Intimacy disorder and addiction are most often two aspects of the same problem. While it is true that any addiction can cause relationships to deteriorate, it is also true that sex addicts tend to end up in unhealthy and unsatisfying relationships.
Even sex addicts in good recovery may have many residual problems in approaching intimacy and relationships. See also my article “Intimacy 101”.
What I am calling addictive relationships are relationships that are usually part of a pattern of negativity, turmoil and alienation. The majority of the addicts I’ve worked with have grown up in families where their parents were not consistently loving, contented or appropriate with each other or their children. Often they had addictions of their own. This dysfunctional model may be all the addict has ever known.
Below is a self-test designed to get you thinking about the intimacy disorder aspect of sex or love addiction. It is not scientific but it is based on my experience working with addicts. It is adapted from my recent book Relationships in Recovery: A Guide for Sex Addicts who are Starting Over.
- My relationships typically start with intense sexual attraction and rapid involvement.
- I find it easy to start relationships, but they always get complicated.
- I sometimes stay in a relationship because I am afraid of being on my own.
- I sometimes placate or manipulate my partner to avoid confronting things.
- I find it easy to get into thinking that my partner is to blame.
- My partner and I don’t talk about our feelings about the relationship.
- Either I feel superior to my partner, or I feel my partner is superior to me.
- I am dishonest with my partner at times to avoid upsetting him/her.
- When I am in a relationship, my partner and I don’t socialize with friends as a couple very much.
- I feel that having a good relationship is hopeless.
You will see that some of these items are characteristic of dysfunctional relationships in general. But sex addicts will have experienced at least half of them when they have attempted to sustain an intimate bond with a partner.
The intimacy avoidance characteristic of sex and love addicts means that they can’t get close; they are afraid of intimate, honest relating and expect it to bring pain and shame. They also can’t let go. They often put up with a bad situation due to their fear of feeling abandoned and inadequate. Thus addictive relationships are characterized by ambivalence and feeling stuck and hopeless.
The fears, insecurities and low self worth that characterize addicts predictably lead to relationships that are intimacy avoidant. Addicts growing up did not experience intimate bonds as supportive, validating or safe.
In recovery from sex addiction the addict who is ready to try for a healthier kind of relating will have to do three things:
- Examine his/her relationship history in detail
- Come to understand their past relationship style and how it supported the addiction
- Write a plan for the future which puts rules and boundaries in place for healthier relating
In addition, the recovery from intimacy disorder will involve making an attempt to envision and outline the kind of relationship the sex addict wants for the future. This vision may be totally new to the addict. It will involve:
- Living together in integrity and harmony
- Giving and providing safety and support
- Sharing all the parts of oneself including intellectual, social and sexual life
- Being able to commit and developing a capacity for devotion
- Willingness to be hurt as part of healthy vulnerability
- Putting energy into the relationship but being willing to be alone if things don’t work out
In emerging from an intimacy disorder the good news is that relationships can be the most meaningful and enjoyable aspect of your life. You can continue to grow as you enjoy the fruits of recovery.