Love Addiction Part I: The Problem
Healthy romantic love is a unique experience which can encourage bonding, intimacy, and the opportunity to play and explore with that special new person.
Romance, with or without sex, encourages personal growth as each new relationship forces new insights and self-knowledge. The beginning stages of a potential love relationship can be intense and exciting. Most people easily relate to that “rush” of first love and romance; it’s the stuff of songs, greeting cards, and warm memories. Healthy intimacy, however, is characterized by more than romance, intensity, and sex. Intimacy evolves over time. Loving relationships develop partially through utilizing those first exhilarating times to begin to build a bridge toward deeper, longer-term closeness.
The love addict, however, craves that initial rush. As a relationship matures they become anxious and restless. They may begin searching again for “the one.” You may know a love addict: they typically have short, highly intense relationships that never seem to develop into long-term healthy partnerships.
It can be difficult for anyone who is not a love or sex addict to understand how love or sexuality can be exploited or devolve into destructive patterns of addiction and compulsion. Yet for the love and sex addict, romantic love, sexuality, and the closeness they offer are experiences most often filled with pitfalls, anxiety, and pain. Living in a sometimes chaotic emotional world of desperation and despair, fearful of being alone or rejected, the love addict endlessly longs for that “special” relationship.
Caught up in the constant search for a partner, the addict’s endless intrigues, flirtations, sexual liaisons, and affairs leave a path of destruction and negative consequences. Ironically, the love or relationship addict usually has few options to resolve these painful feelings except by engaging in even more searching for the perfect mate, which creates an ever-escalating cycle of desperation and loss. Just when they are seemingly “safe” in the rush of a new romantic affair or liaison, the troubled love or romance addict grows steadily more unhappy, fearful, and bored; they end up pushing their partner away or looking outside the relationship for yet another high-intensity “love” experience.
Thus the cycle begins anew.
Unlike the healthy person seeking partnership and sex as a complement to their life, the love and sex addict is searching for something outside of themselves (a person, relationship, or experience) to provide them with the emotional and life stability that they themselves lack. Similar to a drug addict or alcoholic, love and sex addicts use their arousing romantic/sexual experiences in an attempt to “fix” themselves and “feel” emotionally stable.
When love and sexuality are used as a way to cope, rather than a way to grow and share, partner choice becomes skewed. Compatibility becomes based on “whether or not you will leave me,” “how intense our sex life is,” or “how I can hook you into staying” rather than on whether you might truly become a peer, friend, and companion.
Addictive relationships are characterized over time by unhealthy dependency, guilt, and abuse. Convinced of their lack of worth and not feeling truly lovable, love and sex addicts will use seduction, control, guilt, and manipulation to attract and hold onto romantic partners. At times, despairing of this cycle of unhappy affairs, broken relationships, and sexual liaisons, some love or sex addicts may have “swearing off” periods (like the dieting cycles of overeaters). The addict believes that “not being in the game” will solve the problem, but find the same issues reappear when they later engage in any relationship with the potential of intimacy.
Typical Signs of Love or Sex Addiction Include:
• Constantly seeking a sexual partner, new romance, or significant other
• An inability or difficulty in being alone
• Consistently choosing partners who are abusive or emotionally unavailable
• Using sex, seduction, and intrigue to “hook” or hold onto a partner
• Using sex or romantic intensity to tolerate difficult experiences or emotions
• Missing out on important family, career, or social experiences in order to maintain a sexual high or romantic relationship
• When in a relationship, being detached or unhappy; when out of a relationship, feeling desperate and alone
• Avoiding sex or relationships for long periods of time to “solve the problem”
• An inability to leave unhealthy relationships despite repeated promises to self or others
• Returning to previously unmanageable or painful relationships despite promises to self or others
• Mistaking sexual experiences and romantic intensity for love
For a love or sex addict, the above signs or symptoms consist of pervasive patterns of emotional instability inevitably leading to isolation, heartache, and loss. Not everyone who has engaged in one or two of the above has an addiction problem; many people may have their judgment skewed by a difficult person or situation from time to time in their lives. However, when these situations become the norm, lived over and over again in some form or another, the diagnosis of love addiction can be made. Active love and sex addicts, like any addict, do not learn from the consequences of their behavior or their mistakes. It is only when the pain of these behaviors and situations becomes greater than the pain and challenges of creating change that they can begin a path to recovery.