While the desire to love and be loved is perfectly normal, the intoxicating feeling of being “in love” can be addictive for some individuals. If you’ve ever been in love, you know how powerful it can be. Suddenly your world is completely turned upside down. You feel an excitement – an energy, if you will – that makes everything seem new and wonderful. Some people describe it as feeling like they were walking on air. It’s natural to want this euphoric feeling to last forever.
Of course, most people realize that the wonderful initial feeling of new love doesn’t (and can’t) last forever. In healthy long-term relationships, the initial love gradually gives way to a more mature love – one that is perhaps less intoxicating and euphoric, but ultimately much more fulfilling and stable. For those prone to love addiction, however, the loss of that initial euphoria is akin to the crash that drug addicts feel when their drug of choice wears off. They crave the “high” and begin the search for another fix. Love addicts are no different, which is why they often go from one relationship to the next once the initial high wears off.
Although the idea of being addicted to love or relationships may be new to most people, relationship experts have been aware of the pattern for decades. In the 1988 book, “Love and Addiction” by Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky, the authors defined an addiction as “an unstable state of being, marked by a compulsion to deny all that you are or have been in favor of some new and ecstatic experience”. Just as with alcohol and drugs, one can develop an addiction to love or relationships. Sadly, this type of addiction has many negative consequences as well.
Understanding Addiction and Addictive Behavior
When people develop an addiction to something – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, a medication, smoking, gambling, sex, or love – they have come to rely on it just to function normally. It’s difficult for them to get through the day without it. When the object of their addiction is unavailable for any length of time, they start to experience the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. Unfortunately, this leads to a vicious cycle that typically gets worse over time.
Addiction experts recognize a common pattern in addicts: the addict is preoccupied or obsessed with the object; they feel out of control and unable to stop their addiction and will go to great lengths to satisfy their craving; and they continue to “use” despite the negative consequences.
If you’ve ever known someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, you’ve likely witnessed this pattern. Love addiction is no different, except that it’s perhaps more socially acceptable than most other types of addiction – at least on the surface. But in the most severe cases, it can be just as destructive and even as deadly as other types of addiction.
It’s important to understand that love addiction has very little to do with real love. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. While it might seem that love addicts are eagerly looking for love, the reality is that love isn’t really what drives them. You see, real love involves intimacy, which requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Love addicts are scared of intimacy and the vulnerability that goes with it. Instead, they are seeking the “feeling” – the intoxicating high or infatuation that accompanies a new relationship.
Love addicts are driven by low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment, and deep, unmet emotional needs. They look to each new love object to give them a sense of security, belonging, identity, validation, worthiness, and purpose. They believe the new love object can take away all their pain, make them feel whole and happy, and love them unconditionally. Of course, no one can provide all of these things or meet such excessive demands. Their expectations are unrealistic and, as can be expected, their relationships always end in disappointment.
The relationships of love addicts involve far more codependency than love. They look to the other person to take care of them and fix their problems. This unhealthy dependency isn’t love at all, even though love addicts perceive themselves as “loving” the other person. The sad reality is that love addicts aren’t capable of really loving someone else. In order to have a healthy, loving relationship, one must have the ability to give love as well as receive it. Love addicts are not able to do either.
When the love object pulls away or threatens to pull away, disapproves of, or disagrees with the love addict, the love addict experiences strong negative feelings. These intolerable feelings typically cause him or her to engage in unhealthy behaviors. The love addict may become manipulative, abusive, overly agreeable – whatever it takes – in a desperate attempt to regain approval or keep the relationship together. Sadly, these very behaviors often end up destroying the relationship – causing the loss and rejection that the love addict fears.
Who is Prone to Love Addiction?
Love addicts can be either male or female. However, women tend to be more prone to love addiction in general. This is partly due to the fact that women are very relationship-oriented. Many women put relationships above all else in their life, and often base their sense of identity on their relationship.
Love addicts often have an underdeveloped sense of self. As a result, they feel incomplete on their own and need a significant other in order to feel good about themselves. They tend to place an unusually high value on romance and often frequently daydream or fantasize about their ideal lover – the person who will satisfy all their needs and longings.
It is not uncommon for love addicts to have a childhood history of trauma, neglect, and / or abandonment. Many love addicts didn’t receive much nurturing, positive attention, or love while they were growing up. As a result they often have a deep-seated fear of rejection. Without appropriate modeling of healthy love in their formative years, they have no idea how to develop loving relationships in adulthood.
Common Traits of Love Addicts
While each love addict is different, there are several characteristics that love addicts often possess. These include:
• Feelings of worthlessness and / or emptiness when alone
• Lacks a strong sense of purpose or direction
• Regards sexual attraction as “love”
• Regards romance as a need rather than a desire
• Appears to “fall in love” easily and frequently
• Goes to great lengths to avoid abandonment or rejection
• A pattern or serial dating or serial relationships
• Often has very dramatic and intense relationships that tend to fizzle out quickly
• Difficulties with trust in relationships
• Periods of depression and melancholy
• Tendencies towards other types of addictions or compulsions
• The tendency to deny that there is a problem
• Uses relationships to avoid underlying emotional pain
• Is consumed or obsessed with finding love when not in a relationship (e.g., “always on the prowl”)
• Tends to be overly pleasing or controlling
• Needs a relationship to feel happy and / or whole
• Can’t tolerate being alone (i.e., not in a relationship) for any length of time
• Lacks a strong sense of personal identity
• Quickly becomes depressed or despairing when a relationship ends
• Has a hard time differentiating desires versus real needs
• Confuses sex with love
• May appears very “together” even though he / she is not
Consequences of Love Addiction
Like any addiction, love addiction can lead to many negative consequences. It can create serious problems in one’s relationship with friends and family, cause a decline in job performance leading to job loss, and result in severe bouts of anxiety and / or depression. Some love addicts develop other addictions in order to self-medicate their emotional pain, especially when they are between relationships or trying to cope with rejection or the end of a relationship. In extreme cases, love addiction may lead to stalking behavior, self-harm, violence, suicide, and even homicide.
Treatment for Love Addiction
As with any addiction, people who suffer from love addiction typically need professional help in order to overcome it. This may include psychotherapy, a support group, a 12-step program, and / or spending time in a rehabilitation program. Unfortunately, as with all addictions, treatment is often ineffective until the person is able to admit there is a problem, desires to change, and is willing to participate in treatment.
Love Addiction versus Romance Addiction
Some experts differentiate between love addiction and romance addiction. While love addiction can involve any person – a parent, friend, boss, spouse, or romantic partner – romantic addiction is specific to romantic partners. Obsessive thoughts, possessiveness, and intense jealousy are often part of romance addiction. The romantic relationship may be real or imagined. The “high” comes from that intoxicating feeling of a new romance.
Love Addiction versus Sex Addiction
Sex addiction involves compulsive sexual behaviors that lead to negative consequences. Unlike love addiction, sex addicts aren’t dependent on a “love object” to make them feel good or to fix their problems. The extreme behavior may involve obsessive sexual fantasies or actual sexual activity. The sexual behavior can range from normal to deviant, and may or may not involve exploiting others.
Even though love addiction sounds harmless on the surface, it should be taken very seriously. Like all addictions, it can be overcome. Love addicts can learn how to have truly loving, healthy relationships.