Let’s say you have an amazing romantic relationship that you can’t live without. Question: does that mean you are addicted to it? We hate to think that way about something we value so much. Addiction conjures up images of crack pipes, unprescribed pills, cravings, and other unambiguous nightmares. True, our romantic partners love to hear how much we need them, and that we can’t imagine life without them. Is that a problem?
Maybe. Do we depend on our bond with our partner, to feel like ourselves? This is complicated; our feelings about ourselves are certainly transformed by love relationships. Their influence can be uplifting and empowering; in a healthy relationship, each person is inspired and challenged. We gain a deeper awareness of ourselves, in relationships like that; we become more who we truly are. But there are also relationships in which we constantly put on a good face, worried that without our beloved, we would be stranded, miserable, and our lives would be empty. That’s a warning sign of addictive love: we are not free to choose it, but think we need it to feel whole. If we are addicted, we are always at risk, because we fear not just the loss of the relationship, but if it should falter, the loss of ourselves. We are at risk of making crazy choices, just to hold on to love.
If you are in a love relationship because the alternatives are scary, it is not a fully free choice, and has the potential for love addiction. Be on the alert, if any of these warning signs sound familiar.
1) You can’t stand being alone, and don’t enjoy your own company. You might seem less than a full adult, or less interesting to others, if you are not in a relationship.
2) You fall in love too quickly, and stay even when you sense it’s not good for you.
3) You cling, constantly seeking reassurance, afraid that your partner will abandon the relationship. Even the slightest emotional tension throws you into a state of high anxiety.
4) You will do anything to please your partner, even abandon your goals, your likes, your friends and family, or your values, to be with your partner.
5) You tolerate being frequently depressed, diminished, manipulated, treated unkindly, or even abused, in order to avoid the pain of losing the relationship. Sometimes we tell ourselves we can tolerate this, in order to nurture, comfort, or help the one we love feel better about themselves. This is called enabling, because it really helps the person stay stuck. Our own self esteem is damaged in the process.
The feeling of romantic union with another human being holds a powerful fascination. Who does not love the idea of giving themselves to a relationship with abandon? Make friends with that other part of your mind, the careful, wise, thinking part that pauses to ask the questions we would ask on behalf of our closest friend. In the collaboration of our passionate self and our thinking self, we encounter what speaks to the deepest needs of our heart.