Healthy Dating in Recovery

Bob Parkins

It’s easy to forget that many men who are working to maintain sexual purity are single men. There’s a perception that the majority of men in recovery are married because they have more to lose. I, therefore, applaud all men in recovery and welcome the reminder that some are yet single.

I find that, if left unaddressed, many single men in recovery groups have difficulty relating with the married men, or they feel left out altogether. For them, I give some thoughts on how to pursue healthy dating relationships while in recovery. It is imperative that single men struggling sexually continue in ongoing recovery. This is especially important if he begins a dating relationship. If you are this man and are not yet in recovery, start today. Without committing daily to recovery, your new relationship will be in trouble from the start.

I want to touch on two main components of recovery, the first being accountability, and second the deeper work required to work through the issues behind your addiction. Accountability is one of the most important tools in recovery. You should already be faithfully meeting with an accountability partner who is willing to get in your face and ask you specific and hard questions.

In addition to your accountability partner, I highly recommend an accountability group that is also willing to be confrontational. It is very unwise to choose your girlfriend or fianc’ as your accountability partner, or any female for that matter. Accountability groups may be composed of men who struggle in other areas, but should not be co-ed.

Addressing your deeper issues will require work. Usually this is best done with an experienced therapist who is familiar with sexual addiction and recovery. Give yourself time – you will need it. Working through deep issues is almost always a painful and arduous process. Before continuing to pursue a romantic relationship, ask yourself if you are ready to enter into a dating relationship. Get the input of your therapist, accountability partner, and group. Don’t rush it! If you are comfortable beginning to date again remember, sexual temptation is also a part of healthy relationships and will need to be managed with strong boundaries.

Boundaries are an important part of any relationship. Without them we would continually violate others and have difficulty holding onto our own identity and sense of self. It will be important to establish, maintain and clearly communicate both clear emotional and physical boundaries. Your accountability partner should hold your feet to the fire and encourage healthy boundaries. You also need to be accountable to your girlfriend or fianc’e. You most likely have already gotten into trouble doing “everything but.”

Physical boundaries should be set far before you approach the line of a sexual act. I would suggest considering the kinds of physical touch you feel comfortable giving and receiving either in public, or in front of her mother. This is a great place to start setting physical boundaries and will help keep the fires from burning out of control. Setting conservative physical boundaries also encourages an increase in your emotional intimacy; you will spend more time talking. Many couples add another level of safety by being alone together only in public. I also suggest setting a consequence for crossing each other’s boundaries. This should cost you something.

Before my wife and I were married, we setup a savings account for this purpose. Every time a boundary was violated we paid the account. While there was an immediate cost, we eventually had an account full of cash. I think we used the money to buy something nice after we were married, but we would much rather have been sexually pure. The monetary penalties didn’t cost us enough. I would suggest either trying something else or giving the money away.

It is also important to respect her emotional boundaries, and if you are an addict you probably crossing them by expertly manipulating and lying; both violate your girlfriend or fianc’e emotionally. You must have empathy for her. I have encountered countless men who become self-righteous and indignant after they repented and think their wife/girlfriend now owes them forgiveness – she doesn’t. That is between her and God. Allow her the time and space she needs to grieve her pain and losses. When in doubt, empathize.

A therapist or mentor couple will be invaluable in walking you through this difficult process. If you feel yourself becoming impatient with her, check your own heart. You may be feeling shame and guilt for the pain you have caused her. Regardless of how you go about it, either through acting-out or in unhealthy relationships, intimacy is what you have really been grasping for. True intimacy is not natural for the sexually addicted and takes work. Since you are used to expressing intimacy through sexual acts you will need to learn to be intimate through the expression of your heart. This is a tall order, and if you are serious about the person you are currently dating you will need to disclose the nature of your addiction and acting-out. You cannot be truly intimate and hide this part of yourself. Don’t rush into disclosure and don’t take it lightly. Disclosure is best done when you start getting serious about the relationship. It is dishonest to keep this area of your heart hidden from her as she continues to give you hers.

Sharing your heart may be one of the scariest things you have ever learned to do, but it will be the most significant aspect of a healthy relationship. You are embarking on a dangerous journey. Finding your heart and moving toward true intimacy can be very painful and rewarding. There will be times when it is all you can do to maintain sexual sobriety. Staying connected to your sources of accountability and keeping well within the prescribed boundaries are essential if you are to progress toward a truly intimate relationship. You have settled long enough for the counterfeit, now discover what God has for you.

For help in finding a Christian counselor or coach call 1-800-NEW-LIFE.

How’s Your Plan Working?

