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Romantic love has driven many people to the quest for “completion,” or attempting to find the ultimate “soul mate.”  Songs, books, and most expendable products have sex and love at their core message and selling point. Most people don’t realize they’ve been programmed for the ultimate love story and fail to understand that the most important aspects of any relationship is safety and respect – not money, sex, excitement — or deadly emotions.

When a relationship goes sideways and can’t find a sustainable course, it risks becoming addictive. It’s estimated that 10% of the adult population (about 28 million) experience love addiction.[1]

Emotionally healthy people can let go when a relationship is untenable. Love addicts can’t stop the drama despite the pain they inflict on one another — deceit, betrayal, rage, and other demoralizing consequences. They feel powerless. But that need not be. Understanding the symptoms of addiction means we can learn how to replace those behaviors with self-love and stop a toxic connection.

#1 Highs & Lows vs. Stability

Addictive relationships offer the same rewards as other addictions — serotonin, dopamine, and other endorphins. Any new relationship provides these natural highs, but with time, those exciting rushes are replaced with a deeper attachment built on comfortability, safety, and trust.

Love addicts can’t attain and maintain a level of safety and trust. Their connection is through trauma which is repeatedly reenacted amidst breakups and reconciliations. They equate pain from a breakup with love and substitute authentic love with the excitement that comes from reuniting. Healthy relationships are rarely volatile. Communication is open but comfortable and productive.
Addictive couples communicate with blame, while healthy couples communicate to problem-solve. There’s rarely the threat of hanging off the precipice of disaster, they have one another’s back instead of a knife in the back. They think of the best interests of the relationship when making decisions.

#2 Emotional Regulation vs. Dysregulation

People in addictive relationships have difficulty remaining rational and logical. They are easily triggered. This emotional dysregulation almost always has roots in early childhood and is a repeat pattern of how their caretakers interacted or how they were treated as children.

Healthy parents comfort and soothe children in such a way that they can work through painful experiences and be restored. When these children become adults, they can self-soothe and work through pain. Children from dysfunctional families are trapped in the pain and haven’t learned how to regulate their emotions. Instead, it consumes them, and the need to act it out and this behavior disallows resolution. The pain becomes a wedge that blocks positive feelings toward one another.

Healthy couples can express their feelings without attack and focus on solutions instead of blame. When they feel upset, they wait until they are calm to discuss hot topics. They also know how to take care of themselves — emotionally and physically so that their brain chemistry is balanced as well.

#3 Failure to Learn and Grow vs. Willingness to Grow

Addicted couples repeat the same mistakes without growth. They’re stuck. They don’t see that they could easily outgrow dysfunctional behaviors or an unworkable relationship by learning self-love, but they won’t. Instead, they remain in the same pattern of on and off again, with little or no insight into their contributions to the problems. When those behaviors are addressed, they become angry, defensive, or avoidant. Like any other addiction, they keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.

Healthy couples not only talk about what bothers them, but they also have the courage for self-examination. Instead of blaming the relationship for all their problems, they work on character defects, learn how to communicate more effectively, and make necessary changes to be the best version of themselves. They’re also willing to recognize the difference between pain caused in the relationship and unresolved pain from the past. Consequently, these individuals produce different results.

Successful, fulfilling relationships require maturity and the capacity for authentic love. Everyone deserves to have a loving relationship. But love starts with self. Once you know how to love yourself, you will be a much better partner to someone else.


Dr. Donna Marks has been a licensed psychotherapist and addictions counselor in Palm Beach, Florida, for over thirty years. In 1989, Dr. Marks developed a chemical dependency training program at Palm Beach Community College, which has grown into a four-year degree and received the Florida Governor’s Council Award. She is also a certified gestalt therapist, psychoanalyst, hypnotist, and sex therapist. She’s facilitated A Course in Miracles for over 30 years. In addition, she shares her methods with hundreds of thousands of listeners on podcasts, radio, and tv shows. Learn more about Dr. Marks, her books: Exit the MazeOne Addiction, One Cause, One SolutionLearn, Grow, ForgiveA Path to Spiritual Success, and The Healing MomentSeven Paths to Turn Messes Into Miracles, her services, and free offers.

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