Do you resort to manipulation in order to hold onto your partner? Is your relationship frequently chaotic? If so, you may be using love as a fix.
For many people in recovery, it can be subtle — but very possible — to substitute one addiction for another. There are certain chemical highs created by feelings of love, sex, and attraction. We spoke with the experts to find out if you’re just looking for a gentle fix or may actually be facing a love addiction.
It’s important to know that there is a difference between sex addiction and love addiction.
Sex addiction, says Sarah Osborne, Director of Clinical Operations at Mountainside Treatment Center, involves preoccupation with sexual acts, and over time, the need for increased risk level associated with them. The sexual acts aren’t about the partner, only about the ‘high’ from the acts.
“A person becomes restless or irritable when unable to engage, and the person with the sex addiction is often aloof or avoidant of developing emotional bonds with their partners,” she said.
Love addiction, on the other hand, is qualified by a person using relationships to avoid life issues. A person with love addiction feels the high from the romance, fantasy, and intrigue of the developing relationships and the perceived connection of being “with” someone, and becomes uneasy when away from the person.
“Their relationships are often chaotic with a ‘come here but go away’ style of connection due to the inability to develop true intimacy,” says Osborne.
There’s a lot more to it than that, though—read on to find out exactly what love addiction looks like.
1. You Have a Frantic Need to be in Contact with the Object of your Attraction.
“I had a client who abused alcohol and marijuana and was also addicted to her boyfriend. She had a frantic need to be in contact with him,” says psychologist Dr. Jennifer Guttman. “She checked her phone obsessively, preoccupied and irritable in conversations with other people because all she could think about was whether he had responded.”
Even at night, she says, she slept with her phone on her pillow so she wouldn’t miss a text from him and he would never have to wait for the response. Essentially, says Dr. Guttman, she treated him like a lifeline.
The other side of this coin is paranoia in the absence of contact, and overanalyzing the potential negative meaning in every text or conversation to gauge whether or not there are hidden messages signaling they might leave you.
2. You Look to That Person to Make You Feel Better/Soothe Your Pain.
Love addiction is based on fantasy — the idea that there is someone out there who is going to be the answer and make one feel whole and satisfied. The illusion that this is possible creates the pattern of seeking that out. But the reality is, nobody out there can be your solution — just like drugs and alcohol could never quite “fix it.”
“Eventually, the reality that the object of affection is human, imperfect, flawed, quirky and unable to meet all of one’s needs sets in, leaving the love addict disappointed and hurt,” says Aimee Noel, Addiction Specialist at Sober College. “The person ends up being a letdown and the pursuit of the fantasy begins again. ‘The grass is always greener on the other side’ applies to the pursuit of the perfect partner.”
Many people have a hard time just being alone with themselves, and one of the warning signs that you are crossing the line into love addiction is the desperate attempt to remedy the discomfort of sitting with yourself without someone else to help resolve those feelings for you. If you’re dependent on another person to “make everything okay,” most likely, you’re going to be disappointed and worse off than when you started, and things could get pretty rough when that person isn’t around or available—or worse, if they have negative feelings of their own.
“There’s also a chance that you’re diverting attention away from issues that need to be resolved, work that needs to be done on yourself,” she said. “Basically, you are reinforcing the message that you are not enough.”
3. You Base Your Identity Around Who You’re With.
In her experience, Noel has found that people struggling with addiction, especially young people, start using at a vital time in their lives—when they were in the process of individuating from their families and developing their own identities.
“Drugs and alcohol interferes with that process, and with the cultivation of self-esteem, emotional development, and interrupting the establishment of a solid sense of self,” she said.
Unfortunately, engaging in these sexually and emotionally-charged relationships creates the same responses in the brain as the substances. Additionally, it produces the same triggers and actually contributes to the risk of relapse on the primary drug of choice.
You might find yourself suddenly dressing, talking, or acting a certain way to mirror the ways of your partner, or giving up activities you used to like in favor of their personal hobbies and interests.