We all have at least one friend or family member who struggles with addiction to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or gambling. We probably take their addiction seriously and take steps not to enable or support their addiction. However, most of us have probably never heard the term ‘love addiction’ before. You might laugh or scoff when you hear of it, but it is actually a very serious and all-consuming addiction that affects around 3% of the population during every given year. That number jumps to 10% among young adults (Yu, 2021). Like other unhealthy ways of relating, love addiction can be extremely destructive to relationships and to people’s lives. Although there is no one universally agreed-upon definition for love addiction, sex and love addicts anonymous offers the following definition:
Love Addiction: “relationships or sexual activities [that] have become increasingly destructive to career, family and sense of self-respect” (Yu, 2021).
‘That sounds easy to spot’, you might think. However, love addiction is far more insidious than that. Seemingly innocuous behaviors that one might chalk up to being a ‘hopeless romantic’ can actually be signs of love addiction. Allow us to paint the following picture:
Ever since Kasia was a little girl, she had dreamt of spending time in New Zealand. After a year working in Australia, it was finally about to happen. She had assembled the visa paperwork, selected a city in which to set up shop, and was planning to move to NZ the following month and stay there for a year. However, on one fateful evening at O’Connor Beach, her friends introduced her to Tony. He had the same goals as her, the same values, and the most brilliant blue eyes you’ve ever seen. They quickly fell in love, and she canceled her plans for New Zealand without a second thought. It was neither the first time nor the last time she would cancel carefully-laid plans for a new relationship.
Kasia and Tony moved in together immediately, opened a business together, and even combined their finances. Eventually they returned together to Tony’s home country. They made a plan to work there for a year, and then travel Central and South America together for a year or two. Unfortunately, they broke up instead. The breakup process was painful and drawn out; Kasia felt lost imagining the possibility of her life without him. She still wanted to travel Central America–another lifelong dream, so she eventually decided to go on her own. She stopped midway for a quick visit with family in the USA, where she met Santosh. Swept up in new love, she flew to Mexico for three short weeks and then went right back to Florida to be with Santosh. Her own plans were on hold for a guy–again.
Kasia’s adventures could easily be viewed as romantic and spontaneous; in a way, they are. However, there’s also a flip side of that coin that most of us choose not to see. Kasia willingly missed out on her chance to live somewhere she’d fantasized about for most of her life, and then subsequently delayed another dream for another guy. In other words, Kasia lost herself in her relationships. ‘But isn’t that what love is, if not transcendence of the individual ego?’ You may ask. Well, yes and no. While one would be wise to exercise a certain degree of flexibility and selflessness in relationships, discarding one’s individual goals and identity is ill-advised.
Love addiction does not only mean de-prioritizing one’s own interests. Like other addictions, it also denotes a need for the object of addiction and an experience of withdrawal when deprived of this addiction. Just as an alcoholic’s life and energy is centered around their addiction, a love addict may live for the affection of their partner. If that person communicates less than usual, a love addict might feel frantic and become completely consumed by a fear that they are being abandoned. Often, the partners of love addicts gradually pull away over time, smothered or overwhelmed by the intensity of the addiction.
Love Addiction in Pop Culture
Love addiction is a manifestation of love which is all-consuming and obsessive. It dominates one’s life and is detrimental to the wellbeing of the love addict as well as to their relationship. Viewed in this light, it is easy to see why love addiction is problematic. However, movies and tv shows tend to romanticize love addiction. Take these famous couples, for example:
“Joe Goldberg thinks he’s being the ‘good guy’ because he’s saving Beck from bad boyfriends, but he’s actually a stalker and a murderer hiding behind his “wokeness.” While many fans of You’s first season thought that the lengths Joe was willing to go to for Beck [were] swoon-worthy, this is behavior that cannot be forgiven” (Girimonte, 2021). Stalking is an easy-to-recognize, textbook sign of love addiction, yet our first impulse is sometimes to consider it romantic.
“Edward would sneak into Bella’s room to watch her sleep. Then there’s Bella’s crippling anxiety attacks and attempted suicides when she can’t be with Edward. Ultimately, she gives up everything for him and agrees to become a vampire so they can be together forever” (Girimonte, 2021). If these are not addictive behaviors, we don’t know what are.
“Noah and Allie have been held up as this ideal depiction of romance since The Notebook was released in 2004…but when it comes down to it, this relationship is dangerous and destructive. Noah is obsessed, verbally abusive, resorts to emotional manipulation and even threatens suicide” (Girimonte, 2021).
These are some universal favorite on-screen couples, and countless viewers will consciously or unconsciously strive to recreate these extremely unhealthy relationship patterns. Heck, even Ross and Rachel’s sabotage of one another’s other relationships, constant bickering and lying, and inability to part permanently despite their differences has some addictive characteristics. With so many love-addicted on-screen romances, it is no wonder we have a society in which love addiction largely goes unaddressed.
