Where the sex addict seeks to medicate his or her pain with episodes of sexual gratification and acting out, including promiscuity, using porn, exhibitionism or voyeurism, the love addict is more concerned with emotional gratification. The love addict seeks to get "high" through the intoxicating whirlwind of romance and relationships. Fantasy plays a huge role for the love addict, and notions such as finding a soulmate, living happily ever after, being swept off one's feet or having one's breath taken away are all commonplace, acting as emotionally addictive equivalents to compulsive sexual behaviors like masturbation for the sex addict. (Of course, some people are both sex and love addicts at the same time, but not necessarily. Additionally, both men and women can be love addicts, sex addicts or both.)
Despite their deep longing for partnership, love addicts tend to be drawn to unavailable partners. These partners may exhibit what we refer to as 'love avoidance,' which only makes the love addict pursue them harder. The love addict, it seems, is addicted to that unfulfilled longing they carry. They crave a love that is never requited. They are terrified of abandonment, yet choose precisely the partner that will perpetuate this deepest fear.
The love avoidant, by contrast, seeks to control and manipulate others through the withholding of affection, attention and even sex. He or she is not inherently cruel; rather, the love avoidant is terrified of intimacy and cannot tolerate it. He or she may crave love, but when it comes knocking, the love avoidant runs like hell. The love avoidant may use behaviors such as criticism, passive-aggression, coldness or the silent treatment to put up a wall. Where the love addict may feel victimized by these displays of unkindness, the love avoidant also feels victimized. He or she experiences their partner to be smothering, clingy and needy, and has no idea how to communicate healthy boundaries other than to withdraw.
Thus these two types of dysfunctional relationship styles continue their dance of pursuit and distancing, sometimes for many years.
Where the love addict must learn to self-soothe and stand alone, taking responsibility for their own happiness, and approaching potential partners as companions rather than saviors, the love avoidant must learn to express his or her vulnerability and allow themselves to receive affection without fear of engulfment. Instead of obligation, the love avoidant can come to know relationships as a healthy choice to love and be loved. Much inner work must be done to uncover the origins of relational trauma, however, and here a knowledgeable, experienced therapist along with a support group is invaluable. When both of these individuals have overcome their personal struggles in this manner, true intimacy can finally come to pass.