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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

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4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Hot and Cold Love Addicts

Hot and Cold Love Addicts:  A Lethal Combination

 by Susan Peabody
Author of Addiction to Love : Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships

August 21, 2000

A lot has been written about love addiction and yet it is still a misunderstood disorder. For instance, many people believe that love addicts only run hot -passionately pursue someone who is unavailable like in the movie Fatal Attraction. However, many love addicts also run cold -  appear aloof - and yet they are still addicted. To elaborate, let's start with some basic definitions.  Love addiction is an unhealthy attachment (conscious or unconscious) to either a person, relationship or romance. Here are some examples: 

 (1) Obsessed love addicts experience attachment by way of secret fantasies (unrequited love)  or what I call a hyper-involvement with another person - excessive thoughts, phone calls,  or requests to get together starting early in the relationship. The underlying motivation for this attachment is infatuation or love, but unfortunately it is a toxic form of love stemming from neediness and low self-esteem. 

 (2)  Relationship addicts cling to the notion of connectedness with someone in order to avoid loneliness or the feeling of being unlovable which they associate with being single. Relationship addicts may hook up with someone they don't even like, much less love, just to be in a relationship. Once in a relationship, these love addicts hold on for dear life even if it means suffