Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dating and Sexual Health Recovery

As a person starts to address sexually compulsive behaviors, they sooner or later start the process of moving toward meeting others including dating and eventually courtship. The suggestions below aren’t the “how-to-date” suggestions. For those tips, I refer you to other resources (Dating for Dummies). Instead, I want to focus on the bigger question of how does dating fit into your recovery process. The 8 questions are designed to help frame the desire to date as progress, and a tool for your ongoing recovery. While perfection isn’t required (or possible), addressing these concerns will increase your chance of positive experiences.

1. Clarify if you are ready to date. Dating requires that you have a sense of self, and that you are comfortable in your overall progress. Dating requires assertive communication. It requires that you’ve defined your basic boundaries including level of disclosure, when disclosure will occur, and a multitude of desires and wants. Examining past dating experiences and addressing triggers that led to relapses is important. Talking with your support network and addressing their feedback is also important.
2. Clarify your boundaries about what behaviors would be acceptable. Set up explicit boundaries about the type of sexual behavior that can/won’t occur. This needs to be clarified before you start dating.
3. Identify your goals. Be honest with yourself and your support network about what you are looking for in your desire to start dating. Are you looking for friendship? sex? relationship? children? None of these is better than any other; but the key is to be honest. Develop the skills to effectively communicate these goals with your potential partners. Communicate and get feedback from your support network.
4. Clarify the types of “date” you want. Sometimes starting small is a better plan. You might go on a “coffee-date” on a Saturday morning. You might do a lunch-date. Instead of calling it a date, describe it as a social chat or a meet-and-great. Taking the word “date” off the table, and focusing on the social interaction can reduce stress and anxiety. Scheduling it during the day, or mornings (versus Friday evening) can create clarity regarding your goals.
5. Identify activities that you want to do. In identifying your activities, use it to start conversations about what your potential dating partner likes to do. Think outside the box. Review the suggestions on intimacy to consider alternatives to the classic date. You might go to church, go to a museum, go to lecture, etc. Consider volunteering to channel the energy, but also focus outside of yourself.
6. Create safety plans. Before you go, make sure you schedule an out. If you’re going for coffee-date, set up an out at 1 pm by saying I have a meeting with a friend at 1. And, set up a meeting with a person from your support network for 1 pm to talk about the experience.
7. Remember dating for what dating is. It’s a chance to meet and interact with others. You’re not making a lifetime commitment to the person on a single date. By addressing the expectations and assumptions you bring to the conversation, you can maintain your focus.
8. Address known concerns before hand. For example, if you’re an introvert develop topics you feel comfortable sharing and asking about. Make sure you are asking questions versus letting the other person set the agenda. If you’re the classic extrovert, make sure you listen as well.

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