What image comes to mind as the perfect romantic relationship? Where did you get those ideas? From observing your parents? From movies, TV, books? While in my undergraduate social psychology class, I was shocked by the results of a project where I viewed television shows watched by teenagers and recorded examples of sexual content and stereotypes about men and women. Even seemingly innocuous shows had subtle sexism or distorted messages about love and relationships.
You only have to turn on The Bachelor or the Hallmark channel to see that we are a people in love with love. For every cheesy Nicholas Sparks movie and Disney princess who needs only to find her prince, there are messages across all forms of media that imply that, in order to have value or worth, a woman must be loved by someone. The sad truth is that these messages tend to stick in girls’ minds at a young age, leading them to believe that they are worthless without a man.
In some cases, this can become a constant, obsessive search to find acceptance and value through romantic relationships. Particularly when combined with the deadly cocktail of abuse and trauma, this striving for the perfect relationship can develop into a full-blown love addiction.
In her book No Stones, Marnie Ferree defines relationship, or love, addiction as a compulsive pattern of extramarital affairs or promiscuity, whether married or single. Pia Mellody, an expert in the field of love addiction and codependence, defines a love addict in her book as “someone who is dependent on, enmeshed with, and compulsively focused on taking care of another person.” She identifies that this is often based on a pattern of codependence, where self-esteem and self-value are wrapped up in how their romantic partner views them.
Ferree’s research showed women tend more toward love addiction than men, simply because women are more relational. Love addicts seek to find satisfaction in relationships, often starting a new relationship soon after the end of another. These relationships are not necessarily sexual, although that often develops as a component. Love addiction can lead to romantic relationships outside of your identified sexual orientation as you become consumed with another person. The emotional and sexual intensity in these relationships is mistaken for the intimacy the addict craves.
Codependence and love addiction are often confused, particularly since codependence and enmeshment are hallmark traits of love addiction. Mellody emphasizes that love addicts are more significantly characterized by low self-esteem and inability to care for themselves. In some ways, love addiction can become a drug of choice to deal with codependence, rather than other addictive behaviors that codependents can turn to.
Ultimately, love addiction is a disorder of intimacy. It is a compulsive obsession with absorbing yourself in a relationship with another person in order to define yourself, find value, and believe you are worthy. It creates a distorted façade of intimacy that prevents the addict from being abandoned by their lover, but prevents healthy intimate relationships from forming.
At this point, you may be wondering if this particular struggle applies to you. Ask yourself these questions to see if you might have a problem with love addiction:
- Do you obsess constantly over relationships?
- Do you compulsively move from relationship to relationship, unhappy but unable to leave?
- Do you try to end or leave unhealthy relationships, but always seem to find yourself coming back to them because you hate being alone?
- Do you feel completely consumed by another person, to the point that you forget all about other obligations and responsibilities you have?
- Do you keep trying to stop these relationships, but find that you’re powerless to do so?
- Do you spend significantly more time and energy on your romantic partner than you do on your own self-care?
- Do you expect your partner to constantly validate and affirm you, and then feel devastation and self-hatred when they don’t?
- Are you terrified of being abandoned by your significant other?
- Is your self-esteem or self-worth dependent on your partner’s view of you?
- Do you depend on other addictive behavior (alcohol, drugs, sex, food) to cope with the pain and stress of ending a relationship?
- Do you act in ways that are contrary to your values in order to keep your primary relationship at whatever cost?
- Do you have a pattern of multiple affairs or cheating?
If any of the above statements describes you, or if you’re curious if love addiction is part of your story, we’d love to help. Restored Hope is a mental health counseling office serving the Novi and Ann Arbor areas of Michigan. We specialize in supporting female sex and love addicts in their journey toward freedom from the trap of their compulsive behaviors. Give us a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out our form to hear more about how we can help you.