Love Addiction Part II: Recovery from Love Addiction
By Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S
Much of the therapy literature about love addiction talks about the love addict’s inability to go through life without a relentless search for a partner in most any situation or experience. Upon reflection, many recovering love addicts can relate to having used some strategy all of their lives in an attempt to find and keep sexual and romantic partners. One woman put it this way: “I never once went to a party without wondering who I could get a date with or get into bed with; I always dressed for it and I always looked for it.”
Whether through revealing dress, flirtatious manner, or seductive talk, the addict is always hunting and searching for that special attention, intensity, and arousal that the latest tryst or liaison can provide. One important part of the love and sex addict’s recovery process is recognition of the methods they use to attract and manipulate others.
As the addict begins to consciously cast these methods aside, using the support of 12-step members, friends, and therapists, he or she comes to learn their real human worth, lessening the need for superficial, sexualized attention.
In order for recovery from any addiction to take place, there must be a definition of sobriety. Alcoholics and drug addicts define sobriety as the amount of time they have abstained from the use of mind-altering chemicals. For example, “I stopped using drugs and alcohol on June 15, 1987; therefore, I have 10 years of sobriety.”
For the recovering love or sex addict, however, sobriety can be more challenging to define. Unlike abstaining from substances, love or sexual sobriety is not usually considered to be complete abstinence from romantic relationships and sex, although recovering persons may chose to engage in complete abstinence for short periods of time to gain personal perspective or address a particular issue. Love and sexual sobriety are most often defined as a contract between the addict and their 12-step recovery support therapist or clergy. These sobriety contracts are most effective when written, and involve clearly defined, concrete behaviors from which the addict has committed to abstain in order to achieve sobriety.
Some relationship or sexual recovery plans have very strictly defined boundaries, such as “no sexual activity of any kind outside of a committed marital relationship,” “no sex without at least 30 days of dating,” and more. Sobriety can be delineated as abstinence from any romantic or sexual activity that causes the person to feel shameful or hold secrets, or which is illegal or abusive to others. Personal definitions may change over time as the recovering person evolves in their understanding of the disease. An example of such a plan might be: “I am sober as long as I do not date anyone who is married or in another relationship, whom I would not introduce to friends, or who is abusive, unresponsive or uncommunicative to me.” Another might be: “I am sober as long as I do not engage in flirtation, intrigue, or sexual seduction with strangers, or have sexual or romantic liaisons with strangers or with anyone I have not known for at least 90 days.” These types of definitions are always discussed with at least one other recovering person, therapist, or clergy, and are not changed without thorough discussion and understanding.
The underlying motive for a concisely written plan of recovery, beyond a clear definition of unwanted specific sexual or romantic behavior, is to offer the addict an ongoing recovery reminder, even in the face of challenging circumstances. One characteristic of addiction, particularly for love addicts, is a difficulty in maintaining a clear focus on personal beliefs, values, and goals, when faced with situations which potentially involve intensity, arousal, and stimulation. This is where the best of intentions, the pleas to be trusted “just one more time,” and promises “to be good” go out the window. Without clearly defined boundaries, the love or sex addict is vulnerable to deciding “in the moment” what action is best for them. Unfortunately most addicts’ “in the moment” decisions are not those that help them maintain their long-term goals and values. A written plan helps the addict maintain a clear focus on recovery choices, regardless of the situation or momentary motive.
With proper assessment, therapeutic direction, and treatment, people can and do heal from this disorder. As the love or sex addict recovers, they begin to discover themselves in new and unexpected ways. Time formerly put into flirtation and “the hunt” now may go toward family involvement and work. Creativity formerly used to seduce or attract others can now be used for hobbies, self-care, and exploring healthy relationships. This self-redefinition allows the love or sex addict to have a much clearer understanding of healthy partnerships.
As the single person begins to really recover and their self-esteem improves, so do their options for romantic partners. No longer willing to take anyone who might have them, the individual begins to develop clear criteria (often written down) of the type of partners they want. Recovery for an individual in a relationship brings a deeper understanding of his or her emotional needs and wants in their partnership, encouraging him or her to take more intimacy risks in the relationship. As hope and honestly slowly replace despair and superficiality, the recovery process brings about a deepening maturity and sense of choice that the addict may have not previously known.