Love addicts believe that someone else can solve all their problems and make them whole
It’s not the thing on which Jennifer Aniston movies are based. It doesn’t promise eternal bliss and “happily ever after.” It hurts. And it’s real.
In a society that glorifies love and romance, it’s easy to get caught up in but difficult to know when one has crossed the line into an endless, obsessive, and dysfunctional search for love. This unhealthy longing for romantic fulfillment has a name: love addiction. Love addiction is a behavioral addiction, aka process addiction, similar to food, gambling, sex, and shopping addictions.
Ask yourself if you can relate to any of the following characteristics:
- Fear that the object of your affection doesn’t feel the same about you, or worse, will leave
- Fear of abandonment, that you can’t survive without this person
- Feeling your life is over when a relationship ends (sometimes to the point of considering suicide)
- An actual, physical ache in your heart when love isn’t returned
- Making your partner the center of your universe; giving up your own wants, needs, opinions; neglecting friends, family, even children
- Making this person the sole source of your happiness
- Inability to let go of a relationship, even when this person doesn’t love you, even when the relationship is over
- Excessive neediness in relationships
- Becoming fixated on a person, even unbeknown to the person
- Consistently choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable or abusive
- Mistaking sex for love, or using it to hold on to or manipulate a partner
- Obsessive thinking; repetitive thoughts and daydreaming consume you and prevent you from focusing on your day-to-day life
- Always waiting on this person to respond to a text, email, or call
- This person’s approval gauges your self-esteem
- Constantly searching for love because of an inability to be alone
If you find yourself connecting to more than a few of these qualities, love addiction may be at the root.
In general, love addiction affects more women than men, as women tend to be more focused on “emotions.” (Sex addiction is generally more prevalent in men, as they tend to be “physically” oriented.)
What is love addiction?
Consciously or unconsciously, love addicts believe that someone else can make them whole and happy, solve their problems, give unconditional love, and take care of them (and their kids). And although rationally we can understand how such thinking is unreasonable, for love addicts, it is an uncontrollable notion. It is an addiction.
Deep down, love addicts are not seeking love but an emotional escape, the rush of first romance. They are chasing the drug.
Let’s face it, the initial stages of romance—the heart-pounding lust and infatuation—feel amazing. You’re ecstatic and alive when you are with this person and pine for him or her when you aren’t. During this period, everything about this person is wonderful—even the stuff you know would annoy you in other people.
This “neurochemical” surge is what allows addicts to avoid feeling emotional discomfort. And, ironically, although love addicts have a conscious fear of abandonment, their addiction is generally rooted in a fear of intimacy.
Causes of love addiction
Many love addicts suffer from trauma or childhood-abandonment issues. Because these bonds weren’t formed in a healthy way or were prematurely cut off, addicts don’t have a sense of healthy attachment within themselves and are pulled to seek it elsewhere. Their attraction to unavailable people is re-creating familiar, albeit painful, relationships within the addict’s family of origin.
Recovery is a journey of reclaiming one’s sense of self: separating one’s identity from “relationship status” and learning how to cope with the painful emotions that come with this process.
Recovery from love addiction begins with recognizing there is a problem, accepting the problem, and acknowledging its consequences.
Then one must explore the causes of the issues (perhaps with a therapist or 12-step sponsor). This can be very painful as one is forced to “relive” experiences and issues that caused the love addiction in the first place, essentially, the reasons behind the unconscious desire to “numb out.” But in understanding the roots of the addiction, one can “let go,” and move on, putting an end to old behaviors.
Similar to what happens when you stop taking any drug, once committed to change and giving up the “addiction” (perhaps leaving a dysfunctional relationship), the addict experiences withdrawals. This is where therapy, a 12-step program and sponsor, or even a good friend is an indispensable resource—even your friends at ESME.
Check out anything by Pia Mellody, a pioneer in the areas of codependency, and love and sex addiction. Watch her videos on YouTube and read her books and articles. In her book Facing Love Addiction (HarperOne, 2003), she gives journaling assignments that address each aspect of the recovery process. During an interview with Alanis Morissette (on the singer’s podcast series, Conversation with Alanis Morissette), Mellody and Morissette address the issue of parenting as a love addict.
If you are able to get away from the kids, consider 12-step programs such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, or S.L.A.A., adapted from the steps and traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, that provide structure and support for the addict to do recovery work. (S.L.A.A. also offers online meetings.) Don’t let the name deter you! Often sex and love addicts share meetings for efficiency’s sake (i.e., to fill a room); more importantly, love addiction manifests in many ways—sometimes sexually. These meetings are not about graphic retellings of sordid stories; rather, they comprise groups of everyday people sharing feelings and experiences in an appropriate and respectful fashion, and in a supportive and safe environment. Some meetings even offer child care.
Finally, if you are financially able to do so, find a therapist and/or rehab facility that specializes in love addiction; there are many that accept insurance.
You aren’t crazy. There is nothing wrong with you. There is no need to suffer. There is a way out so you can live a life with healthy relationships and boundaries, and serve as a role model for your kids on how to do the same. There is help, hope, and support, just ask for it. There’s no need to go it alone!
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.