The most commonly occurring love addicts are people who become habitually obsessed with the impossible idea of a perfect lover or companion, and remain desperately attached after a relationship begins. These love addicts may be referred to as “typical love addicts,” “obsessed love addicts,” or “codependent love addicts” and are driven by an unconscious motivation to be loved unconditionally and to find someone who will buoy their fragile sense of self-worth. In relationships, these love addicts are anxious and fretful; they greatly fear rejection and abandonment. They are perceived as clingy, needy and emotionally dependent on their partners for reassurance. Their sense of personal identity is strongly contingent upon their partners and the relationship.
The term “typical” refers to those who cannot be classified otherwise as avoidant love addicts, abusive love addicts, or anorexic love addicts. Frequently, typical love addicts maintain poor emotional boundaries and little allegiance to the emotional boundaries of their partners. For example, a typical love addict may call, text, and e-mail persistently without waiting for a reply; may search through a partner’s belongings or communications to test irrational fears; or may arrive uninvited to a partner’s home or work place to “check up on them.” Abusive love addicts frequently enact the same sorts of behaviors; however typical love addicts are motivated by their fears and anxieties, as well as by a desperate desire to merge, while abusive love addicts utilize fear as a tool to control their partners.
Through obsession, fantasy, and denial, typical love addicts become infatuated early. Due to a lack of boundaries, poor self-concept, and their overwhelming desire to merge with their partners, typical love addicts often have a history of failed relationships. They frequently form co-addicted bonds, i.e., they partner with individuals who have another type of love addiction (commonly avoidant love addicts).
Codependent Love Addicts
Typical love addicts are frequently codependent, meaning they desperately try to hold on to their partners using codependent behavior (e.g., enabling, rescuing, caretaking, passive-aggressive attempts to control and/or tolerating abuse or neglect in the hopes their love will be reciprocated).
The Obsessed Love Addict
The term “obsessed love addict” refers to those love addicts who become attached to individuals who are unavailable, distant, aloof, abusive, controlling, selfish, and/or who are addicted to something outside the relationship (e.g., drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc.).
Dependent Personality Disorder
Many of the above characterized love addicts are thought to suffer from dependent personality disorder (DPD), one of the most frequently diagnosed personality disorders. Individuals with DPD tend to be clinging, needy, and passive, and display a fear of separation. Some of the commonly occurring traits of DPD are:
- Intense fears of separation, rejection and perceived abandonment
- A sense of devastation and poor ability to function at the end of a relationship (though they often move quickly into a new relationship)
- Inability to make even everyday decisions without the advice or opinions of others
- High sensitivity to criticism
- Lack of self-confidence and an abiding pessimism in their abilities to care for themselves
- Conflict-avoidance due to an intense fear of the loss of support or approval
- Tendency toward naivety and fantasy
- Intolerance to being alone
- Willingness to tolerate mistreatment
Paths to Treatment
People who suffer from either love addiction or DPD are prone to depression and anxiety. It is this factor which typically causes most love addicts or DPDs to seek treatment, rather than on the basis of their addictions or personality disorder. When a negative life event occurs (usually the demise of a relationship), love addicts and DPDs may seek the aid of a therapist to help them sort out their lives, after which a diagnosis of DPD or a discussion of love addiction may arise.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and psychoanalytical treatment are frequently provided to love addicts and DPDs in therapy. Support groups, treatment centers, and 12-step programs such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous are available as well, and all of these methods show some effectiveness in the treatment of love addiction symptoms.
In the 12-step tradition, love is encouraged to be a thoughtful, committed decision rather than a feeling by which one is overwhelmed. When love is overwhelming, when lovers seek to merge into or control one another, relationships fail to be healthy or lasting. Recognizing and admitting one’s problem is, as always, the hardest step. But a genuine desire to heal negative patterns is an encouraging sign of progress and possibility.