tree in the water

What is love addiction? 

The term “love addiction” first appeared in print in 1975 when Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky wrote a book titled “Love and Addiction”.  Despite the fact that “love addiction” is not a clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5, therapists use this definition to describe a pattern where a person needs others to structure their life for them, uses idyllic love affairs to mask painful feelings about the self  and has a deep rooted and unrealistic fantasy that another can provide unconditional love at all times while taking care of them.  Therapists also began to observe that love addicts are often attracted to people with certain set characteristics, the term “Love Avoidant” was then introduced. 

Analysis of data designed to measure beliefs about relationships, self esteem and love styles indicated that people who had childhood experiences of real or perceived abandonment or distance and criticism from parental figures reported a lack of independence and a deep rooted desire for intense commitment in relationships as adults. Intensity in this case is mistaken as unconditional love, true love. This notion is not surprising as experiences of criticism from caretakers can leave children with the message that they are not good enough by just being themselves. Their adult ability to take care of themselves and to learn how to develop healthy interpersonal skills may also be profoundly affected as a result. 

As adults, when the pain of being in a healthy relationship with ourselves becomes intolerable because of a deep rooted belief that there is something wrong with us, we look to addictions, in this case to another person or multiple people, to medicate the pain and remove the painful feelings of inadequacy. The pain is never resolved because the void cannot be filled by something or someone outside of us, it can be compared to the process of putting water in a pitcher with a hole. Regardless of the negative consequences of staying with an idealized partner, it is difficult to leave the relationship because staying temporarily calms the pain arising from the untreated symptoms of co-dependence. Again, think about putting water in a pitcher with a hole, it will never fill no matter how much water we put in, no matter how many relationships we try, no matter how “perfect” we try to be for the other person. 

In therapy we can begin to recognize these patterns as they arise and achieve insight on how to create authentic emotional intimacy.  The result can be a profound paradigm shift in our ability to relate to others.