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When Love Is Not Something to Celebrate

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Today is a day to celebrate love and all the joy that it brings us. And why wouldn’t we? A healthy loving relationship brings each person in it a sense of belonging, acceptance, and happiness. The flip side of those healthy, supportive relationships are those that are damaging to our mental and emotional health. Two of the most common patterns therapists see with clients are love addiction and toxic relationships.

Love Addiction

A love addiction is not a formal diagnosis yet it bears many similarities to substance use disorder and process addictions, like gambling, shopping, and sex addictions. In a 2017 study, researchers noted that a love addiction shares common symptoms with other addictions, including:

  • Exhilaration
  • Ecstasy
  • Craving
  • Physiological responses
  • Obsessive patterns of thought
  • Mood swings
  • Emotional dependence
  • Risk taking
  • Loss of self-control

A person with a love addiction needs the high that comes when a relationship is new; to fall in love is to feel that thrill of finding the exact right person. For the person with a love addiction, though, it’s the high—elation, excitement, and a belief it will always be this way—that attracts. But, like all highs, the highs from a love addiction wear off, leaving the person in what is usually an unhealthy relationship.

In many cases, love addiction is rooted in childhood experiences. People who grew up with parents who were not or could not be available or who were in an emotionally unstable family may find that, as adults, they are only able to be in relationships where their needs are not met. When they find that someone, there is that thrilling period when they are getting what they need. Inevitably, the childhood experiences replay and the romantic relationship becomes unhealthy, even destructive. If the person with a love addiction does find someone with whom a healthy relationship is possible, they may act out — by cheating, behaving erratically, or getting angry — in order to sabotage the relationship. Or they may just walk out.

If you find yourself finding reasons to leave healthy, supportive relationships for a new, more exciting one or acting out toward stable partners, thus pushing them away, then examining the underlying reasons why that happens could be a good first step to being able to stay in a good relationship.

Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships leave a person feeling worse when they are with their romantic partner rather than better. The partner in a toxic relationship may be serially unfaithful, constantly jealous, controlling, dishonest, disrespectful, or all of those things. Sometimes, both partners treat each other badly. People who have love addictions often are addicted to toxic relationships and leave healthy relationships.

Someone in a toxic relationship may feel shame, despair, disgust, or constantly misunderstood. They may be depressed or afraid. Toxic relationships include physically and emotionally abusive relationships, but a relationship can be toxic without abuse as well. If being with your significant other makes you feel worse rather than better, insecure rather than secure, then you may be in a toxic relationship. It is also important to note that toxic relationships can also extend beyond romantic ones to those with a friend or family member.

The Role of Trauma

As with other addictions and self-destructive behaviors, both love addiction and toxic relationships can be the effects of childhood trauma. There are many ways a child experiences trauma beyond the sexual and physical abuse we usually think about. Trauma results from a child being unable to process what happened to them. When a child is harmed, physically or emotionally, or has experienced significant challenges that they don’t understand or know how to resolve, those experiences may stay with them, which may result in behavioral patterns that are damaging to themselves and others.

Signs of a Healthy Relationship

Healthy relationships are those that make both people feel supported, understood, and respected. Each partner trusts the other and is honest. Both are willing to compromise and allow the other to be fully who they are. They communicate openly, honestly, and do not try to manipulate the other. Every relationship is going to include arguments and anger, but a healthy relationship means expressing anger safely and productively and focusing on finding common ground and ways to compromise.

Love Addiction: When to Get Help

People with a love addiction or who are in a toxic relationship may not always recognize what is happening. Self-awareness is difficult at the best of times. When we are in an emotionally unhealthy relationship, it may be challenging for us to see things as they really are.

So how do you know? First, take some time to evaluate your relationship or relationship patterns. Do you feel safe? Supported? Respected? Satisfied? If you answer “no” to any of those, you may want to talk over your relationship with a therapist or trusted friend or family member. If you haven’t checked in, but are hearing from your most trusted friends and family members or a therapist that they are worried about your relationship patterns or a relationship you are currently in, pay attention.

For more information on Love Addiction or other addictions that may coincide with love addiction, read more from from Encore Outpatient Services.

Suffering is hard

Getting help shouldn’t be.

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