Love Addiction vs. Codependency
Love addiction is often confused with codependency. While the manifestations of both may present similarly in a variety of ways, there are some key differences. Love addiction is a compulsive pursuit of romantic love, whereas codependence involves difficulty delineating where one person ends and another begins–in other words, boundary issues (The Cabin HK, 2015). A codependent person might go to great lengths to take care of another person (and lose themselves in the process) in a bid to get that person to depend on them, which makes them feel validated. A love addict may seek validation in this way, or they may simply exhibit very ‘needy’ behaviors and seek constant affection, with no level of affection and attention ever being enough to satiate their desire. They may believe that all their problems will be solved by their idealized image of true love, which is perpetually around the corner (TCHK, 2015).
Both codependents and love addicts tend to lose themselves in relationships. Although love addiction and codependency are closely related, not all codependents are love addicts—but, all love addicts are codependent (Melody, 2003). Luckily, codependents and love addicts are far from doomed–it’s possible to heal from codependency and love addiction.
Healing love addiction
The foundation of both growth and healing is self-compassion. It isn’t merely something that sounds nice and is supposed to make an addict feel better, it’s actually a necessary step in the process of changing destructive relational habits. Self-compassion involves changing how we talk to ourselves. Anyone who observes their mind for a few minutes is likely to become aware of the internal self-critic (Kingman, N.D.). We find it totally normal to tell ourselves “you’re so stupid, how could you have made that silly mistake?!” despite the fact that we would probably think twice before speaking so harshly to someone else. Speaking to oneself with kindness and asking more compassion-based questions can inspire a constructive self-reflection which brings to light many of the emotional and interpersonal patterns which have been “running the show” (Kingman, N.D.).
It’s all well and good to detach oneself from unhealthy thought and behavioral patterns in relationships, but on top of the foundation of self-compassion, what framework can one use to replace that which is being disposed of? It’s hard to change a pattern without having a new pattern to change to. Therefore, we suggest reading anything by superstar relationship psychologist John Gottman; his framework for healthy relationships can provide a former love addict with a well-researched new paradigm for entering into and building healthy partnerships. You can get a taste of Gottman’s ideas in our articles ‘Emotions and Prenups…Oh My! and Be a Master (Not a Disaster) of Relationships.
Many love addicts may find that after learning about and working on their addiction, they are able to enter a new relationship with a new and healthier mindset. Everything goes well in the beginning, and they let their guards down and think “I’m not a love addict anymore!” However, the beginning of a relationship (known as ‘the honeymoon phase’) is the time in a relationship which is the most natural for a love addict because it tends to involve a lot of quality time together and an extra-large serving of romantic love and affection, heavy on the idealization. When the honeymoon phase begins to come to an end and the love addict is called upon to transition to a completely different relationship dynamic than they have known before, they may find themselves clinging once again to familiar addictive patterns. Before entering a new relationship, love addicts should therefore prepare themselves to make a smooth transition out of the honeymoon phase.
When healing love addiction it can also be useful to know your attachment style. Most love addicts have insecure attachment styles, especially of the anxious-preoccupied type. As one transitions away from love addiction and towards healthier ways of relating, it can be helpful to take this personality test every three months, which charts the changes in your attachment style across time.
Love Addiction and Prenups
For love addicts (even if one considers themselves a ‘former love addict’), a prenup is even more important than for the average couple. Just as you probably wouldn’t be comfortable living in a building with no smoke detector even if you don’t expect a fire to break out, you shouldn’t get married without a prenup; no one plans to get divorced, but everyone needs a contingency plan. For a love addict, this is especially true because their vision may be clouded by their addiction such that they might not be able to see some of the less savory realities of the relationship through the haze of love addiction. It therefore becomes crucial to arrange a premarital agreement which covers all their bases. This doesn’t mean their marriage is destined for divorce, but it does mean that they should take extra precautions.
The reality is that the relationships of love addicts can be very tumultuous, and some relationships are not able to weather the turbulence long-term. A love addict may also be more likely to jump into marriage before the relationship has reached a point of enduring strength and stability, which means that a prenup is absolutely vital.
Additionally, a prenup can be particularly useful for a love addict because the process of setting roles and expectations and talking about financial realities can be utilized as a way to help break the spell of love addiction by delineating firm boundaries, bringing the love addict to a more grounded position.
If you think you or your partner may be a love addict, don’t despair. There are countless resources available to help love addicts build healthier relationships, and investing time and energy in this process will make your relationship stronger, more comfortable, and more likely to last.
Check out our prenup encyclopedia for some terms you may want to know!
Girimonte, M. 2021. 25 Toxic On-Screen Relationships We Accidentally Romanticize. Retrieved from: https://www.slice.ca/21-toxic-on-screen-relationships-we-accidentally-romanticize/
Kingman, C. Codependency & Love Addiction: Are They the Same Thing? Retrieved from: http://chriskingman.com/blog/love-addiction
Melody, P. 2003. Facing Love Addiction. HarperOne: New York.
The Cabin Hong Kong. 2015. Love Addiction, Boundaries & Codependency. Retrieved from: https://www.thecabinhongkong.com.hk/blog/behavioral-addiction/love-addiction-boundaries-codependency/
Yu, K. 2021. How to Spot a Love Addict. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/23/well/love-addiction-sex-toxic-relationships.html