Love Addiction: Holding Onto Unhealthy Relationship

 By Nina Atwood

I have fallen in love with someone who thinks he’s in love with someone else. I still want to hang on. I’ve let myself fall in love with him, and I feel desperate to keep him in my life in some way even though I know it’s unhealthy. How can I break this hold??
– Julie

The key words in your question are “desperate” and “unhealthy,” both of which indicate that you are crossing the line into what is referred to as love addiction*. This is basically a relationship in which you cannot get your needs met and you feel unable to move on to a better relationship or to change the dynamics of the current one. The price for love addiction, if not intervened in quickly, is quite steep, and may lead to:

  • A repetitive cycle of feeling hopeful, struggling to get what you want, pain, anger and desperation when you don’t, and resignation or hopelessness
  • The escalation of this cycle, so that your highs and lows are more and more dramatic, leading to feelings of being out of control of your own life
  • Medicating the pain of the relationship through alcohol, drugs, spending, promiscuity with other partners, or working too much
  • Plummeting self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth
  • Depression and anxiety which worsen over time
  • Loss of self, such that your happiness hinges on how well the relationship is going

You are vulnerable to love addiction if:

  • You have a history of low self-esteem
  • You have a history of substance abuse or other addictions
  • You believe that your current partner is your one and only chance for true love
  • You believe that you can change a non-committal person’s mind by just “hanging on” or loving them more
  • You have a tendency to center your life around another person

Addictive relationships almost always begin with one person wanting it significantly more than the other. There’s an imbalance of emotional energy: You are putting in more than you’re receiving, and your partner is getting a free ride. Remember that the person who loves the least has the most power in a romantic relationship. This is a no-win situation for you. You can begin with a simple affirmation of the truth: “I’m in love with someone who’s not in love with me” and “I am powerless to change him or his feelings.”

The path to recovery from love addiction begins with a commitment: To yourself, to be your own best friend, to treat yourself with kindness and respect, to expect nothing less from the people you are close to, and to be willing to end a relationship if it is unhealthy for you, no matter how strong the attraction. Once you make this commitment to yourself, seek any and all support that you can find. Join a counseling group, attend SLA (Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings, read every book on love addiction that you can get your hands on, and practice taking care of yourself first.

*See Chapter Fourteen in “Be Your Own Dating Service: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships” for more information on love addiction, its origins and the path to recovery.

Copyright ?1997 Nina Atwood, All Rights Reserved
Reprints Only by Written Permission of Nina Atwood

Entry Filed under: Personal Growth,Relationships


  • 1. pam  |  May 6th, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    i am so in that situation right now and do not know how to get out. i want to, but am so afraid and scared to let go. any ideas on how to get to the point i need to be at to get the courage i need to let go? help!

  • 2. SÚverine SÚrizy  |  June 16th, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    To the person who left the comment on May 6th 2007….

    I don’t know if you’ll ever get this comment, as some time has gone by, but, as someone who has most definitely been in a very similar situation to yourself, the only advice I can give you is to follow ALL the instructions in the article. Get yourself to a SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts) meeting as soon as possible, and read as many books as you can. The more self-awareness you develop, the easier it will be for you to make healthy decisions. And, if you go to SLAA meetings, you will find people who’ve had very similar experiences, and that will help you feel less lonely and isolated.

    Good luck!

  • 3. michael  |  December 4th, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    please provide prognosis for:
    I am 28 yr old wh male with smoking addiction for over 9 years, some alcohol addiction, procrastination on my life goals as with the high IQ I have my achievments have been 2 yr college only and am working in grocery business as asst mgr (not my goal). Have had drug (coccaine addiction) when I was 16-22 yrs old. This addiction resulted from living with dad when I was 14-16. Father served prison time for selling drugs and has had long addiction time with drugs, alcohol etc (over 35 yrs)
    My lover is 30 wh female with alcohol addiction, has one female child (4 yr, married at 13) former husband in prison, alcohol and drug addiction. She has been in jail for alcohol and DWI and trying to get clean now. With both of our histories with addiction what are our chances to be clean and accomplish our goals (greatest disturbing fact is that we both have bad tempers)……she is living now with her father (her father has taken care of her child) other concern is that she places child after me. I want my own family and it is scary. Will both of our histories collide repeatedly in the future………Should I find someone who does not have such severe addictions and both parents abandoned her etc.
    Thank You So Very Much for Your Kindness.

  • 4. anonymous  |  April 30th, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    I have been in a relationship now for about five years. At times it is great and others not so great. I think I may have a love addiction to my ex which happens to be my two childrens’ father. We had a fabulous relationship for about 8 months and then downhill from there for about 9 years. He put me through hell, he had the power and he knew it. Recently we have been sexually active only because when my current partner and I fight he is the first person I call. Our relationship over the past couple of years has been great as friends”for the kids” sort of speak and my current boyfriend and him get along very well, except for the fact my boyfriend is insecure when my x and I are around each other. I really love my boyfriend he treats me very good at times and when we fight it is just over minor things because we both have a short fuse BUT I just can’t stop thinking about my x. I keep wondering what it would be like if we could be together again one day. If he can ever love me the way I love him still. It is so difficult because I feel like I’m in love with two people. If I could combine them together he would be th e perfect man. HELP!!!!!!!

  • 5. johnson  |  May 12th, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    This is a comprehensive addiction portal focusing on topics of alcohol and drug abuse.

  • 6. John Daringwald  |  September 1st, 2010 at 4:17 am

    According to biochemical research the excitement of falling in love and a pain of romantic heartbreak are phenomena similar to addiction. you have to act with cool to maintain healthy relationships.


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