Is Love Addiction Real? (August 2020, Part 1)

Lori arrived for therapy with tears in her eyes. “I did it again. I fell for another guy who was totally unavailable and once again convinced myself that he was the one. I don’t know if I can go through this again. I am so humiliated.”

I had been treating Lori for the past year, and we’ve been exploring her tendency to merge with guys she didn’t know very well and proceed to build elaborate fantasies about them. Although she was well aware of this painful pattern, Lori kept falling into this emotional quicksand.

“My parents split up when I was eight, and my dad quickly started a new family. Ever since my parents divorced, I felt like I was the stepchild as he paid way more attention to my stepmother and her kids. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad the fighting between my parents finally came to an end, but I was also extremely jealous of my stepsiblings. They got way more of my father than I ever did. Nowadays when I get involved with a boyfriend, I tend to take him hostage and secretly hope that he will be my knight in shining armor who has arrived to rescue me.”

The term Love Addiction can be deceiving. It’s really not about love—it’s about the fantasy of love which often snowballs into obsession. Here are some of its primary characteristics:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Emotionally-unreliable parent (s)
  • Desire to be rescued
  • Attracted to love avoidants
  • Elaborate romantic fantasy
  • After fantasy lifts, a period of withdrawal

Love addiction usually stems from anxious-ambivalent attachment patterns from childhood. When a parent is neglectful, children blame themselves and feel there is something inherently wrong with them. Typically, at least one parent is emotionally-unreliable and abandoning, and in Lori’s case she had a father who deserted her for his new wife and family. Lori’s father hunger—her desire to be seen, heard and understood by a man—was profound.

During a full-blown romantic fantasy, the brain gets hijacked as it latches on to the idea of being rescued. The brain gets stuck in an obsessive loop and cannot break free from it. Although Lori is a capable, competent woman in other areas of her life, in love relationships her unmet longings take over and she turns into a heat-seeking missile. In her most recent scenario, she finally broke out of the obsession when she learned that her supposedly monogamous boyfriend was sleeping with several other women throughout their 6-month relationship. Her fantasy bubble burst.

When Lori turned thirty, her desire for intimate relationships was growing and her brokenheartedness was palpable. Our therapeutic relationship became a touchstone for her, and she intentionally sought me out as a male therapist because of her abandonment feelings related to her father. Although Lori wanted to trust me, she often tested me to see if I would criticize or even leave her. I viewed this as necessary ways for Lori to experience a reparative attachment experience with a consistent, reliable man and to know that we could talk about all of her feelings. We made a pact that if she felt disappointed or fearful in our relationship, she would let me know. It was vital for her to know that inevitably I would let her down one way or another, but most importantly, we could process her reactions and feelings together.

Is love addiction real? Lori’s story demonstrates both the suffering and healing associated with deep attachment ruptures that resulted in her version of love addiction.

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