One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn in life is how to know when to let go. In retrospect, I should have left my first ex years before I finally did. He became an abusive alcoholic and he made years of my life a living hell — and still I found it so hard to let go. I spent years breaking up with him only to let him back in. Why? The answer comes from first answering the question: “What is love addiction?”
In short, I was addicted to my partner. Not to who he was — although, to be fair, he had some good qualities — but to the idea of never-ending love itself. To recover enough to finally leave my ex, I first had to kick all the sentimental Cinderella happily-ever-after misconceptions about love to the curve.
Those who fear they may have a problem with love addiction stand to benefit from awareness of their codependency. After finding an answer to the question, “What is love addiction?” they’re on their way to answering a second: “Do I stay or go?”
What Is Love Addiction?
Love addiction refers to an ongoing obsession with intense romantic fantasies about a partner. Those suffering love addiction, like those addicted to substances like drugs and alcohol, find their emotions spiraling out of control. This can lead to negative behaviors and consequences such as stalking, domestic abuse and threats of suicide.
When evaluating pop culture, it’s easy to see how the portrayal of romance leads many to believe in concepts like having only one “true love.” Listen to the lyrics of many pop songs. How many of them include phrases like, “I need you,” or, “I will always love you?” Onscreen performances give audiences the impression that persistence after being rejected romantically will eventually woo their intended. In reality, this behavior has the opposite effect.
What Are the Symptoms of Love Addiction?
Those who fear they may be suffering from love addiction benefit from examining the signs that their romantic interest has become an obsession:
- Living alone is unbearable: Those suffering love addiction find being alone intolerable and experience anxiety without a love interest in their lives.
- Mistaking sex for love: Those who aren’t addicted call a one-night stand what it is: enjoyment with no strings attached. For love addicts, though, one pleasant interaction at a bar can indicate they have a deep connection with someone even if they spend only a few minutes chatting. Every encounter with an attractive person results in one-sided love at first sight.
- Inability to leave: When a love addict enters an exclusive relationship, every thought and emotion revolves around their partner, as does their very sense of self-esteem. Even when their partner demonstrates narcissistic or abusive behavior, the addicted will do everything possible to maintain the relationship.
- Neglecting other responsibilities: For the addicted lover, their romantic interest takes up nearly every second of every day. They begin abandoning familial or work obligations in order to focus completely on their real or perceived relationship.
Those who recognize these symptoms in themselves would do well to seek professional psychological help to recover from their unhealthy perceptions of romance. Medication and talk therapy have both proven effective in stopping the addiction cycle.
However, few people currently obsessing over another see their behavior as wrong, especially given the way the media portrays romance. Those who have a friend or family member showing signs of love addiction can gently intervene and offer to help.
Problems Arising from Love Addiction
Like most addictions, love addiction stems from needing a “fix.” Just as heroin addicts get a rush from shooting up, love addicts get a high whenever they meet and pursue a romantic partner.
When people fall in love, they enjoy higher levels of the brain chemical oxytocin. This creates feelings of relaxation and connection with other people. Romantic interest often fades when oxytocin levels drop, but love addicts soon find another object of affection and repeat their patterns of obsessive behavior.
Love addiction can lead to stalking, which is a crime in many jurisdictions. Addicts in love with a narcissist fall prey to mind games such as gaslighting and begin to question their own reality instead of suspecting their beloved of doing wrong. Even battered partners in extremely abusive relationships find it hard to leave, which, tragically, can lead to their death when violence escalates.
Overcoming an Addiction to Love
Like overcoming any addiction, recovering from love addiction takes time, care and appropriate treatment. Some love addicts are able to overcome their obsessions by stepping back, analyzing their behavior and replacing illogical thoughts with more reasonable ones. An addict may react in a knee-jerk fashion when a partner takes too long to return from a trip to the corner store, with thoughts of infidelity blurring their perception. They can correct this by thinking that perhaps their partner got held up in traffic or had to wait in an unusually long line.
Other love addicts benefit from psychiatric care. Anti-depressant medications can help balance the minds of those afflicted, allowing them to think more rationally. Sessions with a therapist can explore the underlying cause of the addiction, such as childhood neglect, and teach new coping mechanisms.
Taking Love off Lock-down
Poets and songwriters penning obsessive lyrics about their one-and-only soulmate is one thing, but real love means accepting someone for who they are as well as honoring their boundaries when they do not return romantic interest.
As far as what Robert Palmer has to say on the matter: sure, you may as well face it if you’re addicted to love — but you should also know that you can break the cycle and find a relationship based on mutual admiration, attraction and trust.