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Love or Addiction?
Russell, Ph.D., MFT
February 9, 2001
When I was 26 years old, I feel madly in `love' with
the man I will name Sam. This is not his real name. I have never
dated anyone named Sam.
At the time, I thought him to be the great love of my life. I romanticized
about him constantly. Addictive in nature, I indulged in that gooey
type of fantasy as I mentally built our future. I wished, hoped
and dreamed of us. It seemed like I breathed in his essence.
I felt lots of emotional torment. I wanted to see him and be with
him constantly. Even when there was no outward upset, inside me
there was lots of drama and excitement. It felt like being with
Sam would make me whole and complete...fill me up emotionally and
fix me somehow.
That's addiction. It is not a real relationship. It does not involve
When we `broke up', I was heartbroken. I mourned and grieved and
felt totally devastated for a long time. This was so absolutely
painful; my lifetime emotional growth began at that time. The motivation
to grow was Sam's priceless gift to me.
Finally, I began to date others and learn from each experience.
Then I met David, the real first love of my life. We were together
for 27 years.
How were these two relationships different?
An addictive fantasy has roses, music, and starry skies sweeping
you off your feet. Most addictive relationships begin with a view
of romance more like the movies than real life. You will never argue,
disagree, or have the human failings of normal people. People do
not fart, belch, need showers or have bad breath. They don't cheat
on you, spend too much money or have emotional problems. You see
one another as an ideal. This is the person of your secret dreams.
It was a rude shock when I realized many months later that I did
not even know what `Sam' actually looked like. On the other hand,
I was always aware of David's failings. He was definitely aware
of mine! An authentic relationship knows your partner for the person
In addictive relationships, you often have mad, passionate sex.
Exciting and enticing, the sex makes it seem there is a great amount
of intimacy. However, this is only sex. Unfortunately, sex in this
real world can only, at best, take up a small portion of your life.
Genuine intimacy occurs when two people stand slightly apart from
one another and connect.
True intimacy involves communication. This doesn't happen in your
hearts and flowers fantasy. You need a valid knowledge of your partner's
being to dialogue.
There is more than one type of honesty in relationships: literal
honesty and emotional honesty. With addictive relationships you
often have lots of drama with the obvious lack of literal honesty.
More importantly, emotional honesty is absent. You both want so
badly to fulfill your fantasies that you lie to one another. You
tell each other whatever you think the object of your desires wants
to hear. You both say anything and everything to hold on to the
This leaves out the total possibility of ever knowing who your partner
is, how they feel, what they want and their genuine needs.
When I met `Sam', I didn't hear him when he said to me, I love you
as much as I am capable of loving anyone. A few breaths later, he
confided, I am not capable being in a relationship. I only heard
that in retrospect. All the drama and excitement that followed started
with my unwillingness to realize he didn't match my fantasies one
iota! That's addiction.
In an addictive relationship, you have unrealistic expectations.
Many of these are not conscious. People think that the object of
their obsession can solve all their emotional problems and fix what
is wrong in his or her life. It seems as though they can fill you
up and make up for all your life's disappointments and injuries.
This is not the case. Real love is deep and satisfying. It provides
a respite from life's woes and a safe place to cocoon. Real love
is rich and worthwhile; but it doesn't fix everything in your life.
You both still have all your problems. And now you have all the
problems of your partner as well.
Compliments of Laura
Russell, Ph.D., MFT
About this Contributor:
I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Torrance
California and National Board Certified Counselor with a Clinical
Mental Health Specialization. I work most often with the treatment
of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults and children. On a personal
note, I have had CFIDS and Fibromyalgia for the past 10 years and
have much to say on coping with these conditions. Additionally,
since the hospice care and death of my husband, I also write about
grief and loss.