First things first. Take this brief quiz to see if you are likely a love addict.
1. Did you once think that if only someone loved you in that "special way" you would be happy for the rest of your life?
2. Were you/Are you pre-occupied with the notions of love as expressed in music, movies and fiction?
3. Have you ever tried to talk yourself into loving someone you weren't particularly fond of because you needed the love NOW?
4. Have you felt the need to prop up or do a total makeover on your partner early on in your relationship rather than admit that he/she wasn't right for you and end it?
5. Have you stayed in a bad relationship or repeatedly returned to an ex-partner because you couldn't stand to be alone?
6. When you are in a committed relationship do you wonder if you chose the RIGHT one or fantasize about a lover from your past, thinking you should have kept him or her and then you would be happier?
7. Have you used the words "soul mate" in reference to how love should be?
8. Since age 18 what is the longest period of time you were totally unattached and not fretting about some love interest?
9. Are you able to take the time necessary to heal and do a thorough post mortem on a failed relationship before running out to find a new "friend" which quickly becomes a rebound lover?
10. Do you expect your lover to make you feel loved and lovable?
I won't ask you to score or rate yourself. You know who you are!
If you suspect you are a love addict - don't feel too badly about it. I was a member of the love addicts club for a good portion of my life as well. I too was in love with love.
I have built my career on this issue, working with ordinary people who are lost when it comes to finding and sustaining a healthy relationship, stuck in a cycle of pain and disappointment in others and themselves.
They believe that either they just can't find the right one or that the early infatuation waned and they are no longer "in love." Some jump from one relationship to another in search of that wonderful feeling they once had. Others stay, despite feeling dissatisfied, harboring secret thoughts of leaving, cultivating emotional affairs, or cheating from time to time, having no clue about the real problem.
To be clear, addiction can be defined in a general way as a compulsive (repeated action without choice) and chronic (ongoing over time) pattern of using a substance or behavior for soothing, comforting and/or arousal as a means of medicating uncomfortable feelings. Addicts typically continue use of their "drug of choice" despite negative consequences.
Sex addiction is a compulsive pattern of pursuing sexual arousal independent of emotional attachments. Love addiction is a little harder to define simply because by nature we are all addicted to love - meaning we want it, seek it and have a hard time not thinking about it. We need attachment to survive and we instinctively seek connection, especially romantic connection. There is nothing dysfunctional about wanting love.
Love addiction, however, is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. During infatuation we believe we have that security only to be disappointed and empty again once the intensity fades. The negative consequences can be severe and yet the love addict continues to hang on to the belief that true love with fix everything.
In my experience, the most difficult love addicts to help are those who actually develop committed relationships with two or more people at the same time. What a dilemma, they say! Who should I pick? They really believe that the only problem they have is deciding who would be the best choice.
The causes of love addiction are fairly easy to identify: inadequate or inconsistent nurturing, low self esteem, absence of positive role models for committed relationships and indoctrination with cultural images of perfect romantic love and happily ever after endings.
Unfortunately, knowing why you do it isn't much help. Having the information or insight cannot change the unconscious drive to attach at all costs. After the end of a bad relationship my clients have said things like:
"Wrong guy! I'll never do that again. I'm going to find someone who is nothing like this one."
"I am not interested in dating. I just want to have someone to spend time with now and then."
"I'm going to go slowly next time around."
Here are few truths about Love Addiction and what is most likely to happen if you have not processed and grown from your painful experiences.
1. If you are looking for the opposite of the last one, just remember that the opposite of Sick is Sick. When we rebound, we go to the other extreme and end up in the same place.
2. Your new "friend" will be your next lover and it will turn out the same way the last one did.
3. Just saying you will go slowly doesn't work when hormones kick in and infatuation starts making the decisions. Infatuated love is blind.
Truth is: Wherever you go, there you are.
The problem is your pattern, not who you are with.
Here are some initial steps for breaking the love addiction pattern:
1. STOP what you are doing and stand back to observe your own behavior. Take an inventory of your dysfunctional pattern in your current and past relationships. Write it down. Be honest without blaming anyone else for your choices. Unless you are in a committed relationship, do not engage in any potentially romantic interactions for at least 6 months. That includes no texting, emailing, online dating sites, hook ups, introductions by well intentioned friends and family.
2. As you do your inventory look for the common themes in your relationships. Does there appear to be a similarity between your childhood experiences and your choices as an adult? If so, it is no accident!
3. If you are not in a relationship right now, consider getting professional help with your self evaluation before you begin your search again. If you are in a relationship, unless you are being abused, don't make any decisions or demands until you look at yourself honestly.
4. Ask yourself how life would be if you took responsibility for your own happiness, successes and failures and loved yourself the way you want to be loved.
5. Make a plan and follow through on a daily basis. You will be lonely, sad and frustrated at times but in the end you will have the most valuable gift of all. You will know and love yourself. Only then can you choose well and have the real, albeit imperfect relationship you deserve.
6. As an act of love that will last a life time, accept yourself and the one you love AS IS. It may not come with a big red bow but it is one thing you can be sure everyone wants.
For more help with breaking through the pattern of love addiction, visit my website at www.breakthroughatcaron.org. (link is external)