When Love Hurts: Are You a Love and Sex Addict?

Photo by Sydney Sims via Unsplash

Photo by Sydney Sims via Unsplash

Do you find yourself continually drawn to destructive relationships? Or maybe constantly preoccupied by the idea that you won’t be truly happy until you find that “special someone”? If you’re currently in a relationship, maybe you’ve become aware that you spend a lot of your time worrying about the relationship--wondering what your partner is doing, where they are, and who they’re with?

Perhaps you’ve experienced a combination of all of the above at one point or another. Often times we feel shame when we admit to one or more of these behaviors, especially as women. We may worry that we appear “weak”, “needy”, or “flawed” for engaging in unhealthy relational behaviors like these. We try so hard to play it “cool” and make it seem like we’re need-less. We may even feel alone—like we’re the only one who thinks or behaves this way.

The three scenarios I described in the introduction of this post can be common signs of love and sex addiction types of behaviors.

Addiction. It feels like a strong, scary, word, right?

You may be wondering…

Is it possible to be addicted to love? Aren’t we hard wired to love? What’s so wrong with wanting to find that special someone?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to find a compatible romantic partner. And we are absolutely hard-wired to give and receive love. Just like with any other type of addiction—the problem is when our own well-being and mental health suffer at the expense of the relationship (whether it’s a destructive one or not).

When we become so consumed by a romantic relationship and begin to put our own needs aside and continually feel distressed or troubled due to our intimate relationship, then it’s time to look closer.

Understanding behavior addiction.

Love and sex addiction is a behavior addiction (or sometimes referred to as process addiction). This is somewhat different from substance addiction, where one has a chemical addiction to alcohol or drugs. Behavior addictions can show up in many forms—eating, shopping, money, gambling, television, social media, etc. Basically, behaviors that can become addictive or compulsive in nature. The level of compulsion indicates how addictive that behavior has become for someone.

Addictive behaviors like these can be insidious because they are socially acceptable or “normal” to engage in on a daily basis. We all use money—pretty much every day. We eat several times a day, every day. We already know that most of us are on social media far too often. And earlier we identified that we’re hard wired to love and therefore many of us seek out companionship.

It’s easy to dismiss addictive behavior because it’s become so normalized in our culture. We live in a culture that constantly consumes and celebrates this. Overtime, we lose sight of how much those behaviors are impacting our wellbeing and happiness. It becomes a problem when we need to engage in a behavior in order to feel some type of psychological “high”.

When it comes to love and sex, we can easily normalize unhealthy relational patterns. We may believe we “deserve” the emotionally unavailable partners. Or settle with that’s “just the way it is”.

Here are several common indicators that you may be a love and sex addict or engaging in addictive behaviors[1]: 

- Secretly checking your partner’s email, texts, or social media (with or without permission).

- Craving a “buzz” or fix from romance or sex.

- Obsessing about where and what your partner is doing.

- Changing how you look or dress to please a partner.

- Neglecting self-care while in a relationship with your partner.

- Compulsively using food, money, alcohol, drugs, and/or sex.

- Monitoring a partner’s alcohol use, drug in-take, and so on.

- Believing the fantasy that “someday my prince will come.”

Often times, we may feel surprised when we identify with some of these behaviors or traits because it’s become the only way we’ve known how to relate in a relationship. Maybe it’s the only way we’ve managed to feel secure or safe when we’re in an intimate relationship.

Instead of seeking to feel a sense of connection, we desire to feel a sense of power and control.

Love and sex addiction is often hard to identify because we live in a culture that normalizes and even encourages some of these toxic behaviors in romantic relationships. Our culture sends the message in many forms that love hurts. And these messages are especially reinforced if we were raised in a family of origin or by caregivers that demonstrated the same messages through their words or actions.  

Maybe we had an emotionally absent parent. Perhaps one or more of our caregivers was an addict themselves. Or we watched our parents engage in abusive behavior and then make up afterwards. Maybe our caregivers love was inconsistent and confusing.

Our primary relationships with our caregivers as children were our first experience of an intimate relationship. And we carry this model into our adulthood with romantic partners.

Healing is possible.

This information may feel overwhelming and even painful to relate to. But the good news is that it is possible to find healing. The even better news is that you’re not alone. Awareness is the initial step in your healing.

There are many layers to recovering from love and sex addiction—exploring where the behavior stems from (often times this means trauma work), connecting to your inner child, building self-worth, self-love, creating consistency in your life, and self-care.

It’s also important to remember, as with anything, there’s a spectrum with love and sex addiction. Some may identify with love addiction more than sex (this is often due to societal gender roles). Some of us may engage in only a few behaviors. Maybe those few behaviors are problematic and causing some distress. On the other end of the spectrum, we may be deep into the addiction and experiencing a great amount of depression and anxiety because of it. And then there are points in the middle and we may fluctuate from time to time between both ends.

Wherever you may land, why is it important to heal love and sex addiction? Because you deserve to feel empowered and in control of your own life. You deserve to receive healthy, reciprocal love. You deserve to feel present and alive in all areas of your life—not just your relationship. Love doesn’t have to hurt.

I’m currently in the process of developing new offerings for those who feel they are ready to understand and heal from their own love and sex addiction.

You can sign up for my newsletter here to stay tuned for more announcements about this.

[1] McDaniel, K., & Boggs, S. (2012). Ready to Heal: Breaking Free of Addictive Relationships(3rd ed.). Carefree, AZ: Gentle Path Press.