POSTED ON FEBRUARY 13, 2013:
That Lovin' Feeling
Euphoric emotions can become addictive
It's not just sex or pornography that some crave compulsively.
Love, too, can be its own addiction.
"Most people don't recognize it. It's just like sexual addiction 15 to 20 years ago," said Stuart Hook, a private practice therapist with the Life Connection Counseling.
Few may have heard of the term, "but it happens," Hook said, adding, "I think maybe more so with women than men, but both ways."
Hook described it as people chasing one relationship after another, with people not recognizing addictive behavior but sometimes recognizing "commitment issues."
Other counselors differed slightly in describing the concept of love addiction.
"It's not really addicted to love, per se. It's more of an addiction to a fantasy," said Salley Sutmiller, a marriage and family therapist with Christian Family Institute.
Those with a love addiction don't see their partner as a person, but instead only an idealized version of their fantasy, Sutmiller said.
This can lead to troubled relationships, she said.
Love addicts "frequently attach to people who are not really available emotionally for them," she said.
The problem can play out in various ways, such as having multiple partners or a string of failed relationships, Sutmiller said.
Other times, "they are obsessing over a person they don't even have a relationship with," Sutmiller said. "Somebody might be obsessed over their boss or somebody at work," for example, Sutmiller said.
Tulsa apparently lacks a local 12-step chapter of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.
In Oklahoma City, Steve D. has been involved with the group, commonly known as SLAA, for more than 20 years. He declined to be identified for this story by his last name, citing the orginization's rules related to anonymity in the press.
Sex and porn addiction may be more common, but the group from the start has recognized love addiction, he said.
He spoke about the chemical reaction related to the infatuation stage of meeting someone new. When that wears off -- and the less-than-perfect parts of a person become apparent -- a healthy relationship continues with a partner deciding to "stay with them and work on the relationship and work on your own identity," Steve D. said.
Not so for the love addict.
"When the chemical infatuation stage is over, guess what you do, you move on to the next relationship," Steve D. said. While love addicts are "constantly looking for that new love relationship, actually what they're trying to do is complete themselves," he said.
Sutmiller said the problem often has roots related to childhood abandonment; Hook said all manner of childhood hurts can result in people choosing various behaviors to cope with their pain.
Tulsa has a local chapter of Sex Addicts Anonymous.
With SLAA, Steve D. said it's about members deciding for themselves what behavior is appropriate.
Hook said he works with groups of men struggling with sexual addiction. Both Steve D. and Hook talked about how going online can be a problem.
"I'll tell you something. Quite honestly, we have a huge problem right now with Internet pornography," Steve D. said, adding that women, too, attend the group because of problems with compulsive pornography viewing.
For love addicts, going online also has its perils, Hook said.
"With women, it can start in chat rooms, Facebook. It's really exciting, exhilarating," Hook said. The initial rush may wear off, then "the same thing happens with somebody else" online.
But it's not just online behavior.
"I have lots of clients who have come in because of affairs started with Facebook," Hook said.
Steve D. said sometimes sex addicts will become experts at using online dating sites to meet multiple people for sex in a single weekend.
But both love addiction and sex addiction can be harmful, he said.
"Which one is more detrimental to society? Love addiction, to me, probably has a great impact on marriage, too. People fall in love, they get married ... they say I'm just not happy anymore ... you don't make me feel good anymore," he said, with marriage sometimes then "just thrown away."
He said he's seen many people recover from being completely wrapped up with their addictions, however, going on to lead healthier lives.
Hook and Sutmiller each recommended getting professional help.
"I teach the concept of boundaries and barriers," Hook said. "A boundary is where you put your line up," Hook said, adding that it might involve resolving not to masturbate, for example. "It's up to each guy to determine what their boundary is."
Then, "the barrier is what they put up between them and whatever their boundary is," Hook said.
But it's not called addiction for nothing, Hook said.
"The reason they're called addictions is you can't recover with willpower. You can't just resolve to never do it again," Hook said, describing a pattern of failed resolutions to stop a behavior as another red flag that a person has a problem.
Sutmiller said sometimes a friend can see a problem when the individual acting out cannot, but love addicts often only seek help at the end of a relationship.
To catch their ear, sometimes "it's waiting out for the time whenever they might be open to hearing the truth," Sutmiller said.
For information about Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, visit slaafws.org. A Tulsa group of Sex Addicts Anonymous meets at Bethany Church. For information, visit bethanybelieves.com/ministries/serenitysaa-group.
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