On the LAA boards today, someone posted the following cry for help: HOW exactly do I change, get well? HOW?
I have answers and solutions, but you probably won’t like them. They are more difficult to do than choosing to remain a love addict. You see, being a love addict is EASY. The pain and suffering comes second nature to people like us, so, because that’s familiar, we just settle for it. The alternative–facing ourselves, facing our fears, actually taking actions and GROWING UP is far scarier and far more a risk–at least from our perspective, we think it is. But essentially that’s what you must do.
1. Face yourself and accept yourself, as is. Not who you’d like to be, or who you envision yourself to be. Or even who your parents envisioned you to be. Or who the last or next PoA wishes you’d be! Just you, as you are now. Possibly broken, still alive, scrappy, but human, and beautiful in your own right. And perfectly able to grow and change.
2. Face your fears. Love addiction or alcohol addiction (as you well know with your great insight) is not about addiction to the substance or the person, it’s about AVOIDANCE OF THE SELF. We avoid ourselves because there’s something scary there that we don’t want to see, or there’s a really scary task we desperately want to avoid–scary tasks we want to avoid can be anything from living alone, growing up and taking care of yourself, becoming financially secure, giving up a long held fantasy or belief, feeling uncomfortable or doing something you’re not good at, etc. Find out what you are most afraid of. It’s usually something right in front of your face, and most likely it’s what you are avoiding right now. Once you figure it out, DEAL WITH IT. FACE IT. ADDRESS IT. No matter how scary.
3. Know that there are two energies at work inside you: your emotional energy (the child within you) who you are most likely giving all the power to, and shouldn’t, and your logical energy (the adult within you) who wants to become healthier and brought you here. These two energies are battling for power over you. Let LOGIC win, for now. Force yourself or teach yourself about both energies and how to turn off your emotional energy, at least until you can balance out the two energies, and at least until your emotional energy knows its place. Right now, my guess is, your emotional energy is ruling your brain. It shouldn’t be. Emotions don’t make logical decisions and as adult grown ups, we really, really, really need to make logic decisions. What this means is, stop making decisions based on “what feels good now.” What most likely feels good now is no pain, and so, to dull the pain, we run back to a PoA, or pick up the bottle. Or “zone” out. Stop making choices on what feels good. Make logical, rational choices. I am in pain, but the garbage needs to be taken out. Or, I don’t feel well, but I need to go to work. Or, I am lonely, so, I will find something all by myself to do, etc.
4. All your great “insight” is just a start. You actually have to change your behavior and that means physically taking different actions. I too had great insight. Most love addicts, believe it or not, do. I knew everything about love addiction and still nothing changed. It’s because I never put all that knowledge into action. I knew what to do, I just didn’t DO IT. You know the expression “practice what you preach.” Start preaching healthy and then start practicing it. What do healthy people do? Well, they most likely don’t accept unhealthy people into their lives. They don’t sit around all day fantasizing about a better life. When they detect red flags they are not afraid to acknowledge them and if need be, leave a relationship because of them. They also have a set of personal values that outweigh the need for a relationship. Love addicts have values, but the relationship outweighs their values and becomes more important. Many healthy people do not see the world the way addicts see the world: a place where people and substances are available to take the edge off a painful existence. This is how I perceived the world for many years. Until I didn’t anymore. Find healthy people and start to surround yourself by them. Copy their behavior. Learn from them. Chances are you didn’t have healthy models of love growing up. Neither did many of us. BUT, you’re an adult now. You are free to find healthy teachers in this world and learn new ways of coping and managing your life. Also, learn your VALUES and stick to them. Make them more important than the relationship.
