"For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo." – Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays. You know the story – two star-crossed lovers take their own lives when they realize they cannot be together. First published in 1597, Shakespeare brings to light the intense drama that exists in certain love relationships. Today we call this "love addiction".
Like Romeo and Juliet, modern day "love addicts" believe that in order to survive and feel whole, they need to be in a romantic relationship. They suffer from withdrawal symptoms similar to an alcoholic in detox when their lover is unavailable or rejects them.
Read on to learn the many facets of love addiction. If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, there are self-help "mantras" to finally set yourself free. Getting off of this roller coaster ride ensures that you will live your life with greater confidence, self-respect and the kind of love that doesn’t thrive on Shakespearian tragedy.
Are you a love addict?
In Pia Mellody’s innovative book, Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love, she describes three major symptoms of the love addict:
- They assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention and value above themselves to the person to whom they are addicted and this focus has an obsessive quality to it.
- They have unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from the other person in the relationship.
- They neglect to care for or value themselves while they’re in the relationship.
The "Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous" brochure offers a 40-question pamphlet for self-diagnosis. Some questions include:
- Do you feel that your life would have no meaning without a love relationship?
- Do you ever find yourself unable to stop seeing a specific person even though you know that seeing this person is destructive for you?
- Do you find you have a pattern of repeating bad relationships?
Answering "yes" to any of these three questions indicates the possibility of an addiction. A good rule of thumb is: you are addicted to a relationship if being in that relationship has clear negative effects on your life, but you continue in the relationship regardless of the effects.
Uncovering the causes of love addiction
Most love addictions have their roots in childhood. Mellody writes: "I have come to believe that people fall into love addiction because of the unhealed pain from childhood abandonment, and the feeling that they cannot be safe in the world without having somebody else hold them up. They cling to the delusional belief that the other party has the power to take care of them, affirm them and somehow make them complete."
Love addicts seek to alleviate their childhood pain and anxiety through a chronic search for security. As children, they were not given the unconditional love that is such a necessary part of childhood. A woman may grow up wishing for a Knight in Shining Armor to make her feel safe and loved. Both male and female addicts often attract partners who initially try to "rescue" them. Later, their partner begins to feel smothered and distances or avoids emotional intimacy. Sadly, this re-creates the childhood cycle of abandonment as these relationships often have painful endings.
8 mantras to free yourself from love addiction
Recognizing the unhealthy patterns in your relationships and in yourself can be overwhelming. There are many different options for treatment ranging from individual therapy to support groups to 30-day rehab programs (check the Internet for services in your area). However, there are some immediate steps you can take right now:
- Begin to love yourself as much as you love others. You can accomplish this by making choices in favor of yourself. As long as you’re not hurting someone, it’s healthy to take good care of yourself.
- Understand the differences between reality and fantasy. Movies and romance novels are based largely on fantasies, not on normal, healthy relationships. If you want a Knight in Shining Armor climb on the horse yourself!
- Make a commitment to stop getting involved with unavailable and dysfunctional people. Learn to look for red flags early on. If you are experiencing a great deal of drama in your current relationship, this is a red flag.
- Learn to accept and tolerate all your feelings – from anger to joy – without escaping through a person or other addiction.
- Accept that you cannot control another person. You cannot control how another person thinks, feels or behaves, and you especially can’t make someone love you.
- Learn to be your authentic self and to stop placating others in order to earn their love and affection.
- Accept your humanness and imperfections. When you surrender the need for other’s approval, you learn that it is what you think of yourself that matters most.
- Finally, learn to accept how the past has shaped who you are today. Your first significant relationship lasted 18 years and it was with your parents or caregivers. They undoubtedly had an impact on how you relate to your current romantic partners.
When you begin your path to recovery, you learn that the road ahead requires patience, fortitude and support from others. Yet, overcoming these challenges leads to the healthiest and most fulfilling relationships of your life. And you deserve this…you always did.
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. She can be reached at 466.3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org