When there is dysfunction in the family of origin, love objects are unconsciously sought out with the goal of replaying unfinished business from childhood.
It is not always a relationship with a parent that we are repeating; it can be a relationship with any family member that is unresolved. Mourning childhood losses and allowing oneself to process the pain of past hurt sets us free to select more positive relationships.
One way to accomplish this is to spend time getting to know our partners prior to becoming sexually or romantically involved with them. If we emerge from dysfunctional homes, falling in love with someone soon after meeting them can cloud our vision and place us at risk of being with a partner with whom we repeat familiar, unhealthy patterns. Getting to know someone whom we feel sexually attracted to without becoming sexual is a tall order, but one that is incredibly important for love addicts to adhere to.
Love addicts need to live in reality. They need to identify and reflect on intense fantasies, such as “this person can make me happy.” When we don’t know someone well, we can project all kinds of desires upon them. These positive feelings can create chemical highs within the body, but they may not be based in truth, as we don’t have any real knowledge of who this person is. Only time and experiences with another person can provide us with this information.
Addictive relationships are based on creating “highs” when pairing. Therefore, a non-addictive relationship will grow and become more settled over time, while an addictive one will burn out. Partners in an addictive relationship have extreme difficulty navigating normal relational difficulties as they arise, whereas partners in healthy relationships frequently navigate difficulties from the beginning. In a love-addicted relationship, honesty is lacking, and the underlying truth regarding the dynamics of the relationship are not safe to talk about openly. This is a relationship that lacks true intimacy.
True intimacy involves the ability to talk openly about fears, concerns, and topics that delve beyond the surface, and which are risky to discuss. It does not involve blaming or deflecting to avoid taking responsibility that is so characteristic of an addictive relationship.
In early childhood, addicts often found that it was not safe to be authentic and real with another person. Rather, as coping mechanisms, these children learned to preserve themselves by detaching from their feelings. Bringing this coping style into adult relationships creates potentially toxic dynamics.