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.

The Greatest Gifts

Dave Boyle

Well, here we are at another Christmas season. On Thursday you’ll be watching as friends and family unwrap presents that you have purchased for them. If you could give any gift this year to your wife, your kids, your parents, or your friends, what would it be? Some of you may have thought about material goods, but I’m thinking more about non-materials things here. I’m thinking about lasting changes in me that will go on for eternity. What are the gifts you’ll be giving this Christmas season?

How about giving your wife the gift of emotional intimacy? This could look a lot of ways, but one way it looks is to sit down with her a couple times a week in the new year and read together. You may want to read out of God’s Word. You may want to read Every Woman’s Desire together, or the new book Every Woman’s Battle. Or, you may want to set aside a time where the two of you sit with each other and just share your feelings with each other. Gaining intimacy is as much about being known, as it is knowing. And it’s about letting other people affect you. These are just two ways of sharing emotional intimacy with your wives, there are many others. Giving your wife the gift of emotional intimacy will be a present that will last, throughout your marriage and throughout eternity.

Give a GIFT
that will last FOREVER
this Christmas!

How about giving your accountability partner the gift of honesty? Be there for him while he is sharing with you. Let him know that you are concerned for his needs and his sobriety. And be honest with him. Don’t hold back feedback that may be hurtful at the time, but will be good in the long run. Love him enough to tell him the truth. But how about if I don’t have an accountability partner? Get one! There are guys in your church, or guys in your area who have been to EMB, that need to be in relationship with you, and you with them. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE to make a connection. You can’t win this battle alone.

How about giving your kids the gift of time? They would rather have that than any material gift you could give them. It may mean going to their ball game when you’d rather stay home and work on a project or watch something on TV. It may mean helping them with their homework when every part of you just wants to go to bed. But love is actually spelled T-I-M-E, and that is the best gift you could give your kids this Christmas season.

If they’re not already there, please add emotional intimacy, honesty and time to your Christmas list this year. It will heap huge rewards for you in coming years!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

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.