Sober Dating for Recovering Sex Addicts
Dating can be tricky to navigate whether or not you’ve experienced a problem with addiction. Add a past history of sex addiction to the mix, and for the recovering individual, it can become even more complicated. Not all of your past relationships may have seemed problematic as a result of your addiction, but according to expert Linda Hatch, Ph.D., when you were actively acting out in your addiction, it was “your addict” who chose your partners. Those partners may have “served your need to pursue your addiction, [being] someone who wore blinders, someone who was needy and enabling, or someone who was just ‘checked-out’ in one way or another.”
Sound familiar? Because sex addiction is understood by experts to be an intimacy disorder, it’s important to remain vigilant to the way we seek to avoid sustainable connection with a partner, replacing it with the intensity of initial attraction and romance. An intimacy disorder can show itself in many ways, not just the sexual. It is usually advised that newly recovering people give themselves a year or two in which to focus solely on sobriety instead of a new relationship. During those first raw months after getting clean, we need all the energy and attention we can muster for ourselves. In the beginning, sobriety takes work.
Changing Our Relationship Patterns
Choosing high-conflict relationships and abusive or unavailable partners may have been our past M.O. Or we may have engaged in unhealthy sexual or emotional behaviors with partners believing these things were simply part of any relationship. When we begin again after recovery, it’s important that we have a good sense of our past relationship patterns so we don’t repeat them. To untangle ourselves from old, unhealthy scripts, it’s important to look to their origins—problems with intimacy and sex were often laid down in the childhoods of sex addicts.
Maybe we experienced emotional abandonment in our early life and tend to choose partners in adulthood who are emotionally aloof. Such a dynamic can reengage fears of abandonment again and again, and for the sex addict, create a “reason” (read: rationalization) for engaging in sexual acting-out behaviors. Or maybe we witnessed abuse and violence, or were victims ourselves in early life, and in adulthood, we find ourselves repeating patterns of exploitation, control and aggression. These behaviors were modeled for us early in life, and to find the control we never experienced as children, we may unconsciously struggle to take it from our partners—or cede self-control to a lover again and again.
By Recognizing Our Patterns, We Have the Power to Change Them
It’s only by recognizing the role of addiction in our lives that we had the power to change it. The same is true for relationship dynamics. Once we better understand the direction we’ve been heading, we can choose to turn around and take another road. This is where a commitment to honesty with self and others is most important; denial has a way of throwing us off track. As with Dr. Hatch’s example, we might inadvertently begin dating again by choosing people who don’t inflame our addictive tendencies, but will enable them.
For recovering sex addicts, the most valuable quality in a relationship is emotional intimacy—a willingness on both sides to be vulnerable and real. We’re going to need to do a lot of communicating, sometimes about difficult things, and someone willing to do so with us (and not let us get away with running from important conversations) is a good match. With this kind of partner, we’ll be more likely to stay honest, and more able to build the groundwork of mutual support.