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Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW
Healing Emotional Pain and Loss

Is it Love or Addiction?

Bob Livingstone, LCSW Updated: Sep 23rd 2011

The issue of determining if you are in love or intensely addicted to another is an issue that crosses all ethnic, racial, class and age lines. How love is experienced in a modern world that values materialism more than anything else? It is challenging to define love today. I believe love is mutual self-less giving that is based on a deep trust. The characteristics of addiction are craving of a person, severe mood swings if unable to feel secure in the relationship, inability to function normally, obsession of your partner and severe withdrawal symptoms if your lover leaves you.

woman experiencing a headacheSo, what is the difference between being in love from being addicted?

The characteristics of being addicted to someone else are:

1. There is full time drama in your life which causes chaos and confusion. Other friends and family members are dragged into your emotional upheaval.

2. You are always trying to please your partner by giving more of yourself than you should - until you reach the point where you have no self at all.

3. After intense fighting, you are willing to take your partner back no matter how much he or she hurt you. The fight usually involves infidelity, lying, and other forms of cheating, but you take your partner back no matter how many times these offenses were committed.

4. You are afraid to exist without your partner even though you have been very much alone during your time with him/her. You don't recognize that he/she is bringing you down.

5. Your partner crosses a boundary that should never be allowed. He/she physically assaults you, threatens your life and calls you stupid, the c word and the b word.

6. You feel that it is your job to rescue him/her from the inner hell no matter how abusive he or she is towards you.

The characteristics of being in love with someone are:

1. There is no fear of bodily harm, emotional abuse or other boundary violations.

2. You know you can trust your partner to do the right thing.

3. There is a distinct absence of drama and chaos.

4. When you have an argument, there is a respectful sharing of feelings.

5. You forgive your partner because you want to, not because you have to.

6. Your partner supports your need to be a strong, independent person and you support your partner's need to be the same.

You now have the opportunity to choose between being driven by addiction or love in your relationships. For those of you who have been relating to others in an addictive manner, it will take lots of work and full time awareness to alter this course. However, it is possible to change and this will greatly improve the quality of your life.

 

Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for twenty-two years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and with adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager's Healing Journey Through Sandtray Therapy and Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain Through Exercise and his newly released book Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist. For more information visit www.boblivingstone.com.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Feeling vs. behaviour - Jaime - Oct 5th 2011

My personal thought on this is that "Love" is a feeling, a deep feeling of caring about another human being.  I think it is the behaviour attached to that feeling that makes it healthy or addictive.

I think when a person has had healthy role models growing up that have shown them what healthy behaviour in relationship is it is easier for them to apply those behaviours in a relationship.  When the opposite happens and one does not have healthy relationships as they grow up they do not understand how to behave successfully in relationships and although the feeling of love may initially be present it can deteriorate into addiction as a result of the unhealthy behaviour.  Therefore I think anyone can love but it is sustaining healthy love that is the challenge. 

They say that to love another you must first love yourself.  I think that essentially means first caring enough about yourself to become a healthy person who can behave in healthy ways in relationships before you can sustain a healthy loving relationship with others.

Kudos - ida - Sep 23rd 2011

What an accurate description of the difference between love and addiction.  I read your article and want to share it with those I encounter in my life.  They are mainly women under 30 years old who have addiction and transfer or blend it into the "love of my life."  I know someone who does this almost twice a year. 

Thanks!

What About? - Cathy - Sep 23rd 2011

What about, when being "in love" versus "loving" someone that this has to work both ways.  Frankly, this description of being "in love" seems rather idealistic in the world today.  While I may you trust, I realize that you may break that trust and if I deny that possibility that the fall if it comes hits even harder.  Also, I don't think you can actually define what "being in love."  What is that?  Is it a state of being?  Does it have two people always?  I think people look at love more as "loving" than "in love".  I always think of "in love" as more "in lust" because of the loose way I hear the term used.  If you give that trust 100%, you're giving too much of yourself and falling into a false sense of security.  And, my prince arrived on the white horse and we fell in love and we lived happily ever after.  It's OK to be idealistic though.

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