Like all other addictive disorders, love addiction follows specific patterns, and becomes relatively predictable after awhile. The alcoholic will eventually fall into a pattern of drinking, stopping by the liquor store after work every day to purchase two large bottles of wine, or perhaps drinking 5 shots of vodka before work, during lunch, and before bedtime. The compulsive gambler will likely fall into a similar pattern, blowing every paycheck at the casino come Friday, or spending roughly 5 hours per evening playing online poker. The realm of sex and love addiction also includes the propensity for potential behavioral patterns, as well as a wide range of interlocking roles. In this article, we will explore relationship cycles and potential behavioral roles that sex and love addicted individuals may play in their relationships. If you feel that you can relate especially well to the relationship cycles explored in this article, it may be time to consider seeking outside help.
Of course, it is impossible for a cyclical and damaging pattern to occur within a relationship unless there are two active participants. The partner opposite the love addict will typically be what is called an ‘avoidant’. While the love addict is harshly codependent and emotionally enmeshed, the avoidant will (more often than not) be actively engaged in a self-destructive behavioral addiction of his or her own – perhaps alcoholism or drug addiction, compulsive gambling, or workaholism. It is also possible that the partner opposite the love addict struggles with relational issues of his or her own, possibly another form of love or sex addiction. In the majority of cases, both individuals in the relationship suffered some kind of significant relational trauma during childhood. Perhaps they were neglected or abandoned by their parents or primary caregivers, and grew up without a healthy role model when it came to functional relationships. Perhaps they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, and are in search of the love they were denied during childhood in the form of a romantic partner.
No matter what the case, relationships in which one or both partners struggle with love addiction will typically follow the same 5-stage, cyclical pattern.
The Five Stages of Love Addicted/Avoidant Relationships
During the initial stages of love addiction and avoidance, the two individuals meet and are attracted to one another. The love addict will be attracted to what he or she perceives as appealing characteristics – individuality, self-sufficiency, and loyalty, for example. The avoidant, on the other hand, will be attracted to the emotional neediness that the love addict clearly displays. For the avoidant individual, the feeling of being needed is of utmost importance. Receiving attention is often confused for love and affection. For the love addict, this apparent responsiveness will be mistaken as authentic romantic interest.
The avoidant individual will act seductive and adoring towards the love addict, while simultaneously constructing walls in order to prevent him or her from getting too close. The love addict will buy into the adoration, and begin to create an idealistic vision of the future relationship. The elaborate fantasy that the love addict creates will serve as his or her ‘high’. However, because the avoidant does not let the love addict know his or her true self, the addict will be falling deeper and deeper in love with a fictional person.
- The Relationship
During this stage, the fantasy that the love addict created will begin to crumble, and reality will begin to sink in. The addict will move into a state of denial in order to continue living in fantasy and idealism, while the avoidant, fearing both intimacy and abandonment, will begin to deeply resent his or her partner. The avoidant will be suspicious and untrusting, while the love addict is clinging desperately to dreams of ‘happily ever after’. Intimacy will begin to seem like a chore to both parties, and a wide array of interpersonal issues will begin to crop up. In time, resentment will turn to anger, and anger will be used to manipulate and control the actions of the love addict. In most cases, this anger will either be expressed in uncontrollable outbursts or in passive-aggressive behavior. The love addict will typically try to ‘save’ the avoidant from being angry by working hard to please and assent.
The avoidant will begin engaging even more heavily in his or her methods of escapism – maybe pornography, maybe drug or alcohol abuse, maybe infidelity. However, because the avoidant fears abandonment, he or she will remain in the harshly dysfunctional relationship. The love addict will begin to feel emotionally abandoned, and will often begin to accept reality at this point. However, if the love addict leaves or threatens to leave, the avoidant will do everything possible to keep his or her partner around. Deep-seated fear of abandonment overwhelms the desire to be free from the relationship.
- Final Days
This is the final stage in the relationship before it inevitably ends. At this point, the avoidant feels like a complete prisoner in the relationship. The love addict will be doing everything in his or her power to manipulate the avoidant into staying in the relationship. Perhaps the love addict will begin his or her own affair as an act of revenge. The two partners will spend less and less time together, seeing as the avoidant will be doing everything in his or her power to avoid any intimacy whatsoever.
- The Breakup
Finally, the relationship comes to an end. Once the final separation occurs, one of two things will happen. The couple will gravitate back towards one another in a short matter of time, and begin the entire cycle over again, or the love addict will find a new avoidant partner, and the avoidant will find a new love addicted partner. If the partners begin the cycle over again, the problems will become more and more severe. Feelings of abandonment and desperation will continue to escalate; thus the intensity of the cyclical pattern will continue to increase.
Breaking Damaging Relational Patterns
It is possible to break free from destructive and emotionally devastating relational patterns, and to overcome love addiction – but not without intensive therapeutic counseling, and, in most cases, some supplemental care (such as 12-step support groups or programs related to trauma and addiction recovery). We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working closely alongside men who tend to fill the love addict or the avoidant role in the majority of their past relationships. We work with men who struggle with co-occurring disorders, such as unresolved trauma, love addiction, and substance dependency. For more information on our male-exclusive program of trauma and addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today.