By Robert Weiss, LCSW, CAS
Healthy romantic love is a unique experience that 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; the stuff of songs, endless 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.
It can be difficult for anyone who is not a love or sex addict to understand how love or sexuality can be exploited or evolve 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 intrigue, flirtations, sexual liaisons and affairs, leave a path of destruction and negative consequences in their wake of his or her behavior. Ironically, the love or relationship usually has few options to resolve these painful circumstances except by engaging in even more searching, creating an escalating cycle of desperation and loss. Just when seemingly “safe” in the rush of a new romantic affair or liaison the troubled Love or Sex Addict grows steadily more unhappy, fearful and bored and ends up pushing their partner away or looking outside the relationship for yet another new intensity or “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 searches for something outside of themselves (a person, relationship or experience) which will 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 remain 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 bulimic/anorexic cycles of overeaters). The addict believes that just “not being in the game” will solve the problem; only to later find the same issues reappearing when they re-engage in any type of potential 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 judgement 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 can be made. Love and sex addicts who are not in recovery, like any addict, do not learn from their consequences and mistakes. It is only when the pain of these behaviors and situations becomes greater than the pain and challenges of creating change, that recovery begins.