Loving too much is not a love story: surviving an addictive relationship
Loving too much is when “being in love is experienced as being in emotional pain,” Robin Norwood (Women Who Love Too Much, 1985).
For over 25 years I have been working as a relationship therapist, grief counsellor, couples’ therapist and a specialist in love addiction and co-dependency, helping people overcome some of the most profound emotions experienced when romantic love is impeded, thwarted, impossible or unrequited. These include heartbreak and loss, love withdrawal, love sickness, rejection, and loving too much, where being in love is experienced as being anxious, insecure and in emotional pain.
My sensitive and therapeutic online programme The Love Addiction and Heartbreak Recovery Programme was completely inspired by my own experience during my early thirties. I encountered the most disturbing affliction of the heart – loving too much – and the anxiety, tension, yearning, and fear of loss that went with it.
I kept hundreds of journals from that time and these now form the body of my programme and workbook, as I knew even all those years ago that I had to create something onto which woman could anchor themselves; a programme to help them make sense of this debilitating experience, to provide them with the tools and techniques to turn this devastating sense of self-abandonment into a whole new chapter, and survive the experience of losing themselves in an addictive relationship.
I am passionate about the work I do around the love relationship, and my programme is specifically designed for women who wish to overcome their pattern of addictive love, of loving too much, and who want to change their love style to a more positive and healthier way of relating.
What is ‘loving too much’?
Loving too much is a symptom of love addiction, which I refer to throughout this piece.
“But it was Sandor Rado who in 1928 first popularized the term “love addict” — ‘a person whose needs for more love, more succor, more support grow as rapidly as the frustrated people around her try to fill up what is, in effect, a terrible and unsatisfiable inner emptiness.
[…] In 1985, Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much popularized the concept of love addiction for women. Since, variations on the dynamics of love addiction have become further popularized in the 1990s and 2000s by multiple authors.” Wikipedia
“Love addiction is a condition in which individuals do not fall in love with someone who will return their affection. Rather, they are attracted to somebody who will neglect the relationship.” Pia Melody
Being addicted to love is a very real condition that leaves many women, and some men, helpless and vulnerable to intense emotional suffering and pain. These people may well be very successful and distinguished in other aspects of their lives, and it has always moved me beyond words when I see such a person descend into an empty, powerless and sorrowful place where they come face-to-face with the beloved becoming more and more emotionally disengaged, or leaving.
An addiction to romantic love is not a ‘love story’
It is a story of powerlessness, longing, rejection, despair, and abandonment distress. An addiction to the feeling of ‘being in love’ can often resemble the exact same craving, compulsion and yearning that a person would experience while being addicted to a drug such as cocaine. Studies have shown – particularly the research of anthropologist Helen Fisher – that “the identical part of your brain that activates when you’re addicted to cocaine activates when you’re in love. It’s called the “limbic reward system.”
Loving too much can involve ‘intrusive thinking’ – thinking obsessively about the beloved in the form of countless repetitive, circling thoughts; will s/he call, email etc. Feeling as if we need to spend as much time as possible with them can result in changing daily routines, priorities and commitments to accommodate and adapt our life around the beloved, for fear of losing any time that could be spent with them. More often than not many feel acute emotional pain when apart from them, which can cause ‘separation anxiety’, a feeling of distress and abandonment when away from the beloved for any length of time.
It can feel like we have lost our ability to hold on to any kind of daily normality, as if we are losing ourselves in a vacuous empty space, yet somehow feel alive with exhilaration and euphoria. It’s a form of intoxication that makes us want to be around the beloved more and more; it has a ‘hungry’, yearning intensity to it, and herein lies the fundamental problem. The POA (Person of Addiction) more often than not feels overburdened, responsible, smothered and suffocated by such an overwhelming force of excessive love. They start to feel they require some distance, space for themselves, and alone time, and they begin to emotionally withdraw, distancing themselves from the relationship. Often this has devastating consequences for the person who loves too much.
Loving too much is about unrequited love and all that it encompasses: unfulfilled dreams, excessive emotions, intense desire and passion, romantic fantasies, and a longing to attach oneself to that ‘one’ special person who we believe will complete us, as if we have found our soul mate.
An addiction to romantic love brings obsessional thoughts, powerlessness, helplessness, sadness, loss, and the hunger for that love to be mutually reciprocated.
When a woman feels that she is pouring more in to the relationship than she is getting in return, she will know in her belly that she loves too much. If the love equilibrium was balanced, loving too much would be unlikely to arise as both would be flowing in an emotionally responsive way to the other.
Robin Norwood elucidates this perfectly in her book “Women Who Love Too Much”:
“Loving too much means obsessing about a man and calling that obsession love, allowing it to control your emotions and much of your behaviour, realising that it negatively influences your health and well-being, yet finding yourself unable to let go.”
“Love addiction creates passivity. We become reactors as opposed to actors. We react to someone else’s thoughts, feeling and behaviours.”