5. Change your perspective immediately. When I was at the very beginning of recovery, I felt overwhelmingly frustrated. I had no idea where to begin to get better. I was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. Yet, I kept imagining that someone would come to my rescue and teach me, or do it for me, or give me the answers. But because this never happened (well, I received many answers, but they weren’t good enough), I then imagined taking pills to dull the pain. And then, at some point, I gave up these FANTASIES. And little by little I started to work on some RANDOM problem I was having. And then I worked on another. And another. And after five years of chipping away at my problems, I built a new me. And some of my learning came easy, and some didn’t. And I fell on my face MANY times in the process. But the one thing I think I had through it all was a sense of determination to succeed. I WILL get better, I said. You can’t read a 50,000 page self-help book and not come away without learning SOMETHING. And you cannot unlearn all you’ve learned about being healthy. What you can do (and what I did for many years) is refuse to practice a healthy life. Give up trying. And the only thing that causes you to give up is that you’ve lost your positive perspective. So…don’t do that. It’s hard to always remain positive. But it’s all you’ve got. It’s the ONLY thing standing between a love addict and a healthy person. Perspective.
6. Give up. Yes, I said it. Give up. Give up the neediness for a romantic relationship. Give up the EXPECTATION of a romantic relationship. Give up the fantasy that you deserve a romantic relationship and that it is owed to you. It’s not. You need love and companionship in this world for a more humane existence. And you definitely need sex to procreate. But you do not NEED a romantic relationship. This is a cultural construct of western civilization and once you stop watching love stories and reading romance novels and take a good look at human history and anthropology you will come to understand that human beings don’t need romantic love. They simply need closeness to people to survive AND to thrive (yes, can you believe it? You can thrive without romance–most people do). You can get closeness and thrive through family, friends, pets, a satisfying career, etc. And because the world doesn’t owe you a romantic relationship, and there’s no knowing whether you’re destined for one or not, REFOCUS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE ON YOU AND WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. Here’s an exercise for you: imagine you are living in a world with NO CHANCE OF ROMANTIC LOVE. What would you do? What would you look for? What would your goals be? Who would you befriend? As a love addict, we all must imagine ourselves as individuals separate from any romantic notions. When we are truly able to do that and we can focus our attentions on other things, we have won half the battle. And while love addiction is not about love or romance at all, but rather, about avoidance of the self, we (as love addicts) still need to deconstruct the fantasy that we’ve built around the notion that we are DEFINED by whatever partner or romantic relationship we happen to be in.
7. Learn better coping strategies through better management of your life. In my opinion, it is not the addiction that needs to be dealt with, it’s the addictive personality. The rest of your life, you may most likely want to turn to SOMETHING (who knows what) to dull your pain. And you will most likely do it obsessively, unless you understand what drives your addiction. If it’s not alcohol or men it might be shopping. Or gambling. Or whatever! There’s no sense in going to AA, then switching to LAA, then switching FAA or SLAA, or NA, etc. It’s all the same. Whatever you are addicted to is irrelevant. It’s your WAY to protect yourself. Once you build yourself up, learn how to cope with stress and manage your life like an adult and suddenly, poof! the need to run away is gone, or lessened. So, how do you learn to manage your life better? You live it. Stop running away from things. Practice, practice, practice. One of the things in life that scared me to death was working. At a job. Well, it stressed me out so much because I had zero experience, zero confidence, and being in situations that I didn’t feel comfortable or confident in stressed me out. So…I would avoid working by hopping in to a relationship. And then of course, I would be broke and need money and the vicious cycle would begin. So….go to school. Learn a trade. Get good at something. And allow yourself TEN TIMES to practice a hobby before giving up. Learn about better communication, how to create boundaries, when to talk, when to shut up. Learn how to manage your money, your free time, your living space, your stress. Yes, learn to manage stress in healthier ways. The more control you take over managing your life, the more confidence you will have in your life and the less you will need to depend on men or booze or whatever other object we can shove in the perceived “void.”
Shall I go on? Because I’m really not finished yet! Bottom line: you are in the right place. You are beginning a journey that has MANY MANY opportunities for growth. I’m glad you’re here. Keep reading.Keep posting. Become part of this community. Read my blog thelovelyaddict.com. And whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOURSELF. You, not anything or anyone else (except maybe your kids if you have them), are your best investment. Really try to understand that. YOU are your biggest and best investment. The more you learn about better health, and the more you do to work towards better health, the more of an investment you are making in yourself. It’s that easy.
There’s a reason love addicts are attracted to sex addicts, avoidants and narcissistic types. What do all these types all have in common? They offer very little in the way of true intimacy, and that, my friends, is something a love addict cannot handle either.
Instead of focusing on the sex addict, the avoidant and the narcissist, focus on yourself. Ask yourself this very difficult question: if I crave the intimacy of a relationship so desperately, why is it that I keep going after people who cannot give that to me? If I crave an ice cream cone, why on earth would I go to find it at the hardware store????
Love addiction is a paradox. It is not about love. It is about avoiding the self and avoiding true intimacy (with yourself and with others). At least sex addicts and avoidants can recognize their intimacy disorder. It seems that many of us can’t. And yet, we are the same. We are opposite sides of the same coin.
Don’t be fooled by the “love” in love addiction. There’s not much love in a love addicted relationship. What is there instead? Fear (of abandonment), need, desperation, drama, pain…
So, I’ve created a new body of work called The Break-Up Journal. Many of you, throughout the years, have asked me how I recovered and what happened, and so, instead of “telling” I am showing.
The Break-Up Journal is an actual account of my last love-addicted relationship, the break-up that ensued, the withdrawal and my ultimate struggle into recovery. Because this is an actual account, transcribed from hand-written journals, nothing is held back. But, because of that, reading can often be cringe-worthy. There are ridiculously stupid lapses in judgment on my part, huge slips, relapses, and several stellar losses of dignity. At times, reading is painful. And trust me, when I re-read this journal, I want to whack this girl over the head and say, What are you an idiot? Don’t you see?!
Fortunately that girl is long gone, but her story remains, and hopefully it can and will add insight into your own struggle with love addiction.
I am planning on posting five entries per week. It is meant to be read chronologically, so that means starting with May 31 (on bottom) and reading up.
Be sure to check out the About the blog page and the Cast of Characters, so you have better insight into the story line. And while names and dates have changed to protect identities, if you are familiar with my blog, you will probably be able to figure out who’s who.
My guess is, if you’re a love addict, the concept of “discipline” either makes no sense to you (that’s only something the military needs to practice, right?), or you recoil from the mere mention of it (sex dungeons, disciplinary parents and hard work, oh my!). Either way, love addicts have virtually zero self-discipline. At least when it comes to relationships.
How and why we tend to be less disciplined people is a mystery. From my own experience, I was raised in a somewhat unruly environment. I would certainly get into trouble if I did something wrong (I used to sneak into my mother’s closet, pull out a dress of hers, and then take scissors and cut it up into pieces so that it fit me. Needless to say, I got into trouble from time to time). But on the whole, I would have to say my parents were not disciplinarians, nor was their parenting very consistent. I grew up, in fact, believing that discipline was a bad thing for creative individuals and that people “like us” should be without boundaries or rules, simply living free so as to express themselves…
Those beliefs, as idealistic and freeing as they seemed at the time, were not very realistic. They translated into a rather directionless, undisciplined adult who ended up not really knowing the benefit of boundaries, rules, self-discipline and deferred gratification. And who certainly never had the self-discipline to make many of her creative ideas come to fruition.
Only now, after years of recovery, do I truly understand how faulty and self-sabotaging those beliefs were. And they were all based on a lack of understanding about the idea of discipline. To me, it was “bad.” Discipline was for non-creative, military-types. Period.
I was so wrong.
Setting the record straight, here are three powerful definition of discipline, taken from Wikipedia:
- Discipline is the assertion over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for Motivation.
- Discipline is when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one’s desires, which is the opposite of Fun.
- Self-discipline—what many people call “will-power”—refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks—even tasks they want very much to complete.
For a love addict wanting and needing to become healthier, self-discipline is a must. We must learn to overcome obsessive thoughts, stop reaching out to our PoAs, change our current behavior, and change the way we think about certain big ticket items like love, relationships and who we are. All this takes loads of self-discipline.
