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Sex and Love Addiction: Five Ways the Dominance Factor Erodes or Blocks Couple Intimacy

When fear rules the brain, love takes a back seat.Though dominance as a value may make sense on the battlefield, in love relationships, tactics of war are the problem. Dominance and tactics to enforce hierarchical relations are guaranteed to produce needless suffering in the form of win-lose competitions, pursue-withdraw dynamics, illusions of power, and toxic relating patterns.

Whereas dominance is a socially approved behavior for males (considered “norm” in many cases), the opposite is true for women. Regardless who starts the competition, there is a harmful impact on partners and the relationship, to include that: both partners feel increasingly unloved, unvalued, unappreciated, etc; both partners’ needs to matter in relation to the other are blocked; thus also the formation of healthy emotional and sexual intimacy (which go hand in hand in vibrant couple relationships) is blocked.

Here are five ways the dominance factor promotes illusions of power that drive sex and love addiction.

1. Defines power as a limited zero-sum concept

The rules of dominance are based on “zero-sum power,” a view of power as something that one person has to the extent that the other does not. This view distorts the nature of power. Pure power is a choice in how partners show up and what actions they take to grow their connection. Whereas the intention of a healthy sense of power seeks to create personal and relational happiness and wholeness in healthy mutually enriching relationship, dominance imprisons the mind and imagination of each partner with illusions of power –mostly irrational fears of the “power of the other”; thus, the need for “defensive’ tactics and protective strategies to avoid feelings of perceived powerlessness.

Men and women, who are, first and foremost, human beings with profound yearnings to fulfill relational needs to love and be loved unconditionally, to be recognized and valued for who they are as individuals, to contribute to life and others in meaningful ways. It’s helpful to explore how this mainstream view of power makes it challenging, if not impossible, for couples to heal and thrive as individuals in a mutually enriching couple relationship.

2. Sets dehumanizing emotion-taboos one both genders

The rules of dominance pose limits, based on gender, on the expression of certain emotions. For example, it’s taboo for a “real” man to express emotions of vulnerability, i.e., hurt, fear, pain, empathy, sadness and tenderness, on the one hand, and on the other, it’s taboo for a “good” woman to express emotions of strength in women, i.e., anger, decisiveness and confidence, and the like. This ideology imposes an artificial dichotomy on the emotional systems of men and women. Whereas the full range of emotions are universally shared, these emotional taboos leave partners perplexed and wondering if men and women are from different planets.  Traditional roles for men promote narcissism, and for women promote codependency.

In an article from the book Co-Dependency, An Emerging Issue, Robert Subby described codependency as:

“An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules — rules which prevent the open expression of feelings as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.”

Addiction to sex and love are connected to these emotional taboos. An addict looks for and gets hooked on “something” out there to numb the painful feelings, such as inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, all of which are fears connected to natural human strivings to matter, to contribute, to bring and receive love in meaningful ways. Acting out sexually is merely a substitute means for dealing with suppressed emotions—at subconscious levels—that ultimately make matters worse, turning pain to suffering, intensifying the “neediness” for something or someone to numb the pain, and so on. The answers to questions of what it means to be a man or a woman, what it means to be emotionally or sexually intimate need to personally free both sexes to relate to self and other, and the full range of their emotions, in humanizing ways.

3. Causes neediness in men and women — thus at root of sex and love addictions.

In a groundbreaking book, Codependent No More, Melanie Beattie describes one common denominator in codependency as “having a relationship…with troubled, needy or dependent people.” The same can be said of persons addicted to sex and love. Both the addicted and co-addicted are “troubled, needy, dependent” – the main difference in mainly “how” the neediness manifests itself. Beattie goes on to describe a second common denominator in family systems with codependency and addiction as follows:

“…the unwritten, silent rules that usually develop in the immediate family and set the pace of relationships. These rules prohibit discussion about problems; open expression of feelings; direct, honest communication; realistic expectations, such as being human, vulnerable, or imperfect; selfishness; trust in other people and one’s self; playing and poking fun; and rocking the delicately balanced family canoe through growth or change — however healthy and beneficial that movement might be.”

