Wanting to be loved — and be in love — is normal human desire. But for some people, the euphoric feeling of being in love can be intoxicating and addictive.
Falling in love is a powerful and exciting feeling. True, genuine love is something that’s meant to be primarily positive, although every relationship has its share of difficult times.
Some people thrive only on the high of being in love and may even find themselves dependent on a volatile relationship simply for the rush that comes with its intensity — a telltale sign of a love addict. Another common scenario for a love addict is searching for a new love once the initial high of their current relationship wanes.
As with addiction to alcohol or drugs, love addiction has underlying causes that lead to the condition as well as consequences that come with it.
About Love Addiction
Healthy, intimate, romantic love is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, love addiction — the endless, obsessive, dysfunctional search for romantic fulfillment — is not. When individuals are preoccupied to the point of obsession with falling and/or being in love, as love addicts are, they tend to behave in highly regrettable ways, just like alcoholics, drugs addicts, sex addicts and compulsive gamblers. And love addicts inevitably experience the same basic consequences as all other addicts: depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, declining physical and/or emotional health, financial woes, and loss of interest in family, friends, hobbies, and other previously enjoyable activities.
People who are addicted to love spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the person they love. They want to be with that person as much as possible, go out of their way to do things for that person, and often value their love above even themselves. When the focus becomes obsessive or a person is devoting more and more of themselves to their love, the interest is likely to have become an addiction.
If you find that you’re neglecting yourself in some way or giving up things that are important to you in order to show affection for your love, you may be facing a problem. If the connection to your love interest becomes more necessary than meeting your own needs, this is a major indication of love addiction.
Causes of Love Addiction
As with any addiction, there are underlying causes of a dependence on love. A common thread in people who are dealing with this issue is low self-esteem. They look to their love interest to provide them with a sense of self and to make them feel they’re worthy or good enough.
Closely related to lack of self-worth is a fear of abandonment or some unmet need. Often when someone has been let down in their lives by a person they loved and depended on, they develop an intense desire to hold onto something — anything. The new love interest becomes that thing, and the love addict looks to this person as a source of what they’re missing, which could be unconditional love, attention or simply caring.
No matter what the underlying reason, the expectation of finding what they’re missing in their new love remains a constant theme in a love addict. What they end up with is codependency and not love at all.
Who’s Susceptible to Love Addiction?
Although love addiction affects both men and women, it’s far more commonly in women. One reason for this may be that women tend to be more relationship-oriented and invest themselves heavily in all of their relationships as a rule. A love addict may be someone who hasn’t fully developed their own sense of self and instead is reliant on another to feel complete. They make meaning of their own world through the closeness of that significant other and depend on them in order to be happy.
Frequently people with an addiction to love may have dealt with childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect or abandonment. They now have a fear of rejection and a need to obtain the kinds of nurturing and attention they once lacked. Because they didn’t have a model of what a healthy relationship is, they have no idea how to find one now.
Signs of Love Addiction
Love addiction, also known as relationship addiction and romance addiction, is diagnosed using the same basic criteria as any other addiction. These criteria are:
- An ongoing preoccupation to the point of obsession with intense romantic fantasies and new relationships
- An inability to exercise control over romantic fantasies and new relationships
- Negative consequences directly and/or indirectly related to out-of-control romantic fantasies and serial relationships
Although each case varies, there are common signs of love addiction. These include:
- Fears being alone
- Confuses sexual attraction with love
- Feels a strong need for romance
- Has a pattern of serial dating
- Has trust issues
- Falls in love easily and often
- Uses relationships to avoid pain
- May appear “together” but isn’t
- Goes out of their way to avoid rejection
Interestingly, love addicts are not actually seeking love. What they’re really chasing, over and over and over, is the emotional escape provided by the “rush” of first romance. Of course, almost everyone can identify with this early, thoroughly fixated relationship stage. But most people are not love addicted, so they innately understand that healthy romantic relationships evolve over time into somewhat less exciting but ultimately more meaningful long-term intimacy. Love addicts don’t get that.
Instead of moving forward into longer-term intimacy, love addicts perpetually chase the rush of early romance, using this intensely pleasurable experience as a way to avoid feeling stress and other forms of emotional discomfort. In other words, love addicts use the naturally occurring high of early romance for escape and dissociation, just as alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, and other addicts use the neurochemical high of addictive substances or behaviors to numb out and not feel the ups and downs of life.
Gender and Love Addiction
In general, there are more self-identified female love addicts than male love addicts. Nevertheless, males are perfectly capable of becoming love addicted, just as females are perfectly capable of becoming sex addicted. One primary difference between male and female love addicts is the way in which they tend to view and talk about their issue. Women are more likely than men to identify what they are doing as relationship related, whereas men typically classify their behavior as sexual, even when their activities are as connection-driven as those of their female counterparts.
Regardless of gender, love addicts spend the bulk of their time either searching for the perfect love interest or wriggling out of their current relationship so they can focus on a new one. They constantly check their profiles on Match.com, eHarmony, Ashley Madison (even though they’re not married), JDate (even though they’re not Jewish), etc. Almost every decision they make — what to wear, where to eat, where to socialize, where to exercise, what job to have — is colored by their desire to meet and hook their perfect partner, the one person who can make them feel complete and whole and perpetually excited about life.
Love Addiction vs. Sexual Addiction
Love addicts use romantic fantasy and the intense neurochemical rush caused by being “deeply in love” to achieve the same type of escapist emotional self-stabilization as sex addicts, and, as such, they are usually just as detached from the reality of their situation. The primary difference between sex addicts and love addicts is that sex addicts tend to direct their attention toward whomever or whatever is in the vicinity, often chasing multiple “fixes” (anonymous sex, casual sex, affairs, porn, etc.) over a relatively short period, whereas love addicts tend to focus obsessively on one person or relationship at a time. Typically, this one person becomes the sole object of the love addict’s life. Recreation, friends, work, and other interests fall by the wayside.
That said, love addicts sometimes look and act quite a bit like sex addicts – engaging in lots of sex with lots of people. However, love addicts use sex as a tool for hooking and/or holding on to a romantic partner, whereas sex addicts typically do the opposite, using the lure of romance to obtain a sexual partner. In short, love addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via romantic fantasy and activity, while sex addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via sexual fantasy and activity.
Love addicts, like sex addicts, are largely in denial about the problematic nature of what they are doing. Rather than recognizing that they are the common denominator in their endless failed relationships, love addicts typically place the blame on their dates, lovers, partners, spouses, and anyone else with whom they’ve ever become entangled. Sometimes they become intensely controlling and demanding, trying to get their partner to love them the way they want to be loved, regardless of whether the other person is actually capable of doing that (and almost nobody ever is). Then, when that person inevitably fails them, they act out romantically once again, beginning anew their obsessive search for “the one.” Over time, their willful blindness to personal experience traps them in a downwardly spiraling cycle of behaviors that both causes and increases their unhappiness.
As with other forms of addiction, there’s help for a love addict. It’s wise to seek out a counselor or recovery program specialized in love and sexual addictions.