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When Love Becomes an Addiction

Woman laying in grass with flower

Romantic love can be all consuming. In the beginning stages of a relationship, one or both partners may be overwhelmed with feelings of affection for the other partner. Couples may want to spend all of their waking hours together and actually crave each other’s presence when apart. These feelings are not uncommon in many budding romances. However, when they persist and lead to unhealthy behaviors, this type of love can become destructive. Much like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, people who experience love addiction pursue their drug at the expense of their friendships, careers, family members, and even self-respect.

In a recent article, Dr. David Sack, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, explains what love addiction is. He says that people who are in addictive relationships experience limerence, a term introduced by psychologist and author Dorothy Tennov to describe love obsession and dependence. Limerence mimics new romantic love, but unlike true love that constructively develops into reciprocal, mutual affection, limerence is usually destructive. When one partner exhibits limerent behaviors, they may begin to cross emotional and physical boundaries in order to secure the attention and affection they need. Even when the feelings are not returned, the limerent partner may continue to chase after the other partner. Sack says, “Behaviors may become dangerous, such as stalking or unwanted contact, and require outpatient or residential love addiction treatment, professional counseling, and/or 12-step work.”

Limerent relationships are not all bad. Although most end with one partner being rejected and hurt, some actually grow into healthy and mutually loving unions. Individuals who display limerent behavior in one relationship may continue to do so in future relationships, creating a pattern of destruction and disappointment. Sack suggests that individuals who believe they are involved in a limerent relationship, either by their own actions or those of their partner, work with a professional to identify the negative behaviors. Understanding the cause of the limerent patterns will help an individual become aware of why they behave the way they do and give them an opportunity to transform negative patterns into more positive and promising ones.

Sack, D. (2012, June 28). Limerence and the biochemical roots of love addiction. From the Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sack-md/limerence_b_1627089.html

Related articles:
What to Look for in an Addiction Therapist, Part 1
(Don’t) Keep Coming Back

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  • Jacki July 5th, 2012 at 11:33 AM #1

    Love should not hurt. I don’t care what the romantic songs say, but when you love someone and they love you back there shouldn’t be that kind of hurt involved. If it is the right relationship you will find someone who gives back just as much as you give and there is an equality in the passion and the feeling.

  • City, Panicked July 5th, 2012 at 1:24 PM #2

    I’m trying to understand the difference between limerance/limerant relationships and the behaviors that may be shown by someone with borderline personality disorder. Based on the article above, it seems that they are quite similar, if not identical, with BPD sufferers desperately trying to avoid abandonment and often losing quite a lot in the process.

    Perhaps limerant relationships satisfy one of the criteria of BPD but can exist on their own without the other criteria?

    Just thinking “out loud” here.

  • Barry July 5th, 2012 at 2:53 PM #3

    What is it about me that causes any woman in my life to run the other way when we start getting serious?
    I have a great job, make good money, only want to give her all the attention I can, and yet they never want all of that. It’s like it’s too much for them.
    How does this happen? All women ever profess is that they want someone to love them for who they are, and that’s what I do.
    And then they say I am getting too close too fast.
    Is this me? Is this article about me? I don’t see it that way, but maybe that’s how they see it and I have it all wrong.

  • Pauline July 6th, 2012 at 4:13 AM #4

    This kind of relationship would be alright if both partners felt so strongly for one another but I don’t think that this is ever the case.
    Typically, you will see that one is far more head over heels in love and dependence, limerence (funny word) than the other and that always causes a pattern of destruction, to the relationship and to at least one of the partners.
    Where does this need to be so all engaging come from?
    Maybe its from the temptation to always want every time to feel like the first time, but I think that once you have been in a real relationship that is healthy you come to understand that every day can’t always be like the first day, that there are problems that arise and deevlop and only relationships that are strong and stable could ever survive those.

  • pearlie July 6th, 2012 at 11:06 AM #5

    There are those who like being in this sort of relationship as it makes them feel even more important and needed.

  • Cecil July 7th, 2012 at 4:28 AM #6

    One thing that has not been addressed is how dangerous this could be to one or both of the partners. What if the limerant partner decides that he or she can’t live without the other person so they resort to violence?
    This is a very real threat for many.

  • damion July 8th, 2012 at 8:46 AM #7

    If it is real love then there is no need to hold on so tight.

  • Willa July 9th, 2012 at 4:19 AM #8

    If someone is confident in themselves, then becoming this way in a relationship is highly unlikely. So that is where the real problem lies. We have to do something that encourages a stronger sense of self, stronger self esteem, more confidence in who we are. I think that when you are able to do this then you have a much better chance of finding a relationship that is healthy and strong, as well as equally balanced in friendship and love.

  • Ethlie Ann Vare August 1st, 2012 at 7:58 PM #9

    I love seeing this topic discussed in an open forum! That’s why I wrote LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS (HCI 2011). One, there aren’t enough people talking about it and, two, they never laugh when they do :-)

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