What does it mean to be in love with love? And how do we know it applies to us? Is love compulsion another socially constructed label with which to beat ourselves over the head?
I’ve worked with many people who’ve felt that if only they found that ‘special’ person they’d be happy for the rest of their lives. What usually transpires is that they’re stuck in a cycle of excitement when the love object is new, and pain and disappointment when the relationship sours or doesn’t live up to expectations; the partners ends up being ‘just like all the others’. They feel cheated when the initial excitement and euphoria wanes and they fall out ‘of love’; they pursue a new relationship convinced that this one will be the answer. Others stay in dissatisfying or harmful relationships while fantasying about leaving; they often engage in texting other would-be companions as they chase the thrill of finding that elusive love.
Signs of love compulsion:
- Continually in relationship – often jumping from one to another with little space or time to grieve or get over the last one.
- Staying in an unsatisfying relationship because you couldn’t face the prospect of being alone.
- Engaging in fantasies about an unavailable partner and how you might get together.
- Expecting your partner or lover to make you feel loveable.
- Convincing yourself that this is ‘the one’.
- Believing that if you were only loved in this special way you’d be eternally happy.
Why compulsion? A compulsion is an irresistible impulse to act without looking at the rationality of the action. Love compulsion can feel soothing and brings comfort; it can medicate painful and unwelcome feelings of low self-worth, in a similar way to how alcohol brings comfort to the alcohol-dependent user. Love compulsion is hard to define or diagnose because we all need love; we are drawn to others and being in relation with them is a rewarding and satisfying state. It brings security, companionship and harmony. But when it becomes a constant craving in the belief that it will meet all our needs and make us feel complete, without which we have no value, then that’s when it becomes problematic
How do we face love compulsion?
- Awareness is the first step in facing love compulsion, but awareness alone won’t change anything. There are some practical steps to making changes.
- Review your most recent and past relationships – make an inventory of your behaviour pattern, including how you felt and how the behaviour of your partner affected you. It’s important not to blame your partner but look at your own behaviour.
- If you aren’t in a relationship at the moment, refrain from getting into one.
- Think what it would be like to be responsible for your own happiness? What would that look like and how could it be achieved?
- Turn to new ways of looking after yourself – exercise, engaging with friends and being fully present, taking up a new hobby or a training course.
Recovery from love compulsion takes time and can be a painful and unsettling period in your life. The good news is that it also opens you up to a more fulfilling relationship with yourself and a greater ability to truly love another person. Counselling helps enormously with looking at love compulsion and helping clients to find contentment from within rather than from another person.
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About Michael O'Rourke
Michael O'Rourke is a counsellor with an interest in working with clients who have difficulty in their relationships. He has experience working in addiction and with relationship counselling and sees clients in his private practice in Hastings. He is a member of the BACP and adheres to its code of ethics.