Thursday, January 17, 2013

Love Languages, Emotional Needs & Addiction

My former husband and I tried marriage therapy once.  The therapist asked us to complete several inventories, one of which was designed to identify our primary love languages.  Dr. Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages:  The Secret to Love That Lasts, identifies five primary ways that we feel loved.  He identified these "languages" after reviewing his case notes from over 12 years counseling couples with marital difficulties.  We feel loved primarily through our love language.  The difficulty we experience in a relationship comes because we tend to express love in the same way that we feel love.  For example, if my love language is quality time (which it is), I express love for my significant other when I spend time with him.  If his primary love language is words of affirmation, no matter how much time I spend with him, he is not going to feel loved, unless I "speak" his language.  Its a simplistic tool, I know, but a place to start in any relationship.

The love languages:
  1. Quality time
  2. Words of affirmation
  3. Acts of service
  4. Receiving gifts
  5. Physical touch
My friend, Dr. Kelly Flanagan wrote recently about the five core emotional needs that we enter marriage with.  These needs develop primarily from what we did not receive in our families of origin and we look to the marital relationship to have them met:
  1. Connectedness:  The desire to feel emotionally connected, engaged and intimate with our partner.
  2. Priority:  The desire to feel like our partner has made us their top priority.
  3. Affirmation:  The desire to be accepted and validated.
  4. Equality:  The desire to have equal influence and control in our relationship.
  5. Freedom:  The desire to maintain an independent identity within the marriage.
Again, two of the five jump out at me, not to diminish or dismiss the others but from a personal standpoint they are very significant.  I entered my marriage longing for connectedness--a need that was not met in my family of origin.  A close second need for me would have been priority.  My ex-partner's emotional needs were for affirmation and freedom (at least that is what I believe he would say if asked).  In a perfect world our marriage would have thrived had I affirmed and validated his worth and importance to me while giving him the freedom he needed to maintain an independent identity.  And he would have made me his top priority, spending time connecting with me on a deep emotional and spiritual level.  In a perfect world--or even a semi-perfect world.

But enter a hidden and secret dimension--one that my ex-partner defended and protected to the very end--sexual compulsions, addiction and pedophilia.

Dr. Bill Struthers has written an excellent book on the impact of pornography (adult not child) on the male brain.  From his research he found that when men watch a pornographic video, "The brain reacts in such a way as if [he] were the person engaged in the sexual act.  Viewing a pornographic movie creates a neurological experience whereby a person vicariously participates in what he is watching." (Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. 2009. P. 96).  According to Struthers, when masturbation is combined with the viewing, a new neural pathway is established without the presence of a partner and the man attaches to the image rather than to a person.  So in essence, "Pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate." (p. 45) The user has learned to substitute the quick and easy fix that pornography provides for the emotional and relational work that true intimacy requires.

Patrick Carnes, the pioneer of sex addiction treatment indicates that "Addicts withhold a major portion of themselves--a pain deeply felt, but never expressed or witnessed.  They do not trust nor do they become intimate with others, especially their families." (Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, 2001. P. 6)   Furthermore, their "Secret lives become more real than their public lives." (p. 15).  He has likened cybersex (Internet pornography, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.) to crack coccaine--all it may take is one exposure for an addiction to occur.

So what does all this have to do with love languages and emotional needs?

Simply this:  when an addiction/compulsion is present, particularly a sexual addiction, love languages and emotional needs--traditional marriage therapy, self-help books, and the relationship itself--take a backseat.  The Addiction is in the driver's seat.  And Addiction is a terrible driver and will end up killing the relationship if he/she is not stopped.  Addiction is a progressive disease and it steals connectedness, priority, affirmation, equality and freedom.  It speaks its own language and it is not one of love.

Each week in my recovery group I hear stories from men and women married to an addict and their relationship woes are so similar to mine.  It really is amazing to me because for so long, I felt alone and isolated.  But these men and women work hard to maintain good communication, to affirm, to connect with their significant other.  And the tears and sorrow they feel is because it is a losing battle.  You cannot connect with someone who is not available for connection.  And you will not be a priority when the mistress Addiction is the driver of the relationship.  She must be dealt with first and dealing with her is not pretty or clean.


  1. I love this are correct. I especially loved this line,

    "and the tears and sorrow they feel is because it is a losing battle. You cannot connect with someone who is not available for connection. And you will not be a priority when the mistress Addiction is the driver of the relationship." <----hit me right between the eyes.

    Thank you for sharing and I look forward to more post.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Candice. I am sorry the words resonated with you because it probably means you are familiar with the tears and sorrow that addiction brings.