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The Psychology of Addictive Relationships

The Psychology of Addictive RelationshipsLove addicts often have the best intentions. They desire to have happy, healthy relationships. However, underneath these good intentions lies a covert struggle with intimacy. With sex and love addiction, there is always a hidden agenda to get needs met that are based in feelings of insecurity.

When there is dysfunction in the family of origin, love objects are unconsciously sought out with the goal of replaying unfinished business from childhood.

It is not always a relationship with a parent that we are repeating; it can be a relationship with any family member that is unresolved. Mourning childhood losses and allowing oneself to process the pain of past hurt sets us free to select more positive relationships.

One way to accomplish this is to spend time getting to know our partners prior to becoming sexually or romantically involved with them. If we emerge from dysfunctional homes, falling in love with someone soon after meeting them can cloud our vision and place us at risk of being with a partner with whom we repeat familiar, unhealthy patterns. Getting to know someone whom we feel sexually attracted to without becoming sexual is a tall order, but one that is incredibly important for love addicts to adhere to.

Love addicts need to live in reality. They need to identify and reflect on intense fantasies, such as “this person can make me happy.” When we don’t know someone well, we can project all kinds of desires upon them. These positive feelings can create chemical highs within the body, but they may not be based in truth, as we don’t have any real knowledge of who this person is. Only time and experiences with another person can provide us with this information.

Addictive relationships are based on creating “highs” when pairing. Therefore, a non-addictive relationship will grow and become more settled over time, while an addictive one will burn out. Partners in an addictive relationship have extreme difficulty navigating normal relational difficulties as they arise, whereas partners in healthy relationships frequently navigate difficulties from the beginning. In a love-addicted relationship, honesty is lacking, and the underlying truth regarding the dynamics of the relationship are not safe to talk about openly. This is a relationship that lacks true intimacy.

True intimacy involves the ability to talk openly about fears, concerns, and topics that delve beyond the surface, and which are risky to discuss. It does not involve blaming or deflecting to avoid taking responsibility that is so characteristic of an addictive relationship.

In early childhood, addicts often found that it was not safe to be authentic and real with another person. Rather, as coping mechanisms, these children learned to preserve themselves by detaching from their feelings. Bringing this coping style into adult relationships creates potentially toxic dynamics.

The Psychology of Addictive Relationships


Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT, CST, CSAT

Alexandra Katehakis, PhD, MFT, CST, CSAT is the founder and Clinical Director of Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, where she and her staff successfully treat a full spectrum of sexual disorders, ranging from issues of sexual desire and dysfunction to the treatment of sexual addiction. She is the author of Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot, Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction and co-author of Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts. Her free Daily Meditations on healthy sex and love are open to the public. Since 2006, Ms. Katehakis has studied affective neuroscience with Allan N. Schore, incorporating regulation theory into her treatment of sexual addiction. Alex is the 2012 recipient of the Carnes Award, a prestigious acknowledgement for her contributions to the field of sex addiction.


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APA Reference
Katehakis, A. (2018). The Psychology of Addictive Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-addictive-relationships/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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