So, how do you become more disciplined? There are a few resources on the internet to help. Forbes magazine gives a leadership version here. And then there’s Pick the Brain that offers tips for self-discipline when it comes to things like getting to the gym. Both set of tips can be applied to love addiction. But my personal favorite resource on self-discipline comes from Uncommon Help, a site designed for self-help and awareness. Read the 7 Self-Discipline Techniques. Then, print it out. Read it daily. Repeat.
Discipline is not scary. It’s the internal force that allows you to choose the apple over the donut, get up and go to the gym when you don’t feel like it or make decisions based on reason and logic, rather than emotion. Discipline is often a trait you’re born with, but it can be a learned behavior. But it is one concept that many love addicts fear. Why? Because discipline means change. It means giving up something in the short term to get to something far greater and far more rewarding in the long term. It means kissing the safety blanket of your addiction (i.e. your person of addiction and your addictive behavior) goodbye by stepping up to the plate and taking control of your life. It means having the willingness to take the risk to be a better person.
If you need a motivating mantra to start being more self-disciplined, use this: Enough already. I need to grow up. I need to stop being a little child, acting out, getting what he/she wants and crying when I don’t. I need to see value in disciplined behavior. Especially if it means living a more authentic, happy life.
Now, go get ’em!
All the self-help books tell you you have to meet your own needs. And while, for the most part, that is true, it’s not entirely true. If I break my leg and get rushed to the ER, there better be a team of competent doctors there to meet my needs because heck if I have to operate on myself.
Love addicts have a rough time figuring out which needs they can and should meet themselves, and which needs they believe should be met by others. I believe that much of the confusion over this choice stems from an inability or refusal to see one’s self as an adult versus a child. Love addicts tend to need attention and care that would normally be bestowed upon a child. But we’re not children. We are adults. And as an adult here’s how you figure out what needs you should be meeting yourself, as opposed to which needs others can meet for you…
YOU are responsible for meeting your basic needs: water, food, shelter (that means taking care of yourself financially), and clothing are all examples of basic needs. Basically, you need to be at the least self-sufficient.
YOU are responsible for meeting your own mental, emotional and physical needs: this means taking care of yourself, making healthy choices, keeping fit, eating well, incorporating spirituality into your life, filling your own void (if you think you have one), and working through or resolving any mental, emotional or physical issues you may have. This is no one else’s job but yours.
YOU are responsible for meeting your higher needs: higher education, finding and cultivating appropriate and rewarding friendships, finding a partner who is kind, respectful, loving, and compatible, being happy, finding and having a fulfilling career, entertaining yourself and being the person you aspire to be are all examples of higher needs. YOU are responsible for meeting those needs. No one else.
So, what needs of yours are others responsible for meeting?
The need to communicate & be social
The need for intimacy
The need for common human decency: Whether you know it or not, you have a human need for respect, tolerance, decency and to be treated humanely. Everyone is not expected to love or even like you, but they (and we) must meet the need of every human to treat others with dignity and respect. Many love addicts ignore this kind of need in exchange for other seemingly more important needs (sex, companionship, etc.), never realizing that you should not ever have to give up this need. We all deserve respect. Period. If you’re not getting it from certain sources, you need to reassess why that person(s) is in your life. You need to recognize that this is a valid and essential need, and that it should be met by yourself AND others. If it is not, you move on.
The need for friendship: while you are responsible for going out and trying to make friends, those friends, in return, are responsible for meeting your need for a compatible friend. If, however, they cannot meet that need you should move on, or stop expecting them to be a friend.
The need for intimacy with another human being: while you are responsible for going out and trying to find a mate, that mate, in return, is responsible for meeting your need for a compatible, respectful, intimate and loving partner. If, however, they cannot meet those needs you should move on, or stop expecting them to be your partner.
Lastly, I think it’s important to note that no one owes you anything, once you are an adult, except for respect (and sometimes you don’t even get that). And while you are able to expect that some of your needs can be met by others, you, my friend, are responsible for the bulk of those needs being met. If you are not meeting them, today is a great day to start!
