

    It’s clearly “easier” for the addict to move on to someone new, to someone less damaged, to someone who hasn’t lived through all the icky history, to someone who hasn’t experienced the painful devastation, to someone who doesn’t have a boatload of anger to contend with. Yes, it’s WAAAAYYYYY easier to leave the relationship than it is to take responsibility for these egregious behaviors and take up the work of fixing them. Are we over looking the fact that many sex addicts also carry comorbid diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder? Why aren’t CSAT treaters holding them accountable for this stuff?

    I encourage you to refer again to Dr. Omar Minwalla’s guest post about sex addiction induced partner trauma (SAIT) on this very blog, and reread the 50+ comments posted there by outraged readers, most of whom were partnered with sex addicts. There, as elsewhere on the Internet (see, you will see a large movement away from the codependent/co-addict line of thinking, which I believe is highly misogynistic. You might also refer to Dr. Barbara Steffens’ book “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse”, which offers a cogent and compelling reframing of a partner’s symptoms and plight, finally moving us out from the “co-addiction” model, which is inherently blaming of partners, to a “trauma victim/survivor” model, and placing the responsibility for the partner’s demise squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of sex addicts.

    Sex addicts need to be confronted hard and directly about the damage they did to other human beings – to the people who were closest to them and loved them – not coddled, but called to restorative justice and a living, ongoing responsibility to make things right. This damage done, and the need to take personal responsibility for fixing it, needs to be broadcast loud and clear by CSATs. Perhaps it is the sex addiction treaters who are the real enablers here? It’s not right that when a partner takes a longer time to recover from the damage done to her that an addict, tired of it all, just walks away into the dawn of a new life – to be alone or to find someone new – with the blessing and sympathetic head-nod from his CSAT treaters. I call bullshit!

    So I ask you, Linda, please reconsider your position on this. Partners need your support. Addicts need your fierce love and being held to accountability. Couples need a closed container within which to do the kind of work required, including repair, restorative justice, and reconciliation… This kind of healing certainly won’t come from coddling sex addicts or trying to protect them from their shame, and it won’t come from labeling partners as being screwed up from the beginning, and it won’t come from the attitude that may be the relationship is just too broken to be fixed, so maybe it’s time to cut the losses and move on. That’s an easy out.



  4. Linda,
    Many of your points are helpful, however I have to agree with Noni…if this was a chemical or alcoholic addiction, would you be advocating that the addict leave the family to connect with a new one, so there is less ‘trauma and drama’? Is this really helpful for an addict? It seems to me that the addict needs to engage the recovery process to restore relationships, not run away from them. Yes, family members of all types of addicts might need support to change behaviors that are enabling, but totally drop them for a ‘fresh start’ or because no one has assisted the family members to deal with the betrayal bestowed by the addict? That does sound like a ‘one-sided’ recovery plan.

    If the partner is engaged in support, and the addict is in recovery – why can’t a hopeful future of restored relationship be the guide? And why paint the partner as a ‘broken’ individual….I’ve heard many professional therapists state they can be fooled by the charming, pathelogical liar – so does that make the therapist the one the addict chose “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.”?

    I believe there are plenty of therapists who fit that model – as the addict is typically a charming person who can compartmentalize his addiction from the most trained therapists….my husband fooled several therapists for 20 years before I finally caught him with unrefutable evidence and he was forced to come clean….and I was not the one with a ‘blind’s eye’ – but the only one who diligently told therapist after therapist, ‘he’s not telling the truth’. I had to persist to build evidence that the therapist would believe…so was I just adding to the ‘drama and trauma’? Or was I the relentless wife who insisted her husband had a problem and someone had to help us!! Please!!?!!

    Only now, that he admits he is a SA, are the therapists believing me. So, how does that make ME the one “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.”?

    No, I think my husband is an excellent liar, possibly with narcissist personality disorder, and maintained a secret life. He needs to own it and doesn’t need people telling him to walk away from the relationship to start fresh. That is BS!! Admit and own the addiction, commit to recovery, repent from the behaviors and engage in an honest relationship. THEN, and only THEN can trust be rebuilt and can true forgiveness come with restoration of a relationship. You are selling the addict short from a potentially enriching restored relationship to encourage them to cut bait when there is too much ‘drama and trauma’. One of the consequences to addiction is broken relationships – addicts need to learn to accept the consequences and stand in the face of the betrayed partners emotions. Yes, the betrayed partner needs to recover which will help reduce the ‘drama and trauma’ but this can only happen when the addict proactively builds trust. If they don’t get to that point, and start a ‘fresh’ relationship, they are in for problems.

    Please, stop painting the partner with a broad brush and that the SA picked the partner to enable his/her addiction. I am sure there are scenarios that fit but it perpetuates the SA’s self-centered view that there is someone else to blame…. ANY person WHO IS WILLING TO TRUST ANOTHER PERSON, including the therapist, is susceptible to be the one “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.” We are just like anyone else – we are trusting, caring individuals who are trying to help someone and maintain a relationship. The addict has the problem. And if my husband had been in recovery before we started dating, I would have entered the relationship with full knowledge. Since that didn’t happen, that doesn’t make me someone “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.” It just makes me the partner who is with him when he acts out. A thief is a thief – whether I lock my doors or not, if the thief wants to steal, he’ll find a way into the house. The high-functioning thieves are not easily thwarted. Same thing with the addict. If he wants to secretly hide his life, he will find a way – especially if he is a high-functioning individual. I’m just the partner who is taking normal precautions with a person who vowed to honor our relationship. I’m supposed to be able to trust my husband. Don’t make me out to be an enabler.

  5. Wow….all of this is very good food for thought.

    • I would like to attend but Im too shy

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.