“When we feel driven by a compulsive need to love, we feel as if we have no choice. It’s as if we say to ourselves, “I must have this person even if this relationship is bad for me.”
“The root of the obsession is fear, not love – fear of being alone, unlovable, abandoned, ignored, unworthy.”
Anthropologist Helen Fisher writes about this sense of unreciprocated romantic love specifically:
“I think romantic love is an addiction – as I have mentioned, a positive addiction when one’s love is reciprocated, nontoxic, and appropriate; and a disastrously negative addiction when one’s feelings of romantic love are inappropriate, poisonous, unreciprocated, or formally rejected.”
Here, and with the authors’ permission to use, are two journal extracts, which describe in their own words their experience of loving too much:
Laura,“Every time I fall in love I seem to be most unlike myself; this time it’s worse, as I feel we really understand one another, I ‘get’ him somehow and want to help him to be more confident and successful. It’s as if I become quite dismantled and disoriented, yet in my professional life I manage a huge business with complete order and ease. I really think I should stay away from having any kind of close relationship as I am constantly agitated and preoccupied with this one person almost straight away, and the more I want them, the more it drives them away.
“He is beginning to close down, become far away and withdrawn, and I can feel that he’s just not with me. It started out with him pursuing me, and I felt that he was truly engaging and connecting entirely, but the moment it’s taken to the next stage – I told him I loved him – he seemed to sense my neediness, insecurity, clinginess and overwhelming desperation to feel loved and wanted by him. This is when I can feel myself falling apart, pleading with him to stay as if this awful fear of being rejected takes over my entire life, breaking through any potential to hold my professional work together as the distress, terror of being left, and anxiety is all consuming.”
Alicia, “I’m involved with someone now and I find it almost impossible to sustain my work life. Everything feels like it is falling apart. If he fails to return my calls or texts, or is unable to see or speak to me, I become completely emotionally distraught and unable to concentrate, let alone board a plane to go overseas for a work conference. All my attention is consumed by this one person who seems most unlike what I would normally be attracted to.
It has been 13 months now since we first met, it felt like we had an immediate connection, but I wish I could get out of this; I wish I could get him out of my thoughts, I wish there was some way I could stop thinking about him.”
One point to note here is that the first moment of eye contact between two people who are passionately attracted to one another is often where it all begins for the woman with a propensity to ‘disappear’ into a relationship. There is a sense of familiarity, seeking security, emotional connection and belonging – this is all to do with the concept of recognition, where we feel like this person completely ‘understands’ us, and is able to take care of us.
For the woman with a propensity towards love addiction, they will immediately feel ‘seen’, ‘known’, ‘disarmed’, and somehow woken up from a well of loneliness and emptiness, even if they don’t knowingly feel alone.
She will read this ‘look of engagement’ as a promise of interest, recognition, an emotional response and sexual attraction.
For the woman with the love addiction predisposition, she will feel immediately enamoured by this one glance and assume things about the man’s motivation or interest, misinterpreting innocuous signs as romantic interest and deep connection.
It has everything to do with being recognised and validated in a split second, and I have often been able to relate this to an extreme lack of validation, empathy and mirroring in early childhood, particularly leading up to one’s teenage life.
What are the characteristics of a woman who loves too much?
The symptoms of an addictive relationship are there to be seen, if only we can allow ourselves to look objectively:
Often not attracted to men who are good, kind, reliable, and stable, who may seem uninspiring
Returning time and again to an emotionally abusive, neglectful or damaging relationship; a compulsive inability to let go of an unhealthy relationship even if you know it is not good for you
Often becoming a rescuer or caregiver to keep the beloved dependent, especially if they appear to need your support, compassion and direction
Woman who love too much are often have ‘maternal’ quality about them
Caring for and loving the beloved entirely, believing that eventually the partner will return the same level of intense emotion
Terrified of abandonment and prepared to do anything for fear of the partner leaving
Separation anxiety and abandonment distress preventing from letting go
Trying to change the beloved into being more emotionally loving and present
Trying harder and harder to please the beloved and hoping that they will change
Giving responsibility for emotional well-being, or even survival to the beloved because the relationship has a ‘soul mate’ quality
A propensity to lose the sense of ‘self’
Measuring the magnitude of ‘love’ by the extent of emotional pain and torment
Dependent on the beloved for love and affection, sacrificing own needs and wants, often showering the beloved with gifts and clothes to heighten their self-esteem and self-image
Low self-esteem; disregards her own aspirations, strengths and accomplishments
A stark division between the original authentic, charismatic and generous self and the weak, powerless and disempowered individual that appears when the partner begins to withdraw
Increasing obsession with partner; bouts of jealousy, suspiciousness and insecurity
Feelings of shame, humiliation and self-blame that the state of the relationship is their sole responsibility
Increasing fear of abandonment that the relationship will end
Obsessive texting, emailing, phoning, and a preoccupation with social media (especially if the beloved has left the relationship)
Increasing powerlessness and emotional dependency on partner as they withdraw
A deep sense of depression, low mood and anxiety can set in
Becoming highly agitated, nervous and anxious
Aggressive or vengeful feelings if partner is protesting against relationship enmeshment
Powerful love withdrawal; an overwhelming sense of loss, grief and sadness
Panic, anger and resentment after becoming his ‘sole care taker’ but finding he now wants to dissolve the relationship
Extreme aloneness; despair, emptiness and unhappiness after investing the whole self into the relationship
Neglecting to self-care; potential to develop eating and sleeping problems
Repetitive over-thinking and intrusive, self-deprecating thoughts; I’m not good enough and feel worthless and unlovable.
