What is Love Addiction

Like sexual addiction, love addiction is nothing more than a unique way of regulating your emotions. Like sexual addiction, its consequences can have a devastating effect.

Love Addiction usually involves a pattern of frequent relationships that often begin with intense passion and which end relatively quickly. A variation of this is the involvement in long-term relationships with dramatic highs/lows, thus simulating a similar range of emotions as that found in short-term relationships. Often, these relationships are staggered, with multiple, simultaneous relationships taking place at different stages within the unique pattern. As the pattern continues, the negative impact that the "low cycles" have on a person's esteem becomes greater and greater. Of course, this then causes a more definitive need for a new relationship (or new commitment to an ongoing relationship).

Those involved in a pattern of love addiction do not typically pursue this knowingly. It is their absolute belief that the person currently targeted is the one that was 'meant for them' and that they will be together for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is in this exact thought process that provides so much comfort and relief. In it's extreme form, that of romantic delusions, love addiction can lead to the horrific stalking and violence episodes often portrayed in the news. Suicide and self-mutilation is also common in extreme cases. Most often though, love addicts tend to have a low self-esteem, are uncomfortable in social situations and possess a sometimes debilitating immaturity when it comes to personal relationships. Intensity is what drives the relationship, not reality. One exception to note is the successful professional suffering from romantic delusions involving the rescue of someone in distress. In such a scenario, the love addict fantasizes about walking into a fast food restaurant (or hiring a maid or some other person from a significantly lower economic class/culture) and rescuing them from their limited existence. This role of savior is then rewarded with unyielding love, respect and devotion.

Love Addiction is one of the more difficult addictions to identify...and to recover from...as it is so often marketed and so easily masked in today's society. With addictions involving drugs or gambling, the behaviors are easy to identify and the consequences pretty straight forward. This is not the case with Love Addiction, where the self-perceptions and destructive behaviors are often in the mind of the Love Addict and not necessarily observed in their outward behavior.

Love Addiction and the Recovery Workshop

After viewing the first few lessons of the workshop and being exposed to the examples relating to compulsive sexual behavior , many assume that the workshop does not apply to anything but sexual addiction. Because many of the early lessons deal specifically with sexual addiction examples - as opposed to love addiction examples - they'll jump ahead to later lessons to see if things change. When they discover the same type of approach - they come to the incorrect assumption that the workshop does not apply to them. The recovery workshop applies just as directly to love addiction (and any other addiction, for that matter ) as it does to sexual addiction. But to apply it will require a bit of extra focus on your part. The purpose of the following is to help you bridge the gap between the workshop as it is currently presented - and the workshop as it should be applied to those committed to overcoming their love addiction patterns.

If you are new to the workshop, the lesson details shared below will have little meaning to you. That's okay. Just keep it in your mind that all of the lessons associated with the Advanced Workshop apply directly to you. We will begin this overview by reviewing some of the most basic aspects of love addiction and recovery. We will then explore some of the areas of the workshop that people seem to have the most trouble applying love addiction to. Finally, we will cover some of the more common questions that have been raised by love addiction participants.

For any questions that are not addressed here, know that you have other options for learning. Specifically, the ability to share any unresolved personal questions in the Support Forum for further discussion. Also, the lessons involving the more complex skill development areas: measuring emotional intensity and developing ritualistic chains - have free coaching sessions available. Because of the importance of these skills in pulling the entire recovery process together, these coaching sessions are active.

A Quick Background on My Experiences with Love Addiction by Jonathan Marsh

My own history includes both a sexual addiction and a love addiction. Recovery from these two addictions, while overlapping in many ways…were distinctly different in others. It is my hope that we can recognize those differences here (and eventually integrate them directly into the workshop), so that the workshop itself will be that much easier for those struggling with a love addiction.

For me, issues surrounding love addiction started as young as I can remember. The fantasies, the obsessive thoughts…the belief that 'the one' was out there for me, somewhere.

