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HOW TO TELL IF IT'S LOVE or ADDICTION

by Mary H. Guindon, Ph.D.

It’s February! This is the month you show your lover how much he really means to you. You’ve been together for awhile now. That euphoric, queasy, pit-of-the-stomach, telltale sign of True Love has settled down only slightly and you know this is your one and only love, your heart’s desire. She occupies your every thought. No doubt about it, this is your soul mate. You can’t imagine life without him. In fact, you won’t even consider it. The very thought is more than just upsetting; it’s devastating. Even when things don’t feel good you would do anything for her, go anywhere to see him. The very thought of her with anyone else but you sends you into a frenzy. You feel empty and sick at the thought of not being together. Without your lover, there is no you. This is True Love!

Or is it? If this sounds like what you are experiencing, it may be this is a love addiction not love itself. What’s the difference? Simply stated, love exists in an open system; addiction in a closed one. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Love

In a fully loving relationship, mutuality and trust are the themes. Each partner is secure in his and her own sense of worth and believes the other has a right to grow and expand. Each encourages and provides room for that growth. This means that while you and your partner share many things, you may very well have separate interests and other friends of both sexes. Neither of you is threatened by the investment in and maintenance of meaningful friendships, realizing that each friendship enriches your love relationship. It also means both of you have the ability to enjoy your own solitary company, that being alone is not about rejecting the lover but a recognition that each is a whole person, not two halves of a whole, with your own unique needs and patterns of living. Secure in each other’s love, you are able to respect each other’s boundaries. Each is trusting and trustworthy. You both work at preserving the other’s sense of integrity. Most of all, there is a willingness to risk yourself in the relationship, to be real, to be honest. In short, the hallmark of a loving relationship is the ability to be true to oneself while honoring and respecting the other’s unique being.

If this describes your relationship, congratulations! Nurture and celebrate your love! If, on the other hand, most of the above - or even some of it - doesn’t ring true, consider that you may be locked into an addictive relationship. Here are the characteristics:

Addiction

In an addictive love relationship, insecurity and dependency are the themes. One or both of the partners is characterized by total, all-encompassing involvement with the love interest, a sense that no one else and nothing else is important or meaningful in life. The addicted lover gauges the intensity of need for the partner as a proof of love. In fact, this may be borne more out of fear or loneliness than out of love. Everything else is put on hold in service to the needs and wants of the lover. Old friends are neglected and previous interests abandoned. Because one partner’s desires are suspended for the other, a sense of self-deprivation develops as a sign of love. Preoccupation with the lover’s thoughts, behaviors, feelings leads to dependency on his or her approval. One’s own sense of identity and self-worth are reflected in the lover’s reactions. Expressing honest emotions and real thoughts are too risky. Consequently, reassurance is critical and this may take the form of repeated, even ritualized activities. For example, statements like "If you don’t call me from work at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day you don't really love me" are not uncommon.

Along with this dependency comes an intolerance toward being away from the lover. Trust is low. Possessiveness, jealousy, and protectiveness are high. The addicted lover is unable to endure separations even when there is conflict in the relationship or when the relationship is hurtful. In this unhealthy addiction, with each separation the addict hangs on tighter, feeling ever more desperate. A separation or contemplated separation may even produce physical symptoms such as restlessness, lethargy, or loss of appetite.

What To Do

If this sounds like your situation, what can you do?

First, recognize the addiction for what it is. Like any other addiction, this is an essential step.

Second, realize that love enhances, not diminishes each partner. You deserve to give and get nothing less than mutual respect and trust.

Third, begin to work on yourself for yourself, not for anyone else. The old adage You must love yourself before you can love someone else has a lot of wisdom to it. It may be you have some self-esteem issues that have nothing to do with your lover. Begin getting to know the authentic you, appreciating your good qualities and accepting your not-so-good qualities as facets of a worthwhile human.

Fourth, take action. You can do this through reestablishing friendships with people who support and care about you or by finding new friends with whom you share common interests. You are already complete by yourself. Nurture your gifts and talents.

Fifth, if addictive love seems to be a habitual pattern, seek counseling. Group or individual sessions can help you get in touch with who you really are and help you to believe in your own self-worth.

And, this Valentines Day, pamper yourself. Treat yourself to a day out doing something you love, buy yourself that coveted gift, try a one-of-a-kind activity that makes your heart soar! You have the right and the obligation to love yourself first!

02/01/99

Mary Guindon, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Johns Hopkins University. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and has more than twenty years private practice and consultation experience.

 

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