I didn’t know what to do. I slumped down on the kitchen floor with my knees drawn to my chest. I was in shock. “What am I gonna do?” I could say nothing more. As numbness and despair took over, I gathered myself together and stuffed the pain of betrayal. Maybe I could win him back.
This wasn’t the first time he broke my heart. Just a year earlier, on a drive in the country, I was dreaming about our life together when he said, “I am not going to marry you.” After a year of dating, I was absolutely devastated.
What did I miss? How did I not see this coming? The reason I didn’t leave the relationship then would be answered many years later.
I was desperate to save the relationship and no amount of crying and pleading seemed to work.
I resorted to what I knew best—Sex. More sex. More exciting sex.
This would win him back.
I ended up moving 1,000 miles to be with him. He seemed to want to be with me. I moved in with him and he supported me. We settled into a routine life of coupleship. I was convinced he would find me acceptable and pop the question someday. So I waited patiently.
Then, one day, instead of popping the question, he said, “I have a girlfriend.”
Apparently, he met her at flight school (which I encouraged him to do). It was safe enough, I thought. Supporting his outside interest was healthy in a secure relationship. Right? I never thought he would meet someone else. I trusted that despite what he said years ago, someday he would change his mind. Someday he would marry me. There were no obvious signs that he didn’t truly care for me.
There was a lot of emotional push and pull to our relationship. He’d pull away and I’d push for more. He’d return emotionally, then I’d push for more and he’d pull away. This is normal, right? I wanted nothing more than a permanent expression of his undying love. I expected this to happen.
Now, after two more years of dreaming and hoping, he tells me he has a girlfriend and that I have to move out.
Looking back, sitting there on the kitchen floor, I discovered the relationship I hoped for was all a fantasy. My made up fantasy. I felt stupid to have ever dreamed I could have a loving relationship. I took all the shame of this revelation and turned off every emotion I had. I was numb. “What am I gonna do?” What could I do?
Financially I was unprepared. We lived in his house. I didn’t have any money to move out, let alone a good job to pay for a place of my own. I also had a lot of debt from trying to support our lifestyle. How could I get a resume together and interview for a better job?
Physically, I had gained weight over the years. This added to my shame.
Emotionally I was a wreck. What was I going to do? He was everything to me. I had devoted all my time, energy, and money into maintaining the relationship—and now, I had nothing left.
It still took a couple of years to break the denial of what I was dealing with. I wanted to blame him, but really, he did tell me his plans. I had to admit I was a love addict.
I eventually came to my senses and moved on. But this relationship scarred me. It was the one I look back on—the one that helped me break out of denial and revealed how delusional I was when it came to love.
It’s been over 25 years now and I still feel a sense of shame over my delusionment; how desperate I was for someone to rescue me from my life of loneliness and fear. I was willing to do anything to keep him, even ignoring his words, “I will never marry you.”
I wish I could tell you that this relationship with “Hobie Cat Guy” was the one that got me into recovery, but it’s not. I thought a new town, new people, a new church would be the key. I swore off dating for the next five years and found some peace.
Then I was ready to date again. Or so I thought.
My first date ended in bed. What was I thinking? How could this happen? I was doing all the right things. How could I have broken five years of celibacy after one date? Honestly, to this day, I can’t even remember his name.
Crushed, broken, and shame-filled, I turned to one of my pastors, Diane Roberts. Her straightforward and direct counseling helped me find grace and the help I needed. I also learned that my relationship patterns were not unique to me. I was not alone in my struggles.
I came to recognize this pattern of delusionment over the years. It’s probably what the prodigal son felt when “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17).
When you come out of denial—when your eyes are opened—you view your behaviors differently. I eventually admitted I was addicted. Addicted to relationships and the idea of love.
These men had become the objects to fulfill my fantasy of everlasting love. A connection to another person—a need that was not met in my childhood. The one who would ease the pain of abandonment, take care of me, and be my savior.
Today, as an addiction and trauma professional, I have concluded that love addiction doesn’t operate on its own. It is not a solitary addiction that you can get sober from without addressing the underlying roots of codependency. This is why I kept going back to toxic relationships. Celibacy may have been sobriety, but sobriety did not bring about the deeper healing.