The first resemblance of a 'love addiction' relationship occurred when I was in Kindergarten - yes, Kindergarten - with a girl named Elizabeth. We'd hold hands in the playground…hold hands while in class…and all the while I would feel like I was so important. That I was someone special because this girl liked me. Yes, I know…I was a kindergartener. But the thoughts that I had in my head of how perfect she was…and most importantly, the devastation that I felt when she told on me for taking her Snickers bar from her lunch pail and not giving it back…was the first real sign that the role that relationships would play in my life was abnormal.

The next occurred as I moved from Venice, CA to Huntington Beach when I was nine. There was a girl in my class who was extremely short. She was made fun of by others, but she was so beautiful to me. Long blonde hair…pretty blue eyes. So sweet. So nice. But short. I remember thinking that I would have given the world to be her boyfriend. And how devastated I was when we moved. Ironically, I never said a word to her in the four years we were in school together. Would always want to, but could never get up the courage. The closest I ever came to talking to her was the day before we moved…when I looked up her address in the phone book, got on my Schwinn and made the seventeen block trek to see her. When I got to her house, I rode my bike up and down the street for over an hour…trying to get up the courage to knock on her door. As it was getting dark, and I was already late for dinner (an offense punishable by death in my family - or at least a good hide tanning)…I quickly darted to the corner market and bought a pen and paper - leaving her a note that read, “I think you are really pretty.” I didn't even sign the darned thing… Not much of a relationship, I know…yet, it took me six months to recover from 'losing her'. She was 'the one' for me…I just knew it.

Over the next ten years, I must have gotten involved (in my mind, and only occasionally theirs ) in over a hundred different relationships with people who were “the one”. Do these behaviors constitute a love addiction? It could be debated. People have different terms for the many different patterns relating to sex/romance /relationships/love. But the common attributes in most of the unhealthy relationships that I engaged in (which was just about every relationship through the end of my sexual addiction) were (in no particular order):

  • The relationships all involved instant intimacy
  • Most required an intense, deeply-rooted need to have them like me. To tell me they love me. Until that happened, most actions within the relationship were geared towards achieving that goal.
  • There was a sense of desperation involved with establishing/maintaining the relationship
  • As the relationships began to lose their intensity…so too went the feelings of 'love'
  • There was a willingness to sacrifice any and everything for the relationship to succeed
  • When the relationship would end while that intensity was still intact, I would experience a completely inappropriate sense of rejection, failure and desperation
  • There was a completely unrealistic perception of the person's qualities at the beginning of the relationship; completely unrealistic expectations of their abilities towards the end
  • There was an intense, constant hypersensitivity/pressure within the relationship; and a constant need for reassurance
  • Many relationships were brief, intensely emotional sexual relationships, to experience the aura of that initial love and awe.
  • In many relationships, there was an obsessive nature behind my acts - constantly checking up on my partners to assure that they weren't cheating on me.
  • In many relationships, there was a considerable, hair-triggered sense of jealousy - which was triggered from the fear of them meeting someone 'better' than me and/or leaving me.
  • In many relationships, there was the need to be the end-all to their existence. Healthy boundaries…mutual growth…partnership? No idea what you are talking about.
  • In several relationships, experiencing incredibly intense, emotional devastation that lasted for years after the relationship ended. The inability to let go. That I couldn't live my life without that person.

Do such behaviors define a love addiction? Most likely. But there are also many other behaviors that are associated with love addiction. Behaviors that I never experienced, but which many love addicts do. Like sabotaging the relationship when things begin to stabilize in order to increase the intensity of the relationship. Or acting in ways (e.g. 'accidental' pregnancy, spontaneous marriage, using violence/harassment to eliminate potential threats to the relationship, etc.) that force an instant permanency on the relationship.

The Road to Recovery for a Love Addict (in a nutshell)

For the most part, the road to recovery for love addiction is much the same as it is for any other addiction. The workshop spells this out fairly well and so I won't repeat it here. What I will do, is briefly discuss the differences in the recovery approach - that are specific to love addiction.

