You're Not In Love; You're Addicted.
Many who believe their love is normal are instead acting out an addiction.
Posted Jul 14, 2014
My last post focused on sex addiction. An addiction closely related with sex addiction is “love” addiction. Love is in quotes, as those who are addicted are usually not referring to actual healthy love. Sex and love addiction are so commonly bonded that there is a 12-step support group for the combination: Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). Both love addiction and sex addiction are often viewed as disorders of intimacy.
“What the world generally refers to as love is an intense emotionality combining physical attraction, possessiveness, control, addiction, eroticism, and novelty.” This quote, from David R. Hawkins (pg71) calls out everyone. It challenges the reader on what they describe as love. But perhaps Psychology Today’s own Stanton Peele said it better: “We often say ‘love’ when we really mean, and are acting out, an addiction-a sterile, ingrown dependency relationship, with another person serving as the object of our need for security.” (Love and Addiction, pg.13). Perhaps, as the above quotes suggest, love is much more commonly an addiction than believed.
When someone is addicted to love, this person develops an unhealthy attachment to the passion and enthrallment of the beginning of a relationship. The individual may have a long history of short romantic relationships; ending the relationship when or shortly after the excitement dwindles. This results in ever increasing negative consequences in the individual’s life.
Another way someone can exhibit problematic behavior in regard to love is being addicted to an individual. Although the term codependency is overused, true codependency is an unhealthy attachment to another. Although this can happen with any relationship (mother /child is a common dynamic in codependent relationships), it is most common as a partner dynamic. In a codependent relationship one partner (or perhaps both) depend on the other for his or her positive emotions.
Many who have these types of addiction may never notice it. Their codependency or their short-lived relationships are accepted as normal. If the above authors are correct, many people who suffer from love addiction are completely unaware, and actually believe what they experience is normal and healthy.
Some argue that all love has an aspect of addiction to it. In her TED Talk, Helen Fischer states that love has many of the components of addiction, including tolerance, withdrawal, and craving, as well as the singular focus addiction usually takes. By her estimation, we are all addicted to love in some respect at some point.
There is a difference between everyone being addicted at some point, and addiction and associated behavior causing detriment in ones life. In his classic book, “Love and Addiction”, Stanton Peele identifies criteria that can help determine if the relationship is an addicted one or not.
"Does each lover have a secure belief in his or her own value?
Are the lovers improved by the relationship? By some measure outside of the relationship, are they better, stronger, more attractive, more accomplished, or more sensitive individuals? Do they value the relationship for this very reason?
Do the lovers maintain serious interests outside the relationship, including other meaningful personal relationships?
Is the relationship integrated into, rather than being set off from, the totality of the lovers’ lives?
Are the lovers beyond being possessive or jealous of each other’s growth and expansion of interests?
Are the lovers also friends? Would they seek each other out if they should cease to be primary partners?" Love and Addiction, pg.83
Peele goes on to say that these are ideals, and all relationships show signs of addiction. These questions, however, help determine if a relationship is predominately addictive.
Unhealthy love relationships come about in many different ways. Theories usually focus on early childhood relationships as the foundation for later relationships. In addition, the affect of socialization cannot be ignored. This culture, perhaps more than any other, lends itself to the ideal of addictive relationships. People have come to understand that their perfect mate completes them, makes life worth living, or otherwise takes a meaningless existence and makes it more worthwhile. This message is evident in popular media from music to movies.
Although some experts believe most relationships are more addiction than love, and that all relationships show signs of addiction, there is a great deal of agreement on what constitutes a healthy relationship. First, the love is non-possessive, or at least minimally so. Second, healthy love fosters growth, rather than stagnation or regression. Third, healthy love is based on mutual respect that results in a partnership. Finally, healthy romantic love strives to be unconditional.
This is a tall order, as I attempted to demonstrate in “Love’s Tug of War”. We are all accustomed to, programed for, and generally seek, (and which also seems to be related to love addiction rather than healthy love) ego-based love, which is in opposition to healthier love. We want to possess our beloved to assure that we feel secure. This is the American, and possibly human, default modus operandi. This mindset contributes to an addiction to love.
There is an alternative, and that is to move toward more unconditional love. That is to love someone without keeping score, or giving up your life, or expecting them to save you from anything. It can be done by a focus on unconditional love, on compassion, and on loving-kindness. To love someone in a healthy way is to open yourself to loving everyone, not the opposite, which is true in love addiction. Your mind can be trained to focus on this, rather than its unhealthy default.
Meditation is a good start. Many meditations focus on loving-kindness and compassion. Mindfulness focus on love can contribute to a new mindset as well. Finally, challenging your responses, and slowing down and getting in touch with the love underneath your ego desires, can make your relationship one based on healthy love. It is this type of love will make the world a more beautiful place.
Copyright William Berry, 2014
Hawkins, David R.; 2004; Power Vs Force, pg71
Peele, Stanton; 1975; Love and Addiction; pg.13, pg.83