Love addiction causes fixations and compulsions in romantic interests and frequently presents in unhealthy behaviors toward a partner. Love addicts tend to people please, placing the needs of others above their own. It may also lead to divorce, affairs, loss of employment, relationship conflict, inattention, enmeshment, clinginess, anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Emotional highs like intense passion, and emotional lows, such as intense disappointment or heartbreak, can strain a relationship and cause resentment. Consequently, love addiction may be associated with lack of control that is typical of other addictions, such as drug or sex addiction.
Love addiction is controversial and often debated. Some may argue that we all have some risk of addiction to a romantic partner. Despite many opinions on the subject, love addiction can cause emotional problems and contribute to breakup or divorce. Love addiction tends to cause significant emotional distress, as well as obsessive thoughts and compulsions where love, romance, and sex are concerned. As a result, people struggling with love addiction often find themselves in unstable, toxic or abusive relationships. Unfortunately, many people are unable to identify dangers that are commonly associated with such unions.
People who struggle with love addiction may idolize their love interest and pursue relationships for the sake of the honeymoon phase or become clingy and dependent. Love addiction is usually associated with many signs and symptoms, including:
It is normal to idolize a romantic partner by putting him or her on a pedestal, but in the case of love addiction the love addict may obsess about a partner to the point of self-destruction. The romantic interest may not be emotionally responsive, affectionate, or may even be abusive.
Research is underway to investigate how love addiction occurs. Genetics, past trauma, and parenting can play a role in love addition and addiction in general. Love addiction stems from low self-esteem and other emotional problems. For example, a person lacking self-esteem may lean on a romantic partner to provide what is missing. Additionally, people may develop love addiction in attempt to fill a void left from childhood trauma, low self-worth, or lack of self-love. Like other types of addictions, love addiction may also stem from abandonment. Furthermore, lust for a partner can create obsessive thoughts, since powerful neurochemicals are released during sexual activity. Sex releases chemicals such as oxytocin, and can create an intense attachment for someone who already has low self-esteem or codependency.
An additional reason may include using relationships to fill an emotional vacuum. People may think love will bring life, excitement, and value. In this case, they can put too much pressure on a partner to be their everything, have poor emotional boundaries, and develop codependent unions. Feeling like someone has all the traits that you lack may cause you to see a romantic interest in an idealized light, or constantly seek approval from them. Finally, unrecognized childhood trauma can be a factor. Circumstances such as child abuse, rejection, and emotional neglect may contribute to love addiction.
People with love addiction have several ways of showing up in relationships.
The four types of love addicts are:
Obsessed love addicts have difficulty detaching from partners, even if the relationship is not healthy or the partner is emotionally distant. The codependent love addict uses his or her partner for their source of self-esteem and self-worth. They people please in relationships in attempt validate themselves. If the partner is codependent, it may not be a problem early in the relationship, but resentment builds if the partner seeks someone who is emotionally independent. Codependent love addicts look for worth in relationships and may give to the point of exhaustion, or connect with partners who have addictions or are emotionally unavailable. Love addiction involves more dependence on a partner compared to codependency. Love addicts expect partners to offer purpose, but are unable to receive love from their romantic interest. Narcissistic love addicts place themselves in a position of power over their romantic partner. They exploit the partner and use them as a source of attention, ego-boost, and servitude. They may also mistreat their partner by ignoring them and acting out in selfishness. Despite this, attachment to their partner remains.
Lastly, the ambivalent love addict avoids true intimacy. They function as the person who holds on to past loves, engages in one-sided relationships (unrequited love), and may repeatedly sabotage their relationships. They are addicted to the illusion of relationships, but may run away or be inconsistent about getting close to a romantic partner. Any of these love addicts may use sex to maintain unhealthy attachments, lie, manipulate, play out past relationship dynamics, or threaten themselves or their partner if they decide to leave.
Love addiction may exist with other emotional or psychological challenges. In the case of trauma, people can seek love in unhealthy places for what they perceive as love. Those who seek the highs of love (dopamine rush) or people with addictive personalities can find this as a motivating factor in constantly needing new relationships and love.
If the obsessive love addict cannot maintain the attention or affection of a romantic partner, he or she may experience anxiety or become depressed as relationships fall apart. The stress love addicts put on themselves to obtain love or the compulsive need to maintain or form relationships can become a factor in poor job performance. As a result, they may neglect self-care, further neglecting their needs as they become consumed by emotional highs and lows. They may not be able to function within healthy patterns without someone to love or be loved by, seeing it as an act of betrayal. Frustration, rejection, and betrayal may cause uncomfortable feelings that cause love addicts to self-medicate with substances.
Love addicts frequently have obsessive thoughts and anxiety that they alone cannot fix. Underlying shame and void require healing and awareness.
Talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help create awareness in the love addict as they become mindful of previously unrecognized thoughts. Online therapy is an effective tool for those with love addiction who opt for at-home treatment. Meditation can help improve symptoms of anxiety and bring compassion to a person suffering from love addiction.
Meditation and self-love can bring the focus back to the person with love addiction, while allowing them to build self-worth and fill the void. For those with past trauma, therapists in inpatient facilities can provide insight while recognizing unhealthy patterns from childhood or adulthood that impact unhealthy behavior. Lastly, prescription medications for anxiety or depression may benefit a person with love addiction.