It makes sense that men and women, under the spell of these illusions act in desperate ways to get the good-feelings they desire. Human brains are wired to seek empathy-based, emotionally secure relationships as a source of security that fosters personal growth and both emotional and physical wellbeing.

4. Socializes men to compete for dominance — thus behaviors that block emotional intimacy.

Dominance and emotional intimacy in a couple relationship are mutually exclusive — each neutralizes the other. Dominance requires one partner (usually male) to seek to prove superiority, thus, feel a sense of entitlement based on “might makes right,” “rank has privileges,” etc. These beliefs are hidden and unspoken. Both sexes are baffled; women feel baffled as to why their male partner competes with them or accuses them of being controlling; and men resort to silencing tactics such as “gaslighting” to fix their partner’s crazy nagging for emotional connection (and may view nagging for closeness and connection as attempts to “control” the relationship). A competition in a partnership however never produces a winner, only two losers. The idea of proving self superior to a business partner, for example, is going to take the business down eventually, right? What would happen if players on the same doubles tennis team or even a soccer, football, basketball team, etc., were in a heated competition with one another. A team cannot win if one or more players would rather see another team player lose than work together to produce a team win!

As relationship beings, dominance fails us; we are not designed to relate to one another in ways that keep our body’s survival system on alert, ready to activate protective strategies. When we do not feel safe in our relationships, automatically, our brains go into fight or flee mode. Over time, we “perceive” one another as #1 enemies (during conflict in particular). This causes other problems. It blocks us from the closeness and emotional intimacy we desire. The latest findings in neuroscience tell us that the human brain is a relationship organ, and that what most motivates us to act are our inner strivings to love and meaningfully connect. We seek to care for and contribute to one another’s well being because, in doing so, these actions keep our bodies and minds healthy and strong.

5. Socializes men and women, respectively, to traits for narcissism and codependency.

Sex and love addictions, like other compulsions, speak to a fear of intimacy. In one way or another, most of us, both men and women, have been socialized to use defensive ways of relating when we feel stressed. They are widespread.

We came by these methods honestly, learning them in childhood. In varying degree, even in the best of childhoods, our parents instilled us with fear, shame or guilt to get us to cooperate. They thought they had to, and most parents still do. Later in life, we brought these punitive tactics to our love relationships, and used them to express our anger when we felt hurt or to “teach” them to better cooperate with us.

Unless we consciously seek to free and chance them, these old patterns tend to endure. After all, we’ve practiced them from childhood.

Punitive ways of dominating or diminishing one another’s worth never work. At least not without leaving both partners feeling powerless, resentful, etc., inside.

In couple relationships, sex and love addictive relating patterns, defensiveness and other dominance tactics are like junk food.

  • They are norms that promoted by mass media and entertainment … driven by “profit” motives.
  • They predispose men and women to sex and love compulsions, among other addictions.
  • They never really satisfy, are only temporary quick-fixes.
  • Like food addictions, junk food leaves us starving for nutrients, thus continually craving for more of what keeps cannot fulfill actual needs.
  • They overstimulate our senses to where we crave bigger and more frequent doses.
  • They eventually dampen our ability to derive pleasure.
  • They take center stage in our lives and push aside persons, values etc previously held dear.
  • They can destroy health, physical, emotional, mental.

Whereas the richest industrialized country in the world should be free of addictions, healthy and educated — compared to industrialized nations, we are instead the most addicted, least healthy, and toward the bottom in literacy.

Sex and love addiction patterns of relating are not even on the radar screen, yet couples and families are hurting, my guess is, in crisis proportions. Sex and love addiction have roots in cultural values that perpetuate a view of power in couple relationships as either a weapon to dominate or a venue for those with status to prove their worth.  It’s time to awaken cultural values that normalize the healthiest conditions possible for human beings to heal and grow, as individuals and couples, families and communities. Both men and women deserve this.


Sex and Love Addiction: Five Ways the Dominance Factor Erodes or Blocks Couple Intimacy

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2015). Sex and Love Addiction: Five Ways the Dominance Factor Erodes or Blocks Couple Intimacy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Jun 2015
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