Can love be addictive? Ask Mark Sanford – or his wife

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on June 27th, 2009 - Last updated: June 21st, 2023
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Mark Sanford’s wife has made clear just how far “gone” her husband, the governor of South Carolina, was over his affair with his Argentinean lover.  Vice President Biden should consider appointing Jenny Sanford director of the new National Institute on Addictive Diseases.

Mrs. Sanford discovered the affair earlier this year. Yet, her husband pleaded repeatedly for permission to visit his lover. “I said absolutely not,” reported Mrs. Sanford – a deeply religious woman. “It’s one thing to forgive adultery. It’s another to condone it.”

Conservative politicians generally don’t ask their devout wives for permission to fornicate. Despite her refusal, the governor told his wife he needed time to write, told his staff he was headed for the Appalachian Trail, and took off for the promised land.  In the meantime, he left his state leaderless and put his staff in the position of lying to the electorate and press.

Predictably, he was found out. What made Mark Sanford think he could disappear on his wife and his state for a week with nobody noticing? But he couldn’t, metaphorically, help himself. “You would think that a father who didn’t have contact with his children,” Mrs. Sanford, who had kicked Sanford out of the house, said, “if he wanted those children, would toe the line a little bit.”

If Mark Sanford had a drinking or drug problem, everyone would nod knowingly.  He might promise to abstain and head off for treatment. His constituents would forgive him. But being addicted to an Argentinean (notice the similarity to “Appalachian”) bombshell?  It was a tough sell telling America he was cheating on his wife and deserting his four sons for Father’s Day in order to pursue hot sex on another continent.

But, in the words of Martha Reeves, “Love, love, love, makes me do foolish things.” If love were a drug, it would be banned as the most dangerously addictive substance on earth – as I have said, love is the hardest addiction to quit.  What else could make a person publicly humiliate himself and his family – just think of his sons’ friends googling their father’s admission of adultery at the state house – and end his hard-earned political career, including the possibility of running for the presidency?

Note that this case does not fit the model of sexual addition so frequently highlighted by sex addict buffs – that is, addicts (usually men) who recklessly pursue sex, often nonstop, generally with many partners. Mark Sanford was “in love” with his mistress – and nothing could deter him from the object of his desire.

Of course, my view of addiction requires that we peel back this onion. Mark Sanford is a good-looking, successful man. Sometimes women are attracted to a man like that. He is also a conservative, God-fearing politician who preached the sanctity of marriage in his campaigns and was elected governor of the most socially conservative state (along with Utah) in the country.

In other words, he is like the boy brought up to believe alcohol should never cross his lips who attends a fraternity party – and loses his head entirely to his first fatal sip of booze. He simply didn’t have the experience and equipment to manage the experience of love – including, to judge from his e-mails, a heavy dose of sexual fascination.

Sanford wasn’t addicted to direct sexual stimulation – since he claims to have only had sex with the woman during three brief periods over the past year. What drug becomes so addictive after only three exposures? We need to stamp out anything this potent! Oh, you mean religion and society have been trying to do so for eons, and have failed?

Although it is unlikely I will get the opportunity to interview the governor, I have several questions for him. I’d first ask, “Were you planning on confessing and asking forgiveness from God, your constituents, and (seemingly lastly) your family like you did if a newspaper hadn’t discovered you returning from South America at the Atlanta Airport and then published your e-mails with your girlfriend?” (Have you noticed, those Christians only get remorseful and right themselves with God after they’re caught?)

Second, I’d ask, “Why the hell did you spend the last five days crying in Argentina (as the governor announced at his press conference)?” Did Maria (his lover) dump you? Were you impotent?  Did you realize you wouldn’t have a chance to rendezvous again after this debacle?  Did you see your political career going down the dumper?” I thnk his answer would be: “Because I was so unhappy betraying my wife.” But then why did he disregard her ultimatum and lie to her about where he was headed?

But then I would ask him a serious psychological question: “Would you encourage your sons to have more sexual experience before marrying than you had?” Mark Sanford was so upright, so concentrated on his career, that when he met the attractive, intelligent, hard working Jenny, he thought, “this woman can take me to the top” (his wife managed his political campaigns). As described by Jenny, their meeting “was (not love, but) friendship at first sight.”

My point, governor, is that the only way to inoculate your children against this love bug is to teach them what you didn’t know – how to fall in sexual love without losing your head and doing yourself permanent damage.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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