I want to talk about healthy as a culture, not a singularity. To be healthy is not to find one way of being and then, do that behavior (not drink, not act out, not see the PoA, etc.). That is often not enough. Creating a healthy person means surrounding yourself with healthy people, healthy work and healthy activities. In AA when recovery is underway, they suggest you “change people, places and things.” Don’t hang out at the bar anymore, ditch the drinking buddies and get rid of the alcohol bottles from your home. When you make choices like that, you stand a better chance of recovering.
For love addicts, we need to do the same. We need to find healthier people to hang around, we need to create a better home situation (one of peace, respect, kindness, happiness). We need to take our work, job and careers more seriously and if necessary, find work that is meaningful and positive. Working in a fitness center or a bar where the atmosphere can be superficial and meat-markety might not be the best career choice for a love addict.
The same can be said about our interests. Reading romance novels, listening to love songs, watching love stories in films is not the best way to shake yourself free of romantic/fantasy notions of what a real, healthy relationship can and should be. Finally, if part of your unhealthy lifestyle entails staying home, filling in your time with hours of fantasy, you need to get out of the house and “do.” Put down the cell, quit checking your text messages and social media sites and walk, swim, shop, drive…Do. Be.
Surround yourself with healthy activities and people.
And lose the excuses. If you can’t quit your job or leave a marriage, try to create a healthier atmosphere right at your desk or in your home where you live and work. Go to therapy. Take a different route down the hall. Hang out with a more positive crowd. Create a space in your home that is “sacred” and only let positive things and people in this room (including you!). Figure out a way to improve your environment so that your environment is a healthier one.
If you think I give a lot of advice in this blog, you should see me as a mom. I dole out advice like a factory conveyor belt lined with Peeps at Easter. And one of the best responses I always seem to get in response to all my wise advice is “I know.”
You need to wear a jacket, it’s cold out.
You shouldn’t hit your brother.
You were supposed to take the trash out.
My kids say “I know” to almost everything. They know it all! It’s become a knee-jerk response to a question they know the answer to. And yet, in reality, they plan to do or have already done something else entirely.
Love addicts often have the same response. We know what’s right, but we tend to do something completely different.
You shouldn’t stay in a relationship with a man who hurts you.
Don’t go crawling back; have some dignity.
Stay away from bad boys.
Oops! So, if you KNOW all this stuff, why do you still do it? If you KNOW you are worth more than scraps, then why aren’t your actions proving that you know this?
I’m not sure I have the answer, but I do know (I know!) that better health comes when our words and actions sync up. When we stop with the childish response, “I know.” Who cares if you know! Don’t just tell me (and don’t just tell yourself) that you know, PROVE that you know by your actions. A head full of “knowing” but not “doing” is fantasy. In recovery, we need our actions to be louder than our “I knows.”
The words just slipped out. I could feel them clinking around in my head for moments before letting them loose: If you’re so mad at me then divorce me! Who needs this shit! And yet, divorce was the last thing on either of our minds. No issue, no fight, no behavior nor secret-thought has ever led to either of us wanting a divorce, and yet, there they were. Cold words that fell upon silence and couldn’t be reeled back even with the most sincerest regret. We were fighting about who knows what. But we were fighting long and hard with our emotions. Logic was long gone. It was late. We were weary. The words came out as a form of manipulation. But, I know this only in retrospect. They were designed as a challenge, not to receive the response, “OK, I will divorce you!” rather, to receive the response, “No! Why are we fighting? I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll never leave you.”
Sadly, manipulation rarely bestows upon you the hoped for outcome. If anything, it causes more trouble, especially if you’re arguing with someone who doesn’t subscribe to manipulation. Which is my husband’s case. And yet, there I was, reverting back to scrappy love-addict tactics that really only worked in my unhealthy relationship, and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t even work then. And so, the night raged on. He became even angrier with me, which led to us sleeping in separate rooms, which led to us having a huge fight in the morning, which led to loads of crying and sadness and emotion and drama and shame and fear and…wait…Was I back to living that ‘ol life of chaos again?