For some of you reading this, Every Man’s Battle is still a fresh experience; you’re still on the mountain top, and your recovery is exciting. For others who may be a year or two removed from an EMB workshop, things have drifted back to the routine, and some of the ‘warm fuzzies’ of the workshop have faded. Whichever group you find yourself in, one thing is for sure: for your recovery to be successful and meaningful, it will be extremely important to stick to the action plan that you developed at EMB.

One of the hardest parts about sticking to the action plan, is that sometimes it gets a little mundane, a little routine. I can still picture Joe, in sweatshirt and jeans, flexing his muscles while reminding us that as guys, we’re more ‘hero’ oriented than ‘routine’ oriented. ‘Give me a burning house and a baby, and I’ll show you what a hero I can be,’ he’d say. ‘But ask me to take out the trash or get up 15 minutes earlier to put on coffee for my wife? C’mon, that’s a little boring.’ Yet that’s what recovery is all about, doing the mundane, doing the routine, and doing it consistently.

What’s the action plan that I am talking about? Well, by way of a little refresher, let’s go over the things that Joe and the EMB staff want us to do after we leave EMB. I am not going to go into the detail that Joe does, but I’ll hit the highlights. One of the things is to make sure to get an accountability partner and an accountability group. Find someone who isn’t afraid to ask you the tough questions, and who will see through if you’re trying to manipulate. This person does not have to be in recovery from sexual addiction themselves, although that is helpful, but they do need to be available, and willing to meet with you on a weekly basis; and they do need to be honest with you and demand honesty from you. If you’re married, it’s important that this person have full access to your wife, and can call her about anything that is going on in your life that is inappropriate.

Another part of the plan is for you to be seeing your pastor, or someone in leadership at your church. This will help you stay spiritually focused. And speaking of staying spiritually focused, starting off your day with some prayer and Bible reading is the best way to let your Heavenly Father know you’re grateful for all of the gifts He has given you.

Recovery is all about: doing the mundane, doing the routine, doing it consistently!

In all of the follow up calls I’ve done with EMB alumni, I have never once had a guy who was struggling or who had relapsed tell me that he was closely following his action plan. On the flip side, most of the guys who are doing well are doing most or all of their action plan. How are you doing with your follow up plan? If you don’t have a church home, call New Life–we may have a referral for a church in your area. And if you’re not spending any time with the Lord during the day, carve out 15 minutes today to do that. They may not sound like the most exciting things in the world, but it’s the ordinary things in life that we do consistently that keep us in recovery.

 

Will She Ever Trust Me Again?

Building Trust

While conducting the Every Man’s Battle seminar, a question I often hear from married men is: ‘I’ve admitted my sin, apologized to my wife and tried to make it right. She says she forgives me but can’t trust me. Will she ever trust me again?’

Rebuilding trust is like rebuilding credit. It can be done, but only through a combination of time and consistency.

So if broken trust is a challenge to your marriage, let me offer you three ideas on how to rebuild it.

First, get a solid structure put in place. A solid structure is a combination of accountability, daily prayer, Bible reading, and regular consultation with a pastor, mentor or Christian counselor. Find yourself a good men’s accountability group, or a good Christian therapist(call 1-800-NEW LIFE if you need help with that) An accountability group is a great option since connection is a necessity to having transformation in your life! I encourage you to also begin a daily habit of devotion, personal prayer and some time spent reading scripture. Let your wife know, in writing preferably, what your structure is. List the name of your group leader, your counselor, and the schedule you’re adopting. Give her a copy, so she knows what program you’re following, and tell her she can watch you to see if you’re sticking to it. You’ll probably be surprised how much trust this alone can build.

Second, set aside a weekly time – maybe an hour or so to do nothing but listen to her. Tell her it’s her time to tell you how she feels about your marriage, about your progress, about herself, or anything else that’s on her mind. During her ‘listening’ time, try not to interrupt her or argue. You simply listen carefully to her concerns, and make sure she knows you share them. This habit will show her that, in contrast to the selfishness you displayed through your sexual sin, you’re now putting her, and her needs, first.

Finally, don’t rush her. She’s been wounded, and wounds are healed, not erased. So give her time. Give her the time and space she needs to be angry and sad, as she grieves over the blow your marriage has endured. By patiently waiting for her confidence in you to rebuild, you’ll show her that you take responsibility for your behavior by not expecting her to ‘just get over it.’ She needs that from you. So if both of you will patiently invest in time and consistency, you’ll reap an enormous level of strength and intimacy in your relationship. In the end, the trust she’s lost can be restored, added to, and treasured.

Join us for one of our Weekend Workshops or the couples group for rebuilding marriages affected by lust, pornography, or infidelity. By God’s grace, your marriage will be renewed and transformed.