How could love be addictive? Isn’t it supposed to be a good thing we all want?
Love is a broad term. And the ways we throw around this term in modern day society aren’t always about love at all.
This becomes very clear when it comes to what is referred to in psychology as ‘love addiction’.
What is love addiction?
First of all, we need to clarify what ‘addiction’ is.
Addiction happens when we have a habit that we are unable to control. Because we are not in control, the habit takes over our attention to the point that other parts of our life suffer. Our daily routine becomes more and more of a challenge. Another strong marker of an addiction is secrecyand feelings of shame.
So then what is love addiction?
Love addiction is a dysfunctional way of seeing relationships and/or behaving within relationships that is unconsciously used to avoid facing our real self – complete with our real pain, our real responsibilities, our real needs, and our real personal power. Such is our need to avoid ourselves that these ways of seeing and behaving in and around relationships grow to dominate our lives and control us.
When we are a love addict, we look to romance or to another person to provide these things we are unconsciously refusing to provide for ourselves. We want a big romance or the object of our affections to give us self-worth, safety, and purpose.
When we are a love addict we make an unconscious contract with other people – you take care of my feelings and make me feel good, and I’ll take care of yours.” We think it’s the other person’s job to make us feel happy and whole. We don’t realise that this is a dangerous, soul-destroying game.
In her popular book, “Is it Love, or Is It Addiction?”, psychologist Brenda Schaeffer puts it this way, “Rather than a bonding, it [love] becomes a psychological bondage.”
In a healthy relationship, you realise that you can care for another person, and help them in practical ways while doing your best to support them. But their feelings and their sense of completeness are up to them, and yours up to you. Nobody ‘owes it to you’ to make you feel good or whole. Rather, you owe it to yourself, and make consistent steps to achieve it.
The different types of love addiction
Some divide love addiction into different strands, which you can have one or several of. These include:
It’s true that the chemical hit set off by falling in love can leave us feeling ‘high’ at first.
It’s also true that our modern society and acceptable norms means that many modern relationships do have elements ofcodependency and counter-dependency, especially amongst younger generations.
Modern media, whether film, TV, or music, encourages us to seek the ‘one’ who will suddenly make life perfect, who we are supposed to then want to spend all our time with. Love is supposed to hurt, to be our everything.
Social media doesn’t help, with far too many people bending over backwards to present their relationships as fairy tale romances, when the reality is sure to pale.
Modern parenting, and our lack of communities to give children different demonstrations of healthy relating, might encourage children to grow up to be love addicts. To naturally come to be a healthy view of love would require a healthy childhood where you received the love and unconditional support to develop healthy attachment. Busy parents without time for children can mean we learn to manipulate for attention. On the other hand attachment parenting taken too far can mean children expect others to meet their needs.
But with age and self-development, if we are healthy we realise that relationships are not an answer to our problems. Those answers are things we have to find for ourselves. We realise relationships are best based on interdependency, where two people love and help each other but also love and take care of themselves. You keep up your own interests, and know how to meet your own needs.
What do I do if I have love addiction?
Love addiction can be life destroying. We can exist in endless and exhausting cycles of highs and lows, and feel deeply ashamed of what we hide from family and friends.
But the good news about love addiction is that is is highly treatable. Talk therapy can really help you understand the ways your core beliefs about your self worth are driving your relationship choices, what your patterns of relating are and how they formed, and how you can start to approach love and romance in healthy, more empowering ways.