SEX ADDICTION and Compulsive Relationships
Addiction can manifest itself in a relationship in a number of ways. At the most elementary level, addiction is present when one partner sacrifices important parts of the total relationship in the service of sexual needs. A warning sign is when a spouse or significant other starts to feel victimised by the other’s sexuality. (The warning intensifies when exploited feelings are dismissed.) Discounting the partner’s feelings trades relationship needs for sexual needs. Every relationship has times when sexual needs are not matched. The addict, however, makes the other person an obsession. For the partner, the relationship is contingent on sexual performance. Both partners lose the freedom, fun, and intimacy of mutual loving sexual play. Sexuality ceases to be nurturing, growing, and life enhancing. Addiction renders a relationship empty, joyless, and demoralising.
Some addicts seek refuge in multiple relationships. Consider the woman whose loneliness is enhanced by an unending series of one night stands. Try as she will, she cannot stop the blur of faces and bodies. Or take the man who seldom has one relationship but is “meaningfully” involved with several simultaneously. When he stops to be honest, he may admit not even liking his sexual partners. To have perceived the relationships as meaningful was a delusion used to get them into bed. The human dilemma of whether it is possible to love more than one person at once is not what is in question. At issue here is the fear of having to live without sex. Or, in addiction terms, the addict must protect the supply.
The internet appears to be the ultimate experience for romance junkie. Since it is often seen as only “electrons” and not real, addicts can rationalise that Web romancing is really not being unfaithful, in much the same way that a “virtual” game is not real. E-mails, instant messaging, and chat rooms become the outlets for all the unresolved intimacy, abandonment, and loneliness issues. Romance junkies fail to realise all the time it takes away from the real people in their lives.
Cruising is one of the ultimate activities for the desperate addict. Hustling in bars, streets, and parties is characterized by the contrast of excitement and loneliness. Will I be chosen? Will I score? Even the prospect is exhilarating. Memories of successful forays – the smells, the music, the adventures – cloak the sadness. The pursuit of sexual excitement extends to professional, business, and educational settings. However, the void that sex attempts to fill remains the same.
Chris, for example, was an addict whose cruising was fused with her professional life as a consultant in urban planning. Her ability to articulate clearly the complex problems of her field plus her charisma and attractiveness made her a speaker in high demand. Her life was filled with seminars, conferences, and workshops. They served as a cover for her other life. Her traveling maximized her sexual opportunities. She had ongoing relationships in each of the cities she visited regularly. One night stands were even more common. With hindsight, she was later to say that to travel was to be sexual. It started as soon as she stepped on the plane. Her career was a potent catalyst to the addiction.
Cruising as a search for sexual excitement can even occur within the context of marriage, sometimes with tragic results. Fred and Lisa were considered the ideal couple by their friends. Sweethearts at age fourteen and married at age twenty, their addiction problems started when both were in graduate school. Lisa had come home one night after being at a bar and confessed to Fred that she had been picked up and “made.” Fred’s response was unexpected. He found it exciting and made ardent love to her. He asked her to do it again, with similar results. Soon their lovemaking became a ritual in which Lisa would seduce a man, report all the details to Fred, and make love with Fred.
As the excitement grew old, Fred encouraged Lisa to bring the men home. Fred would masturbate as he watched the men with his wife. Eventually, he took more of an active role in orchestrating the activities, which became progressively more degrading to Lisa. After years, their married life was organized around these events. When they finally sought therapy, the striking part of their story was how each had longed to stop. They had even made mutual efforts to stop, especially after a time when Lisa was injured. The central part to their recovery was in reclaiming their very real love of each other.
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