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.
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