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Love addiction creates fixations and compulsions in love interests and can play itself out in unhealthy behaviors toward loved ones. Love addicts can people please, putting the needs of others before their own. It can also result in divorce, affairs, poor job performance, relationship conflict, poor concentration of everyday tasks, enmeshment, clinginess, and emotional distress including anxiety and depression. Emotional highs such as intense passion, and emotional lows, like intense disappointment or heartbreak can eventually strain the relationship, resulting in resentment. Consequently, love addiction may have intense elements of a lack of control present in other addictions, such as sex addiction or a chemical addiction.
Love addiction is a controversial and highly debated condition. Some may argue we are all at risk of having some level of love addiction potential. Despite the many opinions on the matter, love addiction can cause emotional problems and even contribute to the breakdown of a relationship. Furthermore, it is a condition that creates much emotional distress, compulsive behaviors and even obsessions where love, romance and sex are concerned. As a result, people battling love addiction can find themselves in unstable relationships, such as toxic or abusive relationships, which can be abusive both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, many may not be able to identify the dangers that come along with such unions.
Love addiction can cause emotional problems and even contribute to the breakdown of a relationship.
People who struggle with love addiction may idolize their love interest and pursue relationships for the sake of the honeymoon phase or become very clingy and overly dependent on their partner. Love addiction can take on the following symptoms, but these signs are not limited to this list:
It is normal to idolize romantic partners by putting them on a pedestal. In the case of love addiction, however, the love addict may obsessively put their partner on a pedestal to their detriment. The partner may not even be emotionally responsive, affectionate, or may be abusive.
Much research is being done to provide information on how love addiction truly works. Genetics, trauma, and upbringing can play a factor in love addition and addiction in general. Love addiction stems from several places like low self-esteem, or other underlying problems. For example, a partner lacking self-esteem may lean on their partner to give them that. Additionally, people may develop love addiction as a way to fill a void left over from childhood trauma, low self-worth, or a lack of self-love. Like other types of addictions, it can stem from abandonment fears. Furthermore, lust for a partner can create obsessiveness as chemicals are released through sexual activity. Sex releases chemicals like oxytocin, and can create an intense attachment for someone who already has low self-esteem or codependency.
An additional reason can include using relationships to fill emotional voids. People may feel love would bring life, excitement, and value. In this case, someone can put too much pressure on their partner to be their everything, have poor emotional boundaries, and develop codependent unions. Feeling like someone has all the traits you lack can cause you to see your partner in an idealized light, or constantly seek approval from their partner. Finally, childhood trauma can be a factor. Circumstances like child abuse, rejection, and emotional neglect can contribute to love addiction.
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People facing love addiction have several ways of showing up in such unions. Susan Peabody, known for her writings on love addiction cites 4 main types of love addicts:
Obsessed love addicts struggle with detaching from partners—even if the relationship is no longer healthy, or the partner is emotionally distant. Next, the codependent love addict uses their partner for their source of self-esteem and self-worth. They people please in relationships, hoping to get validation from their significant other. If the other partner is codependent, it may not be a problem early into the relationship, but resentment can build if the partner seeks a more emotionally independent partner.
Codependent love addicts can look for worth in their relationships, and may give to the point of exhaustion, or connect with partners who have addictions, or are emotionally unavailable, wanting to “fix” their partner. Love addiction has more dependence on a partner in comparison to codependency. Love addicts expect partners to give them purpose, but are unable to receive love from their partner, creating a catch-22. Alternatively, narcissistic love addicts place themselves in a position of power in their relationships. They exploit the partner, using them for a source of attention, ego-boosting, servitude, and more. Additionally, they can severely mistreat their partner, by ignoring them and acting out in selfishness. Despite this, there is an attachment to their partner.
Lastly, the ambivalent (or avoidant) love addict avoids true intimacy. They can function as the one who holds on to past loves, engages in one-sided relationships (unrequited love), and can sabotage their relationships. Furthermore, they are addicted to the illusion of relationships but may run away or be inconsistent about getting close in relationships. Any of these models of love addicts can use sex to maintain unhealthy attachments, lie, manipulate, play out past relationship dynamics, or even threaten themselves or their partner if they decide to leave.
Love addiction can exist with other types of mental or emotional challenges. In the case of trauma, people can seek love in unhealthy places to gain what they perceive as love. Equally, people who seek the highs of love (the dopamine) or people with addictive personalities can find this as a motivating factor in constantly needing relationships and love.
Moreover, if the obsessive love addict cannot maintain the attention or affection of their loved one, he or she can experience feelings of anxiety or even get depressed as their relationships begin to fall apart. The stress love addicts can put on themselves to obtain love, or the compulsive need to maintain or form relationships can become a distracting factor in poor job function or wellbeing. As a result, they can begin to neglect their self-care, further neglecting their needs as they become consumed by emotional highs and lows. They may not be able to function within healthy patterns without someone there to love or be loved by, seeing it as an act of betrayal. These feelings of frustration, rejection, and betrayal can create uncomfortable feelings that people can use chemicals to solve.
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Often times, there is an underlying shame and void that needs healing and awareness. Additionally, obsessiveness and anxiety can occur that love addicts cannot fix alone. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help bring awareness to the love addict as they become mindful of their thoughts. Meditation can slow the feeling of anxiety and bring compassion to the individual suffering.
In cases where anxiety exists, meditation and cultivating self-love can work wonders to bring the focus back to the individual suffering, while allowing them to build self-worth and fill the void. For trauma, therapists in inpatient rehab facilities can both help provide helpful insight, while recognizing unhealthy patterns from childhood or adulthood that can impact diagnosing unhealthy patterns or behavior. Lastly, useful medications for depression or anxiety can benefit the individual.
Love addiction can be complicated and can be accompanied by substance abuse. If you or a loved one suffers from either, know you’re not alone. Contact a treatment provider to explore treatment options.
Last Edited: December 7, 2021
Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University, has over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 15 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.
Clinically Reviewed: May 10, 2021
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.
David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with Nashville area treatment centers, nonprofit recovery organizations, and consulting with faith-based groups trying to bridge the gap between the recovery communities and faith-based organizations who wish to understand addiction.
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