Updated 16 October 2013

Could you be addicted to love?

When do feelings of love turn into romantic obsession? When does love become destructive and emotionally harmful?


Nothing beats the rush of falling in love - the butterflies in your stomach, the flush on your cheeks and the song in your heart every time that special person comes near you. However, when do feelings of love turn into romantic obsession? When does love become destructive and emotionally harmful?

"The trademarks of a healthy relationship are vulnerability, trust, passion, honesty and communication (especially the ability to listen and acknowledge what the other has said)," says Charlie Mansel-Pleydell, a Cape Town counsellor who specialises in love addiction and intimacy disorders.

"In terms of sexual intimacy – it needs to be mutually rewarding, must not hurt each other or indeed oneself and crucially must not be shaming towards oneself or one’s partner."

According to Mansel-Pleydell, a relationship becomes unhealthy when it becomes emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually abusive.

"Toxic relationships are particularly damaging when partners become so enmeshed they dare not leave each other – as the alternative of being alone is unbearable."

Unrealistic expectations

"Romantic obsession is often the result of emotional trauma experienced during childhood and adolescence," explains Mansel-Pleydell. "This experience becomes re-enacted or simulated in the form of 'trauma repetition' – where an individual keeps repeating the same destructive patterns in adult relationships."

Romantic obsession and addictive relationships tend to be intertwined - they can feed off each other in a destructive and addictive cycle.

"I think there are more people in society who confuse romantic obsession with love than we are aware of. The danger is that the media paints 'perfect pictures' of what love is supposed to be – which can cause those predisposed to obsession/addiction to have unrealistic expectations of what they perceive to be perfect love – or more fatally, to search for the one.

"Parental messages in dysfunctional families also cause great damage. We learn our ability to be intimate and close to others from our primary care-givers."

Crimes of passion

Could our increasingly violent society and lack of effective communication in the digital era be to blame for the recent spurt in crimes of passion?

"Society does seem to have become more violent due to a number of factors, but there is no question that the digital era is suffocating our ability to be intimate. 'Cyber romance' is a new phenomenon these days – but is it a genuine form of authentic courtship? Does it allow people to build a meaningful intimate relationship over time? What is reality and what is fantasy? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves."


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