Recovering sex addicts can date, fall in love and have wonderful lasting relationships. Their success in the relationship world depends a lot on how far along they are in their own recovery and how much work they have done on themselves.
For recovering addicts who feel ready to look for a new love, or rebuild an old one in a new way, there are hurdles that may loom large and pitfalls they may not anticipate.
Most sex addicts, if they had past relationships, had relationships that were damaged by their addiction. The addict typically leads a double life and uses dishonesty and self delusion to escape the feelings of shame and guilt toward a spouse or partner.
In recovery addicts will have made a commitment to “rigorous honesty” and will have gone from leading two lives to having a stronger more integrated sense of self. They will have worked through childhood trauma and learned to manage their emotions without the drug that was their addiction. And they will have gained more emotional maturity in general.
Dating in recovery is different
Despite the considerable recovery skills that addicts gain over time, many recovering addicts feel that they are babes in the woods when it comes to relationships. They have had relationships in the past that were partial, or full of conflict, or distant or fleeting.
Furthermore, sex addicts very often have no adequate role model of a good relationship, typically growing up in families where there was either addiction, sexual repression, conflict, or a just a lack of closeness and affection between the parents.
Most addicts never got to see what a good relationship is supposed to look like while they were growing up, they have to envision and actualize something that they have never seen.
Yet there are some specific issues that come up repeatedly for addicts who are beginning to date.
- Because of the factors outlined above, a recovering addict who begins to date will very likely begin by doing a lot of the same things that he or she did in the past. If they were too seductive too soon, if they sought out damaged people, if they were drawn to powerful people or mistook sex for love then the chances are they will begin their new dating life doing some of those same things. This is what I think of as the “first relationship” syndrome and why the first relationship may end up being a trial run. It may not work but it is a necessary step.
- Addicts in recovery may be a lot less fearful or avoidant about intimacy but it is still an issue that they need to be aware of, particularly in a romantic relationship. In approaching a new potential partner, the addict’s intimacy issues will be reactivated by the scariness of the situation. It’s one thing to have friends in recovery, it’s quite another to go out on a real date.
- Addicts may go into the dating world with an unrealistic image of what a partner will be like. Addicts may have acquired an idealized, fake idea of the beautiful, perfect partner. They may not really know what they are looking for or what they really need. One example of this is the sex addict who has an image of a partner as vastly different in age from himself. This can be unrealistic and unworkable and needs to be looked at.
- Addicts may put sex in the forefront in a dating situation. Having sex on the first date may be common, but it is probably not the best way to look for and find a partner. It is especially inappropriate for a recovering sex addict. The idea will be to treat the other person as a person rather than an object, and to get to know them before deciding whether to pursue a romantic and sexual relationship. For some addicts the first dating partner may end up looking more like a sexual acting out partner.
- Sex addicts in particular face a difficult challenge in terms of what to disclose to a dating partner and when to disclose it. For some there is the temptation to tell the other person everything up front. This is not always a good idea. For some there is the temptation to get a new relationship firmly entrenched and then think about disclosing the pertinent information about the addiction. This can be equally problematic. Usually there is a time after getting to know the person but before the relationship has become sexual when it is appropriate to tell the most important facts about an addiction history. This gives the other person a chance to know the addict for who he or she really is and lets the addict know if there are things which may be “deal breakers.”
These are only a few of the many things that can complicate the process of finding a new relationship in recovery. Please check out my new book “Relationships in Recovery: A Guide for Sex Addicts who are Starting Over” for more on this topic.