Can You Be Addicted To Love?
Although the idea of being addicted to love or relationships may be new to some people, relationship experts have been aware of the pattern for decades. However, because the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not include love addiction as a diagnosable mental disorder, it is often dismissed in the mental health field. Yet, those who struggle with love addiction know it can have some pretty significant impacts on mental health and overall wellbeing.
What is Love Addiction?
Love addiction, sometimes referred to as pathological love occurs in those who feel the need to always be in love, regardless of whether the situation or the person are a healthy match. For a love addict, when a relationship comes to an end, or they fall out of love with the person, a replacement is never far behind. Strangely enough love addiction has little to do with real love. Love addicts, although they may not realize it, are not actually seeking true love.
Instead, they are seeking the feeling – that intoxicating “high” – that comes with a new relationship. Love addicts are driven by unmet emotional needs, low self-esteem, and a fear of abandonment. Falling in love (and being in love) is a way for them to distract from the difficult feelings of loneliness and gain validation.
Struggling with pathological love is problematic in other ways as well. Love addicts tend to spend an inordinate amount of time focused on their love interest, leaving little room for anything else. This hyper-focus often leads love addicts to neglect other important areas of life (work, school, other relationships, etc.).
Love addicts are largely codependent. A love addict seeks relationships so the other person can take care of them, fix their problems, help them feel good about themselves, etc. This unhealthy dependency on the other person is what love addicts perceive to be authentic love.
Love Addiction Versus Sex Addiction
It is important to differentiate a love addiction from a sex addiction. Sex addiction involves compulsive sexual behaviors that interfere with one’s life and lead to negative consequences. The sexual behaviors can involve obsessive sexual fantasies or sexual activity (for some the sexual activity is deviant in nature). Sex addiction is different from love addiction in that sex addicts are not dependent on a “love object” to fix their problems or to make them feel validated.
Characteristics of Love Addiction
Because love addiction is not technically a diagnosable mental health disorder, there is not a universal, agreed upon set of symptoms. Yet, there are some pervasive commonalities amongst those who struggle with love addiction including:
- A sense of emptiness when alone
- Easily emotionally attached
- Poor boundaries with others
- Spends much time fantasizing about romantic relationships
- Uses relationships to “escape” from life’s problems
- Feelings of desperation when away from romantic partner
- Confuses sexual attraction with love
- Tendencies toward other addictions and/or compulsive behaviors
- A lack of sense of self/personal identity
- Has a history of unstable relationships
Who is Prone to Love Addiction?
Love addiction can afflict anyone. Yet some studies indicate a higher percentage of women struggle with love addiction. This could be, in part, due to women generally being more relationship-oriented.
Additionally, individuals who have an underdeveloped sense of self may be more susceptible to love addiction. Lacking a strong sense of self leaves many seeking romantic relationships in an attempt to feel “whole.”
Love addicts frequently have a history of childhood trauma, abandonment, or neglect, or simply did not receive the love, care, and attention they needed as a child. Adults who experienced trauma as children commonly have a fear of rejection or abandonment, and that fear almost always affects their romantic relationships.
Healing from Love Addiction
Some may think love addiction sounds harmless, but it can have serious negative effects on the lives of those it impacts. It is an addiction, and should be taken seriously. Thankfully, as with all addictions, it can be overcome. With treatment, love addicts can learn how to have authentic, loving, healthy relationships.
Everyone heals differently, and some things work better than others depending on individual needs. If you struggle with love addiction, any (or all) of the following may be useful in breaking free from the addictive cycle:
- Educate yourself on your addiction
- Identify your motivations for healing from love addiction – motivations for healing from love addiction can be found through reflecting on the negative impacts of your addiction; how has it hurt your life and well-being? How has it affected your relationships? It can also be useful to visualize your life without the love addiction; how does it look different? What is better?
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Set boundaries for your behavior and honor those boundaries
- Get to know yourself – spend time alone, journal, meditate,
- Attending support groups/12-step meetings (SLAA)
- Seeking psychotherapy
- Create a relapse plan