Love and Relationship Addiction

What is Love Addiction?

Healthy, intimate, romantic love is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, love addiction—the endless, obsessive, dysfunctional search for romantic fulfillment—is not. When individuals are preoccupied to the point of obsession with falling and/or being in love, as love addicts are, they tend to behave in highly regrettable ways, just like alcoholics, drugs addicts, sex addicts, compulsive gamblers, etc. And love addicts inevitably experience the same basic consequences as all other addicts: depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, declining physical and/or emotional health, financial woes, loss of interest in family, friends, hobbies, and other previously enjoyable activities, etc.

For the most part, love addiction, also known as relationship addiction and romance addiction, is diagnosed using the same basic criteria as any other addiction. These criteria are:

  1. An ongoing preoccupation to the point of obsession with intense romantic fantasies and new relationships
  2. An inability to exercise control over romantic fantasies and new relationships
  3. Negative consequences directly and/or indirectly related to out-of-control romantic fantasies and serial relationships

Interestingly, love addicts are not actually seeking love. What they’re really chasing, over and over and over, is the emotional escape provided by the “rush” of first romance. Of course, almost everyone can identify with this early, thoroughly fixated relationship stage. But most people are not love addicted, so they innately understand that healthy romantic relationships evolve over time into somewhat less exciting but ultimately more meaningful long-term intimacy. Love addicts don’t get that.

Instead of moving forward into longer-term intimacy, love addicts perpetually chase the rush of early romance, using this intensely pleasurable experience as a way to avoid feeling stress and other forms of emotional discomfort. In other words, love addicts use the naturally occurring high of early romance for escape and dissociation, just as alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, and other addicts use the neurochemical high of addictive substances or behaviors to numb out and not feel the ups and downs of life.

Gender and Love Addiction

In general, there are more self-identified female love addicts than male love addicts. Nevertheless, males are perfectly capable of becoming love addicted, just as females are perfectly capable of becoming sex addicted. One primary difference between male and female love addicts is the way in which they tend to view and talk about their issue. Women are more likely than men to identify what they are doing as relationship related, whereas men typically classify their behavior as sexual, even when their activities are as connection-driven as those of their female counterparts.

Regardless of gender, love addicts spend the bulk of their time either searching for the perfect love interest or wriggling out of their current relationship so they can focus on a new one. They constantly check their profiles on Match.com, eHarmony, Ashley Madison (even though they’re not married), JDate (even though they’re not Jewish), etc. Almost every decision they make—what to wear, where to eat, where to socialize, where to exercise, what job to have—is colored by their desire to meet and hook their perfect partner, the one person who can make them feel complete and whole and perpetually excited about life.

What Love/Relationship Addiction Looks Like

Behavior patterns commonly exhibited by love addicts include the following:

  • Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from stress and other types of emotional discomfort
  • Mistaking sexual and/or romantic intensity for love and genuine, lasting intimacy
  • Constantly struggling to maintain the sexual/romantic intensity of an existing relationship
  • Feeling desperate and alone when not in a relationship
  • Using sex, seduction, and manipulation to hook or hold on to a partner
  • After a failed relationship, using anonymous sex, porn, and/or compulsive masturbation to avoid “needing” someone
  • Promising over and over to give up on relationships and focus self-care, only to swiftly be back out there looking for companionship
  • Giving up important personal interests, beliefs, and/or friendships to maximize time in a romantic relationship or to please a romantic partner
  • Missing out on important commitments (with family, work, or elsewhere) to search for a new relationship or to fix an existing relationship
  • Seeking a new relationship while still in a relationship
  • Feigning interest in activities you don’t enjoy as a way meet someone new or to keep an existing partner
  • Consistently choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable, addicted, verbally abusive, and/or physically abusive

Love Addiction vs. Sexual Addiction

Love addicts use romantic fantasy and the intense neurochemical rush caused by being “deeply in love” to achieve the same type of escapist emotional self-stabilization as sex addicts, and, as such, they are usually just as detached from the reality of their situation. The primary difference between sex addicts and love addicts is that sex addicts tend to direct their attention toward whomever or whatever is in the vicinity, often chasing multiple “fixes” (anonymous sex, casual sex, affairs, porn, etc.) over a relatively short period, whereas love addicts tend to focus obsessively on one person or relationship at a time. Typically, this one person becomes the sole object of the love addict’s life. Recreation, friends, work, and other interests fall by the wayside.

That said, love addicts sometimes look and act quite a bit like sex addicts – engaging in lots of sex with lots of people. However, love addicts use sex as a tool for hooking and/or holding on to a romantic partner, whereas sex addicts typically do the opposite, using the lure of romance to obtain a sexual partner. In short, love addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via romantic fantasy and activity, while sex addicts are chasing escape and dissociation via sexual fantasy and activity.

Love addicts, like sex addicts, are largely in denial about the problematic nature of what they are doing. Rather than recognizing that they are the common denominator in their endless failed relationships, love addicts typically place the blame on their dates, lovers, partners, spouses, and anyone else with whom they’ve ever become entangled. Sometimes they become intensely controlling and demanding, trying to get their partner to love them the way they want to be loved, regardless of whether the other person is actually capable of doing that (and almost nobody ever is). Then, when that person inevitably fails them, they act out romantically once again, beginning anew their obsessive search for “the one.” Over time, their willful blindness to personal experience traps them in a downwardly spiraling cycle of behaviors that both causes and increases their unhappiness.