One of the biggest differences in the recovery approach to love addiction, is in the target of the compulsive behavior. In sexual addiction, the main targets are often inanimate objects or objectified people. The addiction is relatively self-contained - meaning, the control for the addiction remains within the individual. There is a direct connection between his/her perceptions, choices and consequences. And intellectually, while the actions may feel normal to the sexual addict, they know deep down that what they are doing is socially aberrant - otherwise, the guilt/shame elements would not kick in. Which often lead to the lies, secrecy and isolation.

With love addiction, the targets of the behavior often fall into one of two categories: real people, engaged in 'normal' human behavior - oblivious (at least at first) to the irrational perceptions of their partners. And real people, who thrive on others being dependent on them…and so they intentionally manipulate those individuals to enhance that dependency. Because the targets of the obsessive behavior are leading real lives (as opposed to performing sexual, objectified acts), the complexity of the recovery process is multiplied exponentially due to their interactive qualities. The capability of the target to subversively undermine those seeking to end these dependency patterns is very real - and it is not one that needs to be addressed in sexual addiction recovery.

Another difference involves the lies, secrecy and shame that are so common with sexual addiction. In love addiction, these are often replaced with feelings associated with failure, abandonment and devastating loss. Whereas a sexual addict can be led through the development of their addiction and the process of their recovery by looking no further than their own lives…love addiction often requires a more comprehensive approach to awareness that involves the understanding/assessment of the target's behavior as well (in cases of long-standing obsessive relationships). And because the root of most love addiction can be found in early relationships (childhood trauma involving abuse, separation, abandonment are common; parental neglect/domination/extreme performance pressure), the foundation of the healthy transition must involve a commitment to relearn/rebuild healthy relationships - which may or may not include the need to rebuild sexual values/boundaries. In sexual addiction, the foundation is to relearn/rebuild healthy sexual values/boundaries - and then to integrate those skills into healthy relationships.

Again, much of this overlaps…so try not to see things in their absolute. Instead, as you proceed through the workshop, think of things in generalities that can be applied to your life - no matter what label you may have attached to your behavior (e.g. sexual addict, love addict, relationship addict, etc.)

Differences in the Road to Recovery

The general road to healthy sexual addiction recovery typically flows as follows:
  • Making the personal decision that permanent change is the desired goal.
  • Having a clear and healthy motivation for pursuing that change.
  • Understanding the scope of the compulsive patterns that have been engaged in.
  • Understanding the functional role of those patterns…and how they developed.
  • Recognize the weaknesses that led to the need for such compulsive patterns.
  • Understanding how the compulsive patterns were used to compensate for those weaknesses.
  • Recognize the role that healthy skills will play in fulfilling those weaknesses.
  • Begin to alter the established perceptions of what a compulsive urge really is.
  • Learn to break the established patterns of the urge/ritualistic behavior that previously accompanied that urge
  • Allow a fresh start by removing all existing urge triggers - when possible/reasonable
  • Learn to master the emotional intensity of such urges by mechanically breaking down each new urge in an academic setting.
  • Begin to develop new emotional connections with these triggers through a mechanical breakdown of healthy decision-making/consequences.
  • Develop an individualized list of the most likely signs/symptoms of unhealthy behavior.
  • Develop a plan of specific actions to take should those signs/symptoms appear
  • Begin the transition to a healthy lifestyle…learning new skills that reflect the individual's values, priorities, etc.
  • Mechanically assess signs/symptoms of unhealthy behavior on a weekly basis - engaging in the appropriate action plans as necessary
  • Mechanically explore/role play healthy responses to potential destructive situations that they may realistically face some day…to further ingrain the healthy patterns that are being developed
  • As the learning/healthy experiences become ingrained, and new patterns/perceptions become natural, begin transferring the 'mechanical/academic aspects' of the learning process to more advanced, natural ways of learning.
  • Begin assessing oneself on a monthly basis.
  • Continue transferring the energy that was originally put into recovery - to the more applicable priorities necessary for developing a healthy life - relationships, personal growth, gaining experience and confidence in decision-making, emotional management, etc.
  • Continue reassessing oneself monthly/quarterly.
  • Continue developing self-awareness, confidence and experience.
  • Die happy, healthy and fulfilled--preferably.

