This article has an adult content theme.
"Match striker", serial relationship starter or "next victim".
Working in a hospital in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, I often listened to treating staff doctor discuss the most rudimentary concept of sex and love addictions. The program had a primary focus of caring for people who are impaired professionals ( person with a professional license who has a diagnosed mental health or substance abuse problem that would keep them from practicing in their chosen profession) The last one I remember seeing was this same treating MD making plans with the treatment team to note to the person they were basically addicted to love and falling in love. The patient kept starting interactions with others because the hotness of the flame of meeting a new person and navigating charming them was a high.
The woman would act towards another as if they were going to have a relationship, but it was sometimes limited to lots of phone calls and............ maybe a sexual tryst. When the other person became an obligation or boring, or her identified partner presented, she ( the patient) would walk on without obvious behaviors, to another same pattern. In fact, she had a lurking system of possibles that she would call forward when that empty spot came up and set processes into more active motion.
Actions like this put astronomic stress on defined couples, as the person who has these behaviors is often a solo "acting out" partner. Though I have to admit, I have as a clinician seen two collide in one relationship and then part ways for third person and revisit the primary relationship.
Now, polyamourous relationships, where there are not connected partners but an agreed or approved group of interactions regarding sexual interactions and no marital connections is one trend. And swingers, where defined couples swap partners is another trend.
But sex and love addiction is another issue, where one party is unfaithful to whatever agreement ( formal like marriage or informal like "steady dating" or living together) leaves one partner guessing, as the other partner knows they are planning alternative sexualized interactions ( sexting, exchange pics, dating webpages) or actual sexual interaction ( sexual touching, sex acts, sexual intercourse). Sex and love addiction are not contingent upon the identified patient having a committed relationship that is being violated. One does not have to be "together" with someone to have sex addictions issues and the scope of this is not explained here.
Patrick Carnes out of Arizona is probably the most famous person to note and address issues of sex and love addictions in his book: Out of the Shadows is the most famous book, which addresses the complexities and the types of resources possible to address this.
Typically, people who are "serial relationship people" are at risk to fall in a range of struggling with addictive disease ( and people who have addictive disease have 65% increased chance of having a mental health issue) along with childhood physical or sexual abuse issues.
The bottom line is that any of those three issues ( sex/love addiction, mental health and other addictions) walks hand in hand with prior traumas, which are often complicated by adult traumas. Domestic violence, divorce, extreme marital conflicts, legal and financial problems...
So my office mate, Robert Wagner who is a guy and an LPC ( Licensed Professional Counselor) and LADC ( Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor) and I were discussing the biography of writer David Foster Wallace, who was nominated in 2012 for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and who was noted in the top best 100 US authors from 1920's to 1980's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace Wallace had some of those above behaviors.
Wallace was an acclaimed and award winning writer in the 1980's and 1990's, considered by some to be a voice of the generation, like
Bret Easton Ellis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bret_Easton_Ellis or
Jay McInerney http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_McInerney or
Kurt Cobain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Cobain
The biographic book Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story by DT Max, looks Wallace's history of a struggle with addiction to substances and a poorly managed bipolar disorder... Wallace repeatedly lines up, asks others, but never married because of the "match striking." (sex addiction, sexually reactive) This book look is the most non-judgmental review of this collection of behaviors, as it neither glorifies nor villifies the Wallace, the man. Though Wallace the writer was glorified in his professional world. Our culture has trouble not shaming and blasting this behavior, and it is a fact that part of the reason people have a therapist at all is to have a third party, one or more caregiver mental health/addictions supports that are beneficial to developing the needed perspective and skills to identify issues, plan coping alternatives, act and measure the success or failure or attempts.
Robert's ( my office mate's) comment was that he really wished people understood more about the trauma key, as until people who struggle with these very complex issues have places where they can trust, share what happened in a safe and supportive environment and consider and process what the interwined trauma the behavior is in the lock, load and act mode. They just keep firing. They just keep striking. And anyone around them is ultimately possible kindling and disposable. They can't or won't tell the truth. They reactively sexualize situations at home, in the community, at work and whereever they go. "On the make". The trauma is not an excuse, and accountability is a part of the ultimate goal, but it is not the only goal.
Most "other parties", friend, family and partner people step in with frustration, anger, disappointment and disbelief on THAT mode, where they are being treated as if they don't exist, contracts don't matter and feelings are irrelevant. The other party needs support and healing too.
Addictions travel in packs, and it is rare for a person to have one addiction. Addiction is anything that can be done in a cycle of obsession and compulsion... so thinking about it over and over, a drive to do it, plans to do it, acting on the plans and then some version of downtime before the cycle kicks in again.
A male peer who worked at the same hospital as I had years ago, explained after he got sober that it took him a couple of years to understand that he had a pattern like this. His pattern was lighter than a full blown sex addiction, but fell in the category of a constant need to keep chaos going, "lots of balls in the air" with others, especially women. What he said was that he would go on a date with a woman, the identified lady friend. Their date would end, and he would go home and call 3 or 4 other women until it was time to turn in for the night. Every night. (When he stopped doing this, he was able to say that he felt like he needed to have some paths where he could validate himself, prepare for the primary girlfriend to reject him and basically busy his mind.)
When he got into recovery and had some therapy under his belt, he understood that he was "match striking", externalizing trying to keep some sense of self going by looking for others to reflect the light ( tell him he was clever, great, handsome, good businessman....) When he became more peaceful with himself, he began to understand that he was interested in things like reading a book, or going to bed earlier or calling a guy friend or family member instead to check in on them. When he spoke with me about it, he noted that he had more "him" to share.
These things above are not unusual in relationships. There are more parts to the problem than have been stated here.
Part of the reason it is complicated, is because by the time the couple gets to my office, they are pinpointing the infidelity as the issue, and unraveling is often more complex than they realize. Part of my job is pulling the focus back to see what might be a possible path for healing.