Love Addicted Relationships
We all have a need to connect to others and form intimate relationships where we feel a sense of belonging. Individuals who have unresolved fears around separation and abandonment are more vulnerable to forming love addicted relationships rather than intimate connection, or communion. Although, most couples will experience a kind of merging at times, especially as they navigate through the initial stages of forming a relationship, when this becomes a style and strategy to deal with anxiety that emerges between partners the connection becomes addictive.
Fusion is a useful concept that describes the underlying desire - to avoid separation and the feelings of abandonment.
A definition of fusion is the combining together into one body; a melting that forms a union. In relationships this means that the two people are acting and needing to be as one person.
Why does this happen?
When people first come together the bond they form begins to create the feeling and experience of being in a relationship. One way of creating that sense of being in a relationship is through fusion. Partners do this initially by turning a blind eye to the differences between them. It is all about the similarities they see in each other and the language of love can reinforce this symbiotic fusion. For example, “I’ve found the perfect fit”, “ we are so connected it’s like he knows what I am thinking”, “finally someone understands me”. As long as you are thinking the same way and feeling the same things and wanting to do the same things you can feel connected.
However, when either partner expresses their differentness the couple, metaphorically, feels torn apart and suddenly separated. This can be a hard transition and one or both of the partners may try to pull the relationship back into the illusion of safety, by acting as if they are one person again in this fused relationship.
The feeling of being torn apart can activate intense anxiety, anger, and abandonment. Conflict occurs in all relationships and represents a difference in desire that is being expressed. In a relationship based on fusion conflict represents the possibility of the relationship ending. One or both partners will either avoid the difference or coerce the other into conforming to the one experience or idea. Communication that uses criticism, debate, persuasion and control are all ways that try to coerce the other into being the same as you. Because we all have our own individual desires and feelings it is impossible to continue for any length of time in a fused state.
Ways love addiction is maintained:
- Someone is right and someone is wrong. Many couples struggle with proving who is right and who is wrong. Only one person can be right and so the partner who is proved ‘wrong’ effectively has no perspective and becomes insignificant. Communicating with criticism, persuasion and control all maintain a belief there is one right way.
- Accommodating to avoid conflict. When one person accepts the influence of the other when they do not agree. This typically will be one partner who tends to sacrifice themselves to the will of the other, but it can also be a culture of agreement that is designed to avoid conflict. On the surface the couple appear to be happy and content with one another while resentment and dissatisfaction fester underneath. Accommodation occurs when he/she fears retaliation and they don’t want to fight to be heard, or they believe the relationship will end if they disappoint or upset their partner.
- Using guilt. Guilt is used in relationships to put pressure on each other in a number of ways. Partners can coerce each other to feel similar emotional states. For example, if one person is having an angry reaction to someone, they can demand that the other feel the same way using guilt with ‘how can you not feel angry with them after what they did to me?’. Similarly, when one person is unhappy the other person can feel guilty for being happy and minimize their feelings. Guilt can make it difficult to say no to each other or engage in separate activities.
- Mindreading. Partners will operate from a position that when you love someone you shouldn’t have to explain what you need - they should just know. This leads to partners assuming what each other is feeling and wanting rather than inquiring. Another version of this is when a partner feels threatened when they are not understood and gives up easily on expressing their truth. The process of trying to be understood can bring up feelings of separation and therefore there is a desire to deny differences and the need to explain.
A relationship built on love addiction is a relationship built on fear. The fear of being separated. This can become activated through any expression of difference and so this is avoided or controlled. Sitting with the anxiety of conflict can become so intolerable there is an immediate desire to fix it or block it from consciousness.
Forming a relationship based on communion rather than love addiction is one where the experience of the relationship is like a third identity that both people belong to. If you imagine this as a sphere surrounding both people who are then free to move around within it. Each person’s wholeness can be contained within the relationship and separation of experience does not threaten the couple. Communication that is based on inquiry, curiosity, openness, clarity and persistence, reflects a relationship of communion and trust.