Obviously, there is much more to this in terms of details - taking responsibility for one's actions/making amends; which life skills are critical; the role of values, boundaries in goal setting, decision-making and other life management areas…and much more. But if I were to map out a brief path…this would be it. Notice that it is all self-centered - and not in a bad way. Meaning, it is all within the grasp of every individual willing to put forth the effort to pursue it.

For love addiction, the path would be similar, but the following areas would need to be added:
  • The need to initially isolate yourself from all obsessive relationships (in which the target is an active participant in the relationship).
  • The ability to redefine yourself as an individual.
  • The need to redefine the health/boundaries of all existing relationships early on in the recovery process.
  • Learning the role that others play (both consciously and subconsciously) in actively prolonging your unhealthy behavioral patterns/addiction.
  • Learning the role that society plays in encouraging/promoting love addiction (society actively recruits sexual addicts for profit; it promotes love addiction as an actual value to be admired/emulated - this is an important distinction).
  • Learning the process of redeveloping healthy relationships from ones that were once obsessive.
  • Dealing with loss as a choice, versus a consequence

Areas where you will need to 'think outside the box' in terms of applying Love Addiction to the workshop…

1. In the initial sexual screening inventory that you are asked to complete, there are only four areas that are purposefully measured in relation to love addiction: Potential for self-harm; Potential for harm to others; Alteration in functioning; and Predatory behaviors. With this in mind, if you have no concern in these areas, the screening may be skipped in its entirety.

2. In the sexual assessment, this can be skipped altogether…although I do need to create a separate one for love addiction and will do so eventually.

3. Most of the early lessons will be identical to both sex/love addiction. Especially in the areas of preparing for a healthy recovery and the transitions to be expected. In love addiction, the void that is experienced in the early transition is often more intense in love addiction, than it is for sexual addiction. Sexual addicts tend to feel lost…emotionless…empty. Love addicts tend to experience depression, worthlessness and intense loneliness.

4. Re: Establishing Recovery Goals, much of the emphasis is placed on understanding/avoiding the ' goal' of abstinence. In love addiction, abstinence is not so easily measured as it is often an 'all or nothing' experience with the relationship(s) in question. A compulsive masturbator can reduce their masturbation from four times a day to once a week, and consider this a success. Those in compulsive, destructive relationships however, must maintain complete abstinence from this relationship if recovery is to be successful. Not that it must be a permanent abstinence, but it does need to be maintained at least until the individual has built a fairly strong foundation - including a strong base of relationship skills . Anyone skirting this requirement will be setting themselves up for a painful personal failure…in the same way that any sexual addict who knowingly holds on to destructive sexual stimulus will fail in their effort to live a healthy, addiction- free life. Every time.

Addiction recovery is hard enough when you are required to deal with the current/new urges that arise once that recovery has begun. To simultaneously fight past urges/triggers that creep up to sabotage the work that you have done is a waste of everyone's time. So, when references are made to your sincerity to recover - you often need look no further than here for an accurate answer.

5. Re: Understanding Guilt and Shame does not apply as directly to love addiction as do most of the others. Yes, guilt and shame can be a big part of love addiction - especially when the love addiction behaviors have led to broken marriages, unplanned pregnancies/abortions, destructive life choices, family/friend isolation, etc. But most of the time, the behaviors involved with the most common love addiction consequences are based in embarrassment and regret. Still , I would recommend everyone read through this lesson (as well as the associated lesson “Depression and Suicide in Recovery”). Why? Because the principles involved are universal….that being, becoming aware of how you can allow your emotions to distract/sabotage your own recovery efforts. Sometimes, you just have to put things on the back burner - emotions wise - and have faith that once you have stabilized your emotional management skills, you will be in the best position to deal with these issues.

