Is it love or a love addiction?

Is it love or a love addiction?

By Mary Guindon, Ph.D., NCC

By Mary Guindon, Ph.D., NCC

The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

You’ve been together for a while, yet you still have that euphoric, queasy, pit-of-the-stomach feeling, and you know this is your one and only love; your heart’s desire. He or she occupies your every thought, and you can’t imagine life without this person at your side.

You’d do anything for this person, and even the thought of him or her with someone else sends you into a frenzy. You feel empty and sick at the thought of not being together. Without your lover, there is no you. This is “True Love!”

Or is it? What you may be experiencing is not love, but a love addiction. They’re two very different types of relationships.

A fully-loving relationship is an open system with mutual feelings and trust as the main themes. Each partner is secure in his and her own sense of worth, while encouraging the other person’s personal growth.

As partners, you share many things, but still are likely to have separate interests and other friends of both sexes. Other relationships aren’t threatening, but rather meaningful friendships that enrich your relationship with your lover.

Loving relationships also mean being able to enjoy your own solitary company. Being alone is not about rejecting the lover but recognizing you’re both whole people. You’re secure in each other’s love and able to respect each other’s boundaries.

Most importantly, in a real loving partnership, each partner is trusting and trustworthy. There’s a willingness to risk yourself, to be real, to be honest. In short, the hallmark of a loving relationship is the ability to be true to oneself while honoring and respecting the other’s unique being.

But if the above doesn’t describe your love relationship, it may be because you are locked into an addictive relationship, one based on a closed system of mistrust and false feelings.

In an addictive love relationship, insecurity and dependency are the main themes. One or both of the partners is consumed by a total involvement with the love interest; by a sense that no one else and nothing else is important or meaningful in life. The addicted lover sees how much the other person is needed as proof of the love.

In reality, this need may come more from fear or loneliness than love. In addictive relationships, everything else is put on hold in service to the needs and wants of the lover. Old friends are neglected and previous interests abandoned. Preoccupation with the lover’s thoughts, behaviors, feelings leads to dependency on his or her approval.

One’s own sense of identity and self-worth are reflected only in the lover’s reactions. Expressing honest emotions and real thoughts is too risky. Reassurance is critical and may take the form of repeated, even ritualized activities. Statements like, “If you don’t call me at 9 and 3 every day, you don’t really love me” are not uncommon.

In an addictive relationship, being away from the lover is hard to tolerate. Trust is low. Possessiveness, jealousy and protectiveness are high. A separation—or contemplated separation—may produce physical symptoms such as restlessness, lethargy or loss of appetite.

Addictive love relationships are serious problems, but there are things people can do to help normalize their lives once again.

The first step is to admit to the addiction. Like any other addiction, this is an essential step.

Secondly, the person must realize that love enhances, not diminishes, each partner. We each deserve to give and get nothing less than mutual respect and trust.

A third step is to begin to work on yourself for yourself, not for anyone else. The old adage “You must love yourself before you can love someone else” applies. It may be you have some self-esteem issues that have nothing to do with your lover. Begin the process of getting to know the authentic you, appreciating your good qualities and accepting your not-so-good qualities as parts of a worthwhile human.

Next, take action for a fuller life. Re-establish friendships with people who support and care about you, or find new friends with whom you share common interests. Realize you are already complete by yourself. Nurture your gifts and talents.

Finally, if addictive love seems to be a habitual pattern, seek professional counseling. Group or individual sessions can help you get in touch with who you really are and help you to believe in your own self-worth.

Dr. Guindon is the interim department chair at Johns Hopkins University for the Department of Counseling and Human Services. She is licensed professional counselor and a licensed psychologist with more than 20 years counseling experience.

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