There’s no denying that intoxicating, all-consuming high you feel when you first fall in love. You have a goofy smile on your face and your friends notice you glowing from the inside out. But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for everyone: Some people find that love is all-consuming. For them, being in love is like being on cocaine—literally! Indeed, love has transformed countless otherwise-rational people into obsessive, sometimes possessive partners.
Though the so-called “honeymoon phase” of a relationship is normal, in some cases love’s overwhelming emotions turn into something dangerous and destructive. It can be difficult to fight love’s powerful grip on the brain, and some people experience this to the extreme—an occurrence known as love addiction, defined as “a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person.”
In a love addict’s mind, intensity is often mistaken for intimacy. As soon as the infatuation and passion of a new relationship fade, love addicts feel empty and disappointed. It’s common for them to jump from one relationship to the next, craving that initial “love high.” Love becomes their drug to soothe the underlying emotional pain. “Romantic love is not an emotion…It’s a drive. It comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part of the mind, the craving part of the mind,” says Helen Fischer, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.
Love addicts are essentially a victim of their fantasies, desperately clinging to the delusion that true love will fix everything. They invest all their time and energy on the person to whom they are addicted and make this person their top priority, regardless of whether or not their feelings are reciprocated. Love addicts look to their beloved as a solution to their problems and someone who gives them a sense of validation and worth. At the core of the addiction is the irrational belief that he or she is “the one” who can make them feel whole and happy. A love addict’s relationship involves far more codependency than love.
“People who experience love addiction typically have unrealistic expectations for giving and receiving love,” says Shannon Rauh, a certified sexuality educator. “They can become fixated on their partner and try to control him or her. They need attention, validation, and connection all the time. They are truly craving emotional intimacy.”
In a love addict’s mind, intensity is often mistaken for intimacy. As soon as the infatuation and passion of a new relationship fade, love addicts feel empty and disappointed. It’s common for them to jump from one relationship to the next, craving that initial “love high.” Love becomes their drug to soothe the underlying emotional pain.
Love addiction can stem from a past history of neglect and unmet emotional needs during childhood, an absence of healthy relationship role models growing up, or both. Love addiction can stem from a past history of neglect and unmet emotional needs during childhood, an absence of healthy relationship role models growing up, or both. Often, when children do not receive adequate attention and affection from one or both parents, they experience low self-esteem and a fear of abandonment as an adult.
“As with any addiction, recovery from love addiction is a process of self-discovery. It requires taking specific steps: breaking through denial and acknowledging the addiction, owning the harmful consequences of the addiction, and intervening to stop the addictive cycle from occurring,” says Alexandra Katehakis, director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles. Three steps to changing your thoughts and breaking the cycle:
1. Be willing to let go. It seems daunting, but saying goodbye to an unhealthy relationship is much less painful in the long run than holding on. You’ll thank yourself in the future once you find a truly healthy and meaningful relationship.
2. Believe that healthy love exists and learn how to identify it. A romantic partner should enrich your life, not define it. Know that you need to receive as much as you give.
3. Look for a pattern. Are there similarities between your experiences as a child and your relationships as an adult? Consider how your past experiences may influence your current choices so you can be more aware in future relationships.
Are you a love addict? Take this quiz to find out.