6. Re: Immediate Gratification and All of Nothing thinking, these two major principles are just as applicable to love addiction. Whereas immediate gratification for sexual addiction may be the need to masturbate to porn to relieve an uncomfortable emotional state…immediate gratification for love addiction may be the need to call the target of that addiction to get reassured that the relationship is strong. Or checking on that individual in secret to alter the anxiety/insecurity that is currently overwhelming their emotional state.

The All of Nothing principle actually applies more intensely to love addiction…as the belief that ' this relationship is all that I need'…or that 'this partner is perfect'…or some similar irrational, and emotionally immature belief.

7. Re: Measuring compulsive behavior. This unique concept is hard enough for those struggling with sexual compulsivity to understand - and the examples/graphics pertain directly to them. So, if you find yourself feeling lost, don 't lose your focus. These lessons apply just as much to love addiction - and they are just as critical to the lessons on measuring compulsive behavior and urge control. The difficulty is that, most behaviors involved in sexual addiction are relatively universal. Wide variances in the actual stimuli…but the patterns are often similar. With love addiction, the patterns themselves often fall into numerous categories — which makes the creation of a single wheel very difficult.

Why these skills are so important, is that they allow you to begin the process of isolating the emotions attached to the behavior; and the behavior with the core of your identity. Believe me, these areas are critical in effective urge control and in developing impeccable self-awareness skills.

8. Re: Developing Healthy Sexual Boundaries, while this lesson really applies to all people involved in romantic relationships, what needs to still be written is a Lesson 39A: Developing Healthy Relationship Boundaries. The core of this additional lesson can already be found in the Supplemental Recovery lesson entitled "What Love Isn't". Take a look at this and learn from it what you can. But since we haven't created this yet...try to create one for yourself. Follow the same guidelines as Lesson 39, but instead of sexual values, deal with relationship/romantic values and beliefs. The rest of the lesson can be similarly translated.

Most everything else in the foundation workshop should be fairly easy to translate.

Additional Questions Related to Love Addiction

The following questions have been submitted by people trying to understand the process of love addiction recovery within the context of the Recovery Workshop:

1. What is love addiction?

Love Addiction usually involves a pattern of frequent relationships that often begin with intense passion and which end relatively quickly. A variation of this is the involvement in long-term relationships with dramatic highs/lows, thus simulating a similar range of emotions as that found in short-term relationships.

Often, these relationships are staggered, with multiple, simultaneous relationships taking place at different stages within the unique pattern. As the pattern continues, the negative impact that the "low cycles" have on a person's esteem becomes greater and greater--creating a more definitive need for a new relationship (or new commitment to an ongoing relationship). Just as often, however, is a pattern where there is an absolute commitment to a single relationship - no matter how unhealthy and/or destructive that relationship becomes.

Those involved in a pattern of love addiction do not continue such destructive patterns knowingly. It is their absolute belief that the current person is the one that was meant for them, and that they will be together for the rest of their lives - defying all odds and obstacles, if necessary. The meaning that they derive in their own life is directly tied to this belief. In fact, it is this irrational thought process that provides the emotional comfort and stability that they seek.

In its extreme form, that of romantic delusions, love addiction can lead to the horrific stalking and violence episodes often portrayed in the news. Suicide and self-mutilation is also common in extreme cases. Most often though, love addicts tend to have an extremely low self-esteem, feel that their worth is tied to their current partner/relationship, and are often uncomfortable in social situations. Because of the personal sacrifices that they are so eagerly willing to make, more advanced love addictions tend to be accompanied by poor career development and impulsive financial management - though this is by no means a steadfast rule.

