Intimacy with a New Partner
When sex addicts move into a more intimate relationships, they must slow down the process. I recommend seventeen dates spread over at least three months before genital contact. During that courtship, the recovering sex addict has time to practice the habits of self-esteem and boundaries that he has learned in therapy and in group.
This courtship period at first involves boundaried communication, emphasizing the pleasures involved in being honest and respectful. I urge clients to use talking and listening boundaries because this kind of connection creates safety and trust. The recovering individual is implying, "I trust you. I am willing be open to you. I trust myself enough to trust you."
For most sex and love addicts, sex has always equaled power and control, something other than connection. So entering love in this way is a whole new experience for a sex addict because he is being present. And being present can be terrifying.
Once you are developing good communication skills, learning who your partner really is, and knowing your own needs and wants, you introduce physical but nongenital expressions of affection and love.
Activities might include massages, holding hands, snuggling, rubbing each other's back, and washing each other's hair and kissing; this allows a connection to the physical, the erotic, memory producing, creating desire. You want to take what you enjoy and share that with our partner. And your partner will be willing to do the same.
Learning relationship skills, meaning boundaried behaviors, is hard enough. So how does a recovering addict share, during the boundaried interchange, that he or she has behaved in destructive, unethical, immoral and harmful ways?
If you are starting to date a new person, you want to share in broad strokes. You don't want to get into the details,but you do want him or her to know that you have issues around your sexuality that are based in your trauma. Go into detail only to the level of what appears appropriate to you. You mist trust your sense of authenticity.
Before you do this, do a practice run with your Twelve-Step sponsor or therapist. Have it scripted out. Talk about it in group and with other people who have done it. Prepare yourself before the event with your support people and afterward share with them what the experience was like for the two of you. By doing so, your are connecting in a healthy way, and your are supporting yourself in doing something that is terrifying for sex addicts.
Some kinds of sexual acting-out histories are particularity risky to talk abut because they are so blatantly condemned by society. Bestiality is one example. "I'm really enjoying your company, and I really want to move into a more committed relationship with you, and be with you exclusively. But there are some things that I want to share with you so you will know who I am and where I'm coming from. I think this will bring us closer in our relationship. In the past, I have had some issues around my sexuality. Those issues began when I was a child when my family was highly sexualized and did not have appropriate boundaries around sex. And so I learned that sex was my most important need. That's where I was valued. That's where the power and attention were. That moved me into some unhealthy behavior as an adult.
"Now I am going to therapy and am in a group in order to deal with these issues. I am not currently active in those inappropriate behaviors. I am active in is what we are experiencing right now. But I want you to know this about my past, and I want you to ask me any questions that you need to for clarity. I don't want to go into the details of it right now, but I do want you to know who I am."
Let us say the response you get is polite but wary. It might sound like this, "I appreciate your honesty. What I have heard is that you come from a sexually unhealthy and overactive family and that damaged you. Now you are getting treatment for it, and I am grateful for that. But I have some fear around this. Do you think you are well enough to go out with me? I mean what are we talking about? You say that you don't want to go into details now, but trust me with the details. Why are you withholding from me? Do you trust me?"
"I do. But the problem is that I don't necessarily trust myself. I still have a lot of shame about what I am dealing with, and I haven't done this before. I want to do this right."
"You know, I really hear you. And from what I know about you, that's great. I feel very warm toward you."
That's the nice scenario. But let's say her response sounds like this:
"You know, this is not the first time that I have heard something like this. when you decide that you want to be honest with me, give me a ring. Meanwhile, I have some thinking to do."
We many conclude that the recovering addict does not have the right partner. At this point, at least you know the truth and have created an appropriate place to stop investing in the relationship. You are slowing down that process to find safety for yourself and for the relationship if you think it is worth pursuing.
Even though this painful scenario is not far-fetched, my clients who are walking the path of recovery usually find that honest intimacy in communication has good results.