In a nutshell, love addiction is being dependent on a relationship, even though it has become a source of pain.
Sometimes, the pain is about your partner being physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive. Sometimes, it is about a partner who openly does not love you. It can be that your partner is in the throws of another addiction, such as alcoholism, workaholism, or sex addiction. The issue may me narcissism. Repeated betrayals. A loved one being married to someone else. Whatever.
Life in this relationship is painful, chaotic, unhealthy. On some level, you know that the relationship is not good for you. You may even be clear that it is destroying you. And yet, you find it impossible to walk away. You sometimes make attempts to do so, only to realize that ending the relationship is truly unbearable. You go back, and now on top of everything you despise yourself.
There is another version of love addiction, which used to be my thing: you fall madly in love with someone who does not want be in a relationship with you; this person can be really clear she does not want a relationship, but instead of grieving the end of your hopes, you hang on. The source of pain is obvious: you are in a relationship (at least emotionally) with someone who is not. You « love » someone who does not. And yet, you find it impossible to disengage, to walk away emotionally. And you despise yourself, because your rational brain is awake the whole time. Awake, but helpless.
If it happened to you once or twice, no cause for alarm: we do learn by trial and error about relationships also. But if one day you look back and you realize there is a pattern, then dear reader, you may well be facing a serious challenge: love addiction. Fear not, for there is a way out.
Lies we tell ourselves
I can be really, really good about lying to myself. So I do know the ridiculous things we believe in these situations: it’s not that bad. All relationships have their issues. Even though she’s not often here, I know she loves me. Right now he is cold and critical, but I know he will change. He only stays with his wife because of the kids. Well, it’s his fifth evening working late this week, that’s because he wants us to live a comfortable life. She ignored me these last few months, but one day, she will fall in love with me.
We are engaging a relationship with a fantasy, and not a real person. And even if people around us are trying to tell us what we do not see, we refuse to let reality intrude in our romantic dream. The dream is far too intoxicating, and letting go of it is far too painful. We hang on to our fantasy, while our real life deteriorates, sometimes to dramatic proportions. But it does not matter, because we love him, or her, so much, and love is the only thing that really matters. We refuse to face our love addiction.
When reality does intrudes
I was listening to a good podcast from the Trauma Thrivers Podcasts this morning: Fantasy Love Addiction and Developmental Trauma. Annie Bennet makes it quite clear that someone who is in the love addiction space will not hear, not understand, not see what is happening. I agree with her : like any addiction, denial is part of the disease.
But something will present itself as an opportunity to get out of this denial. Many times, it can be a crisis, when we « hit bottom ». It can also be more subtle; this is what happened to me.
It was a long time ago, but I remember very well when doubt found its way through my love addiction: the first time was when a man whom I obsessed about for months did what I dreamed of: he fell in love with me. I was extatic for a few weeks.
And then I fell in love with someone else who did not care and dropped the guy who was in love with me.
I was 21 and had not started recovery yet, but I still found it weird. I could not understand myself at all: my behavior made no sense, my emotions neither. I believe it is one of the reason I went into therapy a few years later.
Another story, another clue: I was madly in love with someone who was madly narcissistic. As you may know, the pain of this type of relationship is horrendous. After months of insanity, I was still obsessing about him all the time. But I do remember being in my kitchen, opening the microwave, and suddenly realizing I did not even like the guy. I was obsessing about him, but the idea of spending time with him was almost nauseating. It really dawned on me that it was not about love at all.
If it’s not love, what is it ?
These episodes are almost like a Matrix moment: you have the choice between two pills, one leading to the not so nice truth, and the other one keeping you in fantasy land. Unlike Matrix though, it is a choice we have to make again and again, as we progressively face our love addiction. We need time to let it emerge and process it.
In short, love addiction has nothing to do with love, and a lot to do with an addiction. Like any other addiction, its main function is to keep us away from a painful reality.
As much as we try to believe it, we are not trying to establish a loving, intimate relationship. If we were, we would chose people who are capable of loving, and interested in us. But we are not; we chose people who are not willing or able to love us, then obsess about it endlessly. What we are looking for is the fantasy, the obsession. Like any addiction, at the beginning it feels great and full of promises. And like any other addiction, over times it damages our lifes and starts to be unbearable.
So what are we trying to escape from? I can not be sure for you, but I do know for me. I was trying to escape the painful reality of my past trauma. I certainly was not willing to face how my childhood really was, and how terrible I was feeling then.
But I was also trying to escape my adult difficulties. I did not want to see that I was feeling depressed, and lonely most of the time. I did want to escape from my overactive inner critic. I did not want to see that I craved intimacy but was unable to participate in a real intimate relationship (hence the running away when it started to be a possibility).
I also did not want to face the fact that no breathtaking love story, no charming prince, could take me out of my misery. I had to pick up the pieces and do it myself, with some help. The recovery process is difficult, slow, and although there is some magic in it, it never feels intoxicating. But contrary to love addiction, it works.
What to do if you suspect love addiction ?
The most important thing is to have compassion for yourself: this is hard. The sadness can be immense because it is about the past, and the present. When we withdraw from an love addiction, we loose our love fantasy. We have to face a life that has been devastated by months or years of this addiction. And then, there is the sadness and anger about what we were trying to escape from: our difficult, traumatic past, our inability to really love and be loved, the end of our hope to be rescued.
The other thing is to look for help. If it is possible for you, look for a therapist, group therapy, or a Love Addict Anonymous meeting (yes it does exist! Here is their website with a very telling list of Love Addiction signs). Finding our way out of this devastating addiction alone is very difficult. We need help.
If therapy is not possible for you, for whatever reason, look for help from books, podcasts, blogs; besides the podcast above, you can read the following books :
- Facing Love Addiction, by Pia Mellody
- Is it Love or is it Addiction ? , by Brenda Schaeffer
You can also read anything about Trauma, because, there is a link between Trauma and Love addiction, but more on that later. In the meantime, take good care of yourself.