What are the causes of loving too much?
To return to our earlier quote from Pia Melody: “Love addiction is a condition in which individuals do not fall in love with someone who will return their affection. Rather, they are attracted to somebody who will neglect the relationship.”
Loving too much only exists if the beloved is emotionally unresponsive, disengaged and emotionally unavailable.
Being attracted to emotionally unavailable men who might have problems, or those who are distant and fail to reciprocate love, is often the result of a lack of appropriate emotional care at key moments through childhood.
• Typically the woman who loves too much may come from a dysfunctional home where a lack of emotional nurturing, validation and appreciation made it difficult for her emotional needs to be met. • Has an intense fear of losing the beloved, as soon as she feels her partner emotionally withdrawing, leading to the debilitating symptoms of abandonment anxiety. • Little security or safe secure containment as a young child • May have alcoholic parents that were unable to be emotionally attentive • No inherent sense of being happy or fulfilled, due to low self-esteem • Parental arguments, dispute, separation or divorce and feeling that there was nothing you could do to make it right and harmonious • Loneliness, emptiness and emotional isolation • Being bullied at school, feeling socially alienated • Having crushes at school from 12 years of age – woman who love too much often recall the same degree of obsessive ‘puppy love crushes’ from a very young age, often describing the identical emotions that they feel as an adult • Often as a child you lived in a fantasy world of your own
Romantic love, when reciprocal and healthy, can be one of the most profound life-affirming experiences we can ever have, feeling fully emotionally connected to someone. But when our love for another comes at the price of our own sanity and emotional wellbeing, we must find the internal strength to let go.
If you feel your partner pulling away from you no matter how much you love them, and you are rendered weak and powerless, you must accept with absolute honesty and self-respect that it isn’t right for you.
I know this sounds easier said than done, but it’s about taking care of the ‘little you’. Being in a relationship where the love equilibrium seems unbalanced and we feel unwanted, unloved and rejected somehow takes us back to a very childlike place and this is exactly why we feel so helpless. Taking ourselves away from the relationship, and learning to nurture our own selves again, is critical.
As Charlotte Davis Kasl states: “The antidote for co-dependency and loving too much is learning to love yourself.”
I want you to remind yourself that you have a beautiful heart and it’s okay to be passionate; please never lose sight of this!
I say this because, in my experience of woman who love too much (myself included), they are often creative, alive, generous, sensitive, and passionate. If someone doesn’t reciprocate your love and affections, it DOESN’T mean that you are unlovable, unworthy, or undeserving of a mutually loving, fulfilling relationship.
You must abandon the destructive, repetitive thoughts and questions that have been plaguing you for far too long.
Thoughts such as:
• Does he want me as much as I want him? • Am I good enough for him? • Do I have his approval? • Will he be more engaged and responsive with me next time we meet? • What if he fails to call/text/email me? • Do I need to change the way I look to make him want me more? Maybe he would prefer a woman with larger breasts, slimmer than me, more rounded than me or a woman with blonde hair rather than dark… And so on.
All of these internal narratives are coming from an insecure, powerless, dependent position – the part of yourself that has given your power away.
Instead, try changing these thoughts and questions:
• Is he right for me? • Is he open, present and attentive enough for me? • Is he a good person? • Does he accept me for who I am? • What do I need to fulfil my own life? • What are my own aspirations and dreams for myself? • How can I move forward and take care of myself?
When you start turning these questions around, you will no longer have to face the abyss of abandonment anxiety and all the awful, debilitating grief-like symptoms of love withdrawal.
The first thing to do to begin this healing process is create an internal place of quiet solitude and emotional self-reliance, and build a strong, authentic and intuitive sense of self. This sense of self is one that YOU love and respect, so that unreciprocated love and rejection will never again erode your identity, leaving you free to start a whole new chapter of your life – one full of freedom, excitement, inspiration and opportunity.
My programme on Love Addiction and Heartbreak Recovery will help you to live wholeheartedly and never again accept only crumbs in return for the love you have to give, but instead allow yourself to stay true to your own authenticity, integrity and values.
As psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Anthony Storr says: “It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them.”