One exception to this profile is the successful professional suffering from romantic delusions involving the rescue of someone in distress. In such a scenario, the love addict frequently fantasizes about walking into a fast food restaurant (or hiring a maid or some other person from a significantly lower economic class/culture) and falling instantly in love with this person--proceeding to take on the role of their savior.

2. What is the difference between love addiction and codependency?

Love addiction refers to the destructive pattern of using the intoxication generated from love/relationships to help manage/stabilize their life. It is the euphoria/emotional intensity produced within the relationship (or pseudorelationship) that is the goal.

Codependency is one of those terms that have been defined in so many different ways, that it has lost much of its value. But yes, there is A LOT of overlap between certain types of love addiction and codependency. In a nutshell, codependency refers to someone who has become so preoccupied and focused on the needs of another, that they completely neglect their own needs. Historically, this definition has been used to label just about any partner of an addicted person (no matter what the addiction)…who has shown a propensity to get involved in that recovery process.

In reality, codependency applies to those individuals who willingly sacrifice their goals, their values, and their identity - in exchange for the emotional benefits that they gain from playing the salvation role in their partner's life. Without this role, codependents feel that their life would be meaningless. That their lives would be in complete disarray…often oblivious to the fact that, it is because of these relationships that their lives already are.

3. How does the focus on values and goals replace the love addiction?

They don't actually replace the addiction. Quite the opposite. Addiction exists because these values/goals (and other basic life management skills) have never been developed to full maturity. Once this maturity has been achieved (through experience), the empty emotional hole that addiction seeks out will be closed…and the role that the addiction plays will be eliminated. The emotions that are generated through such addiction will be more efficiently managed through a natural pursuit of one's values/goals.

4. What factors create a need for a love addiction? Can those factors be PERMANENTLY removed ?

What factors create love addiction? No specific list exists. In general though, it is often the same factors that precede other addictions. One common theme in the history of love addicts, however…is what was described earlier. Childhood trauma - especially involving abuse, abandonment and/or neglect.

Can these factors be permanently removed? This will depend on your Clintonesque definition of 'permanently removed'. Permanently changed is more accurate. Love is a universal need/experience in all healthy individuals. It is not like alcohol or porn - where the behaviors can be seen in terms of absolute abstinence. So, while past factors that led to the development of a love addiction cannot be permanently removed, the ability to develop permanently mature, healthy life management skills - and thus eliminate the need for that addiction - is most certainly attainable.

5. What can be done to help love addicts better identify triggers, urges and acting out?

The most effective thing that I can suggest is to not allow yourself to skim over lessons 13-20. Really sink your teeth into them, and do not allow yourself to move forward until you have gained a working understanding for each concept . Once you have incorporated the issues involved with these lessons, you will have made huge strides in terms of grounding yourself in an active, effective shield of awareness. If that means that you spend a week going over a single lesson& hellip;than do so. But put in the time to create your own wheel of compulsivity…put in the time to feel comfortable in understanding your own ritualistic behavior. And don't just feel that these lessons are your only available tool. Use the Support Forum to ask questions…to share personal examples/attempts for feedback, etc.

6. You have said before that "these urge control skills [developed in the Recovery Workshop] are not intended to decrease spontaneous fantasies or romantic delusions"? With these being such a core part of love addiction, is there a later part in the workshop that deals with these?

This is a difficult question to answer, because the foundation for understanding these elements of love addiction needs to be in place in order to understand the urge control process. The behaviors that you are describing - spontaneous fantasies and romantic delusions - are behaviors that cannot be controlled through the standard urge control process. By its very definition, the delusional aspect of the romantic pursuit will bypass all emotional flags/urges. Similarly, the 'spontaneous nature' of such fantasies are so rapid, that the 30-60 second doorway to rational thought/decision-making — keys to effective urge control — does not exist. Therefore, ingraining new patterns to deal with these unique situations are in order. These include a more mechanical approach…and more proactive learning strategies — similar to those outlined in the Relapse Prevention lessons.

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