Say it isn’t so.
OK, it isn’t so.
But, if I am to be realistic, arguments happen even in the best relationship. And we ultimately worked it out and went back to our happy selves. But my eyes opened to how much I needed to improve in this department. And I definitely realized, that night, I needed to change a few of my bottom line behaviors from here on out if I was going to fight fair and be a responsible, loving grown up. I especially needed to stop engaging in “love addict tactics.”
So, here’s my 8 points to help you argue with your partner in a healthier, more dignified way. But, a word of caution: this list is written for healthy relationships, or rather, for individuals who have each others’ best interest at heart. It’s not a way in which to negotiate or “fight fair” with an unhealthy individual whom you can’t seem to get a long with in any way. If you find yourself arguing incessantly, that’s another blog with different advice. And while you can (and should) certainly change and improve your arguing skills with darn near anyone, for your own sake, you may not get a matching result from your partner. If you do, this is a good sign! It means you are both moving in a similar direction and are equally working towards peace. If you don’t, it’s a sign that you are moving in separate directions and it may be time to reassess the value of the relationship.
Without further ado…
- Lose the drama: love addicts love drama. They say things and incite problems simply to drive the drama up to heightened levels. And for what reason? To feel alive? To release built up anger or emotions? Or simply because drama is something their chemistry craves. I don’t know. What I do know is that drama doesn’t equal dignity. Reassess your goals (in your head, while you’re arguing) by asking, what’s my hoped-for outcome? Is it self-centered? Is it to just yell and scream and blow off steam? Or is it to ultimately work towards peace with this person?
- Argue conscientiously: as hard as it may seem to switch off your impassioned, emotional brain and switch on your logical one, it can be done! I can clearly hear the rumblings of logic in my head when I am arguing, and in the past, I would often push those rumblings aside and opt for some crazy emotional response. Now, I try to focus. I take pauses. I breathe. And I use my logical brain as much as possible to get my point across. Arguing doesn’t always have to be hot and fiery. It can be approached from a level-headed, cool perspective. You’re in charge.
- Don’t manipulate: Saying or doing something to incite a response in your partner is manipulation. The classic example of this is the individual who screams, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!” That’s manipulation and quite frankly, it’s evil. My example, above, though not as extreme, is still manipulation. You cannot control people, and what’s more, people don’t want to be controlled. That’s the goal of manipulation, and it will only get you so far. Remove it as a communication skill. It’s an unhealthy one.
- Be honest: I read somewhere that truth brings you closer to people, whereas lies keep you apart. For love addicts, as much as we crave love, we often fear intimacy, and so, we lie to keep a “safe” emotional distance between us and the object of our desire. If you’re in a healthy relationship, or simply changing the rules from unhealthy to healthy, you need to lose the lying and as scary as intimacy might seem, it’s your responsibly to yourself and to your partner to be honest.
- Listen: Arguing inevitably entails two people trying desperately to be heard, albeit screaming their point across to the other, trying to grab center-stage and win over the other. Fight fairly. That means give the other person a chance to get his or her point across, to speak his or her mind. Don’t sit there and think of all the things you plan to say when he’s done. Really listen. You’d like it if he listened to you, yes?
- Put yourself in her shoes: people are different. They want different things and they respond differently in different situation. No matter how much of the time you’re on the same page, you and your partner will approach things differently. And oftentimes, they will seem like aliens to you! As hard as I try, I sometimes can not understand why D does certain things. But if I love him, I have to try to put myself in his shoes and trust that he knows what he’s doing. This is very hard to do. But worth it.
