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Love Addiction

I would dial the numbers

Just to listen to your breath

I would stand inside my hell

And hold the hand of death

You don’t know how far I’d go

To ease this precious ache

You don’t know how much I’d give

Or how much I can take

Just to reach you

“Come to my Window”

Melissa Etheridge

Zoe (age 22) checks her text messages, emails, and answering machine over and over and over, hoping for contact from Mark, who she recently started dating.  Ian (age 44) drives past Ashley’s apartment at night to check to see if she’s there.  He does this when she turns him down for dates.  These drive-bys follow a day of obsessing about her dating someone else.

Jennifer (age 34) doesn’t realize how her face pales and strains when she gets into her “clingy” mode with her boyfriend Jake.  She repeatedly asks if he loves her.  She tracks his time during the day to make sure it all “adds up” and he isn’t with someone else.  (“But it only takes twenty minutes to get from your job to my apartment.  Where were you the other half-hour.”)  Greg (age 52) checks his live-in girlfriend’s emails, texts, Facebook for clues about her contacts and whereabouts.  He assumes she will cheat on him like other past relationships.

Love addictions are very similar to drug addictions.  The comparison is an analogy, since love, unlike drugs and alcohol, is not ingested into the body.  Drug addictions involve obsessions (about drugs, scoring, paraphernalia), cravings for the highs, and wanting more and more.  Taking drugs makes people high or sedated, while withdrawing from drugs makes people depressed, anxious, fatigued, jittery, sick.  Drug abusers tend to be in “denial” about the impact of their addiction and the way it impairs their concentration, work performance, health, and mood.

Love addictions involve obsessions about him/her, cravings for the love object when alone, and wanting more and more contact.  Lovers can feel “high” when together or pleasantly sedated (“He completes me”).  Lovers can feel physical and psychological distress when not with him/her or panic if they fear abandonment—similar to drug withdrawal.  And lovers can be in denial about the impact of the love addiction on their work, other relationships, concentration, since they may not be aware of the extent of their obsessions, anxiety, etc.

When a relationship become addictive, it becomes unhealthy for both parties.  Obsessing can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, blunted attention, and compulsive behaviors (tracking, stalking).  And clinging, interrogating, jealousy, and control can scare away a potential mate.  Neediness and insecurity can be very unattractive, even on a lovely face.  If both partners are addicted to each other, the relationship can roller coaster between highs and lows and become volatile, with a risk of emotional and physical abuse.  Domestic violence can be an attempt to “control” the other.

Couples therapy can help break the addiction and enmeshment, establish a healthy balance between alone and couple time, prevent merging, and encourage differentiation (both get a life and outside interests).  Therapy can also track the roots of the problem.  There may be trust issues to “work through” based on prior relationships (cheating).  We can “project” a past boyfriend/girlfriend onto our current one.  Our projection can actually encourage a past pattern to emerge.  If we continually ask our new love interest if he/she is angry (remembering our angry “ex” and past drama), we may elicit anger from our current partner who may feel criticized unjustly.

For middle-aged couples there is usually plenty of emotional baggage to work through since they have accumulated more relationships with age.   Projections can start to fly back and forth—a dizzying effect.  (Natalie projects unfaithful ex onto loyal Michael and interrogates him regarding his whereabouts, while Michael projects his controlling ex onto Natalie and withdraws—causing more suspicions from Natalie, more interrogating, and hence more withdrawal from Michael.  This is one of those – “it’s not clear what came first, the chicken or the egg.”)   Therapists also have to monitor for their own projections (“This client is just like my father/ex-husband/boss”). Otherwise, there can be a tangled up mess in the therapy room.

The roots of a love addiction can also be found in childhood.  There may be deficits of love from childhood abuse, abandonment, parental divorce, or just emotional “unavailability” of parents.  These issues are related to “insecure attachment” and can cause someone to grow up looking for “love-squared”—an adult love relationship that will fill all the deficits from childhood.  A super-love that will fill all the holes inside.  But that can’t be done, and it’s a set up for sabotaging adult relationships.  Therapy can help process unresolved childhood issues, the love deficits, so one’s current partner won’t be put in that role.  Therapy can teach self-soothing skills to modulate neediness.

And therapy can address the repetitive, unconscious patterns of picking a partner like an alcoholic father or an emotionally abusive and distant mother.  And all those self-sacrificing codependent relationships.  Patterns that can go on for a life time.  And pass on through the generations.

And I’m the only one who’ll walk across the fire for you.

And I’m the only one who’ll burn in my desire for you.

“I’m the Only One”

Melissa Etheridge (age 49)

Written by: Kay Allen, LPC

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