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Addictive and Codependent Relationships

Relationships in sex addiction often have one of two common patterns, with dynamics that are somewhat predictable in ways. The first is that of an addict and a codependent, and the second frequent pattern is that of a "love addict" and an "avoidant" individual.


Below is a description of both of the types of relationships and how they tend to play out in recovery. No model is going to be accurate for any individual relationship, of course, but it can be helpful to look at the patterns.

The chart below is available as a PDF file here.

Addict/Codependent Pattern

Person Desires Attracted to Behaviors Process of person's relationships

Sex addict



Erotic highs/ distraction


One magical sexual attachment that will heal all wounds..or at least buy some time away from pain




  • Boredom/ emptiness
  • Shame/intimacy
  • Going out of control

“Hot” people


Fantasy others for validation


Stable others who will care for them

Impersonal sex


Seeking instant validation with “perfect” others who are then found to be imperfect, resulting in serial, non-intimate relationships


Involvement in relationships with codependents, resulting in acting out beyond the relationship

Hits bottom with sex and starts recovery amidst great pain


Turns to romantic validation from others or renews codependent relationship--in either case without adequately addressing intimacy or self-esteem issues. (More avoidant individual joins group but stays on fringes.) 


Strategy fails,  relapse occurs, hitting more intense bottom. Recovery renews--more slowly this time--with more attention to self validation,  non-sexual intimacy, and tolerating feelings of aloneness and emptiness. 



Validation through being needed, rescuing


Secure relationship




  • Abandonment
  • Vulnerability
Individuals who need parenting (addicted or dysfunctional and in need of rescuing, like codependents parents were)

Rescuing people in crisis


Remaining in relationship even when clearly unsatisfactory


Trying to control addict's behavior--yet sometimes enabling the addict to stay addicted

May want to “possess” addict


Become frustrated when addict's behavior is more extreme than they want, but stay because afraid to leave


If addict recovers, codependent may move on to new addict where their rescuing skills are needed and appreciated.


"Love Addict"/Avoidant Pattern*

Person Desires Attracted to Behaviors Process of person's relationships

Love addict

Security, safety acceptance, “oneness” (merger)




  • Greatest fear is abandonment
  • Underlying fear is healthy intimacy (in enmeshment the core of the person is actually sealed off)
Self-contained individuals who appear strong, stable (often avoidant or obsessive compulsive, like their families of origin)

Line up next relationship before leaving current one--forming love triangles

Instant closeness, looking for “magic” feeling


Idealizing partner


Obsessing about partner


Talking obsessively to others about him or her


Acting out anger and revenge for being abandoned

Enters relationship in haze of fantasy--found this stable, strong, accepting individual


Gets high from fantasy


Denies how walled in avoidant really is


Avoidant gradually becomes distant and shuts down, abandons relationship in some way


Love addict acts out anger & revenge, turns to affairs and addictive sex


Partner capitulates and renews relationship, or love addict moves on to new relationship


Sense of self and self esteem does not develop--love addict remains in dependent position. Ability to tolerate fear and discomfort must develop for growth to occur



Wants to be connected, but not closely




  • Greatest fear is intimacy/engulfment
  • Can have a hard time rejecting others or saying no
Individuals who provide much of the enthusiasm and intimacy for both of them Ambivalence all the way through may be in relationship because can't say no

May show initial traditional romantic pursuing, but ultimately enters relationship because love addict provides most of the “intimate energy”; may fear would never make into a relationship otherwise


As love addict wants more and more attention avoidant attempts to please by giving it to them--at least initially


Eventually avoidant becomes overwhelmed by enmeshment and/or neediness of love addict, becomes critical, and eventually backs off from relationship or abandons it


Feels relationship has failed, sometimes gets involved with addictive behavior or affairs to distance, distract, or numb out


May return to relationship out of guilt or fear of being totally alone, or moves on to connect with another partner


Cycle of abandoning and returning can go on and on, especially if love addict starts to move on


*Much of this pattern of relating has been described by Pia Mellody in her 1992 book "Facing Love Addiction."