- Keep it real and keep it in the now: How often in an argument do you find yourself dredging up the past? If you’re anything like me, a lot. Well, don’t do it unless it’s part of the current landscape of discussion. There’s no need. You’ve forgiven for past transgressions and there needs to be a clean slate. I’m not talking arguing over chronic abuse that continues to happen. If this is the case, why are you arguing to begin with. You need to get out. And speaking of getting out, you need to keep your arguments REAL. What I mean by that, is don’t argue from a fantasy perspective, rather a reality-based one. Are you trying to change your partner? Get him or her to do what you want him to do? Are you unsatisfied with his or her behavior, but, if he just stops doing this one thing, it’ll all be alright? This is called fighting for the fantasy. And it looks like shadow boxing. You’re merely swinging hits at your own shadow and will not accomplish anything, especially not changing him. When we argue it has to be from a personal perspective, not a “I know what’s best for you” perspective. You are not dating your son or daughter. You are dating a grown adult. Keep it real. Accept his or her reality.
- Bow out gracefully: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows! Take some cool down time to think it over. Apologize if you need to. I know I have a very hard time with this (I think I’m always right!), and so, apologizing feels like defeat. It’s really not. It’s deferring to the relationship, not always the other person. Letting go of a belief that you hold dear (as long as it’s not a value, big difference!), is tough. But, sacrifices and compromising are an occasional requirement of a healthy relationship. Ask yourself, what is the higher good? Being right, or sharing happiness between the two of you?
I heard the term “sexual communicator” many years ago, though not exactly in that form. My mother used to say that I had to be careful not to “communicate sexually” with people I was not sexually attracted to, otherwise, they’d get the wrong idea. Looking back, I definitely communicated on a sexual level, but I didn’t see it as a problem, until I got into recovery.
Sexual communication most often has three associations:
- communication that is sexual in nature and appropriate between two people who are or who plan to be sexually intimate,
- narcissism as it applies to the narcissistic personality disorder, and
- excessive flirting as it relates to the sex addict
I do not want to talk about any of these types of communication, although the last one might be closely related to this discussion.
What I’m talking about is far more subtle and difficult to recognize. Here are some of the signs you might be a sexual communicator:
- Difficulty talking to men as “friends” or “acquaintances” on a non-sexual level (especially men you are not attracted to or who are unavailable)
- Not feeling comfortable in clothing unless it’s “sexy”
- No interest in going out with friends unless the potential for flirting or meeting and talking to mates is present
- No interest in people, places or activities that don’t have a sexual element to them
- Feeling most comfortable only when able to flirt or speak using sexual innuendos or behavior
- Averting eye contact with people, unless there is sexual communication
- Displaying sexual body language or leading the conversation in a sexual, flirtatious direction with almost anyone
- Consciously or unconsciously wondering if the person you are talking to finds you “attractive.”
If any of these points sound familiar, you may be a sexual communicator. But here’s the thing: communicating sexually with someone you are intimately involved with is acceptable and healthy; communicating sexually with your married neighbor, your co-workers, your boss, your friends, your friend’s boyfriend, or people you do not intend to have an intimate relationship with is, well, dangerous and unhealthy.
Communicating sexually puts all conversations –even platonic ones– on a heightened sexual level and removes the possibility of knowing people on many different levels, thus narrowing the scope and experience of relating to the world. When you remove sexuality from a conversation, what do you have? To a sexual communicator, you have a boring conversation. But to a healthy person, you have the potential to understand and know people on an intellectual, emotional or spiritual level. You also have the potential to create non-intense relationships that you are not instantly bound to. Sexual communicators tend to become intense and locked into close relationships with people, cross boundaries, date people with many red flags and hop into relationships they later regret.
So, how do you change the way you communicate if you’re a sexual communicator?
The first step is to be aware of these signs, aware of your motives when speaking to people and aware of your ability (or inability) to change your behavior.
I was a sexual communicator nearly all my life–until one experience changed my life. I was in grad school and took a part-time job teaching at a community college. As many of you know, male students can and will flirt with their teachers. And nearly all my life, I was very used to flirting and getting male attention. But, I knew it was my responsibility as a teacher to create clear boundaries between me and my students. I noticed, however, that any time I spoke to a male student I would wonder, as I always had, “Is he attracted to me?” Almost immediately, I felt this wasn’t a healthy way to relate to my students. I was nearly 40, I was professional, and these students were here to learn, not to flirt with their teacher! It was at this point in my life I forced myself to communicate another way and block my sexually communicative nature. By doing that, it opened up a whole new world of relating to and understanding people.
I sexualized men all my life. Every man I would meet I would only be able to relate to him on a sexual level. This was so narrowing and limiting. Now, I communicate with men as friends and am able to have a better understanding of who people are on a personal level, not a sexual one. More importantly, was removing my habit of communicating sexually while dating. This allowed me to get to know my husband as a friend first. And while we are free to communicate on a sexual level now, it’s not the ONLY way we communicate. How nice.
As badly as most of us want a healthy relationship, we’re simply not ready for one. I liken it to wanting to hop into a career before getting a degree. And I am reminded of a story I read recently in the news where a woman was arrested for practicing law without her law degree. She had taken a few classes at law school, but dropped out because she couldn’t afford it anymore, and instead, lied on her resume, got a job as a law clerk at a courthouse and then opened her own practice, taking on clients. Eventually, she was found and arrested. And while I’m not sure if her clients were pleased with her work her not, she was still a fraud. She operated through layers of deception and deceit and in the end, she had nothing to show for herself.
We often make this kind of misstep in our love life. We are not out of one relationship before diving into another. Or, we don’t have a decent model of a loving relationship, and so, we grab whatever comes our way.
Here are a few examples of not being “ready” for a healthy relationship and what you can do about it.
- No model of a healthy relationship: If you witnessed your parents fighting all the time, or your dad ignored your mom, or your mom was an alcoholic, these are not the best models to follow. And yet, we go out into the world and find mates based on how we learned to love as a child. As an adult, however, you can learn to follow a new healthier model. I wrote a blog about it here.
- No proper grieving period: When a relationship is over, whether you called it or not, you need to grieve. Period. You need to spend a decent amount of alone-time trying to put your life back together, figuring out who you are and finding your center. Without this period of coming to terms with the end of that relationship and self-centering, you risk choosing a new relationship based on flimsy things like loneliness, neediness and sadness. A mate is not supposed to “fill the void” in your life, he or she is supposed to compliment your own awesomeness. Not grieving is also a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of any relationship. This relates closely to the next point…
- Jumping into a new relationship before the old one is officially over: Like I said above, when you do not have a healthy amount of alone-time in between relationships, it tends to be a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of the relationship. Almost anyone with chemistry can create that intensity, so replacing him or her is relatively easy. The healthier option, is to spend some serious time looking back at the person you broke up with to see where YOU might have gone wrong. What you might want in a new partner and what you might want to avoid.
- Choosing the same unhealthy person over and over: My mother used to say “God will give you the same problem until you learn to fix it.” If you’re dating the same “type” over and over (especially one who tends to hurt you, frustrate you or create suffering) you have not learned to “fix” this problem. Read more about love addiction, build your self-esteem, learn what your values are. Learn what it takes to change. These are all ways in which you can grow out of repeat patterns that hold you down.
- Not being a healthy person yourself: How do you expect to attract a healthy partner if you, yourself are manipulating, lying, cheating, acting out, abusive, angry, miserable and so on? You can’t do it. Well, you might be able to attract a healthy partner, but you will not be able to sustain a relationship with a heathy partner if you possess these qualities. Why? Because, forget what you were told about “opposites attract.” Not in this situation. In this situation, like attracts like. Water seeks its own level. You need to be the healthy person you want to connect with. And that means building self-esteem, being able to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, financially and physically, and be able to enter into a relationship as an equal partner, not someone who is looking for a fix or a hole to fill.
- Expecting too much from dating: I’ve added this in because let’s be honest, dating is something you need to learn. It’s not exactly something that we all inherently know how to do. And for love addicts, who tend to set expectations way too high when it comes to dating, a book or two on how to date, what to expect and what not to expect is helpful. You can read my “Tips on Dating for the Love Addict” as well as Judith Sills “A Fine Romance,” which will really put dating into perspective.
Bottom line: A healthy relationship is a fantasy, unless you put lots of hard work into yourself and into your “career” as a healthy person!