Jim is a 35 y.o. gay man who began psychotherapy because of difficulty finding a man and “settling down.” He identifies as a “serial monogamist” who stays in relationships on average two years until he becomes bored and disinterested. He realizes that he tends to fall for men who fall for him. In the short run, this fills his need to feel loved and loveable but after a while, he no longer wishes to maintain a relationship with them. He does not know what his needs and wants are. Jim is a love avoider.
Jane has been lonely in her ten-year relationship with Susan. She seeks love outside her primary relationship from unavailable women who are married or straight. She stays in her relationship because of fear of being alone but uses the fantasy of another lover to escape her misery. She feels suffocated and trapped in her primary relationship. Yet she is addicted to the feeling of being high on love. Her brain releases dopamine and oxytocin when sexually and romantically attracted to other women. These “feel good” chemicals are potent for most, and for the addict they can be intoxicating. Is she a love avoider or a love addict?
What is Love Addiction?
As children, many love addicts were parented by distant or neglectful caregivers which undermined their confidence in taking care of themselves. They become obsessed with a fantasy created about another person instead of loving the other. Through the use of fantasy, they are objectifying the idealized person. Love addiction can cause harmful consequences for the love addict and their partners.
The love addict’s greatest fear is abandonment with an underlying fear of intimacy. The stages are shown in the diagram below:
George and Giraldo have been in a committed relationship for 15 years. George (love addict) entered the relationship in a fantasy of being taken care of by his idealized partner (love avoider). He seeks attention and reassurance from Giraldo while denying the importance of life outside the relationship and disregarding Giraldo’s distancing behaviors. Then he discovered the affair. George came to therapy in an emotional withdrawal from his fantasy—experiencing pain, anger, fear, shame, rage and panic. He then began to obsess about Giraldo and medicate with alcohol. The Love Addict/Love Avoider dynamic begins with the love avoider seducing the love addict into the fantasy. (See diagram.) Giraldo (love avoider) then withdraws and put his energy into someone or something (like work, addiction or children) outside the relationship in order to protect himself from George’s intrusiveness. George denies his partner’s walls and importance of life outside the relationship. Discovering the affair experiences shatters the denial which precipitates an emotional withdrawal. He then will decide to move on to a new relationship or respond to the avoider’s seduction. Love avoiders seduce the love addict because they believe that in order to be loved, accepted or appreciated they must take care of another person, physically and/or emotionally.
According to Pia Mellody (internationally known author and expert on Codependence), the root of Love Addiction/Love Avoidance is codependence. She lists the following symptoms of codependency:
Rigid or No Boundaries
Difficulty with self-identification and the ability to share that with others
Negative Control of others or allowing oneself to be controlled
Addictions and Difficulty in Intimate relationships
Understand and Identify Your Own Relationship Patterns
Attachment theory is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long and short term interpersonal relationships. It helps define how humans respond in relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or in the face of a perceived threat.
Attachment is a motivational and behavioral system which stems from the type of attunement which infants experience with their caregiver. Attachment behavior facilitates their survival in face of a perceived threat or separation from loved ones.
Knowing your attachment style can help you better understand your own romantic relationship patterns. Unsurprisingly, adult attachment styles often correspond with those exhibited in childhood.
The four attachment styles are:
Secure Considered the optimal state, as the child is securely attached to the mother and consequently experiences feelings of internal security. As an adult, they are willing to fully share with another, are generally happy and adapt easily to the needs of the moment.
Anxious-Resistant Infants with anxious resistant or ambivalent behavior are fearful of strangers even in the presence of their mother and often display ambivalence toward the mother when she returns. As adults they worry a lot; fearful of their partner's level of interest and interpreting the slightest lapse of response as a problem. She needs reassurance especially if there is not an immediate response. She believes that her anxiety is her partner's fault.
Anxious-Avoidant Anxious avoidant infants show little signs of distress when the mother leaves or returns to them. Sometimes the infant will act indifferent or angry but they're very protective of themselves. As an adult, the individual is afraid of being suffocated or losing her independence in her romantic relationship. She is never truly available to her partner and independence eventually overrides initial intimacy. She may use criticism to distance herself and remains dissatisfied in her relationship. Ambivalence is her closest friend.
Disorganized The most distressed of all attachment styles. A disorganized infant shows unusual behavior with strangers by showing jerking movements, extreme forms of fear and/or detached behavior. They often come from violent or abusive households.
For context, love addicts who are anxious tend to be attracted to anxious avoiders and vice versa.
Are You Addicted to Love?
As a love addict, you know you're in trouble when you:
Keep your love interest a secret
Send flirtatious texts
Spy on someone through social media
Love addicts display their insecurities by being defensive, people-pleasing, conflict avoidant and sensitive to mild criticism.