Love addiction is a set of behaviors used to cope with the much deeper pain of abandonment. According to Pia Mellody, in Facing Love Addiction, there are three major behaviors love addicts use in relationships. These three behaviors are in addition to codependency.
The first behavior is when we "give too much time and attention to a person (obsessing), and valuing them over ourselves". We become obsessed with a relationship or a person—like I did when I gave up a great job and moved 1,000 miles with the hope of keeping this man in the relationship. I thought if I could be near him, be with him, show him I was willing to do anything, he would want me.
Another behavior is having “unrealistic expectations for positive regard from the person in the relationship.” I love how Pia Mellody says this. It certainly was true when I lived in a fantasy world of unrequited love.
Whenever he would emotionally disconnect, I felt fear and would obsess about what he was doing or thinking. If he wasn’t totally into me all the time, I would fear the worst and do everything I could to get him to reconnect with me. If he wasn’t on time, I would start calling around to find him. I once called the airport to see if he crashed his plane. All this to calm my rising fear of abandonment.
The third major behavior love addicts exhibit is "neglecting themselves." We don’t value or take care of ourselves when in a relationship. Prior to this relationship, I was healthy and had lost 20 pounds. I was looking good. I felt good. During this two and a half year relationship, I gained 15 pounds, adding to my shame and low self-worth.
These three behaviors show up in relationship, so it is common not to recognize love addiction when out of a relationship. During those five years of celibacy, this is why I felt I was doing pretty good. On my own, I was stable and took care of myself.
Outside of a relationship, love addicts have good jobs, are successful, and build good friendships. All this goes by the wayside when we “meet the one” and our focus changes. We live off the high that “being in love” brings until our need for love proves overwhelming to the love avoidant people we are attracted to.
The reason for this, I soon learned, was that love addiction is compounded by underlying low self-esteem, poor boundaries, and an inability to own our reality. Our lack of objectivity blinds us to this reality, leaving us fearful and lonely—and we don’t know why.
We also don’t know how to take care of our adult needs and wants. These are characteristics of a person who hasn’t matured. We’re still acting like a wounded child. And the wounded child is in charge.
These are characteristic of a codependent.
I started my journey by first acknowledging I had an addiction to love. I got sober by choosing to not date again. Only this time, I had come to understand the nature of addiction.
My journey was not smooth, however.
I would like to have said, again, that I went step by step, but realistically there were bumps in the road. Those bumps did not result in sex with strangers, but I can see how I was obsessed with some guys along the way.
Sobriety from love addiction can be a long process. It is done through a learning process that looks like discipleship. We can’t do it all at once.
The writer of Hebrews explains,
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
We must start slowly. As noted by Michael Dye, the recovery process is hindered by our willingness to acknowledge the reality that “what I want the most is the thing I fear the most.” I want intimacy, but also fear it. Intimacy is uncomfortable because it puts us in a vulnerable position. Intimacy is risky.
Love addiction is NOT just a woman’s issue. Men can be love addicted too. Love addiction is a byproduct of codependency. It is often expressed in fantasy and the distorted view that this one person will rescue us. “Somehow, all my needs will be met with this one person.” I believe all addicted people have a codependency issue.
Everyone’s healing takes a different path. In helping hundreds of men and women walk through the process of recovery, I have witnessed that the path one takes is never straight forward. There is order, but healing is not a task list to check off. It’s also complicated by the depth of our trauma and pain and the strength of the strategies we have used to get our needs met.
Along the way, we develop a distorted view of ourselves, a distorted view of others, and often a distorted view of God.
What we do to get our needs met seems so right at the moment. We are convinced that what we are doing is meeting our needs, but in reality, our behaviors are dysfunctional. When we discover how deceived we have been this leads to shame. It’s equally difficult to admit that our hope for love with one person could be a made up fantasy.
The first step on the path to recovery happens when we break through our denial. We must expose our distorted view of ourselves, others, and God, and acknowledge the reality of where we are today.
We must also wade through the story of how we got here so we can write the rest of our story.
Sobriety is just the beginning of our restoration story.
Debby is a licensed Foursquare Pastor and is one of our Pastoral Sex Addiction Professionals (PSAP) at Pure Desire. She has a heart for bringing healing to men and women who are broken due to sexual and emotional issues. Debby has her bachelor's from Corban University and has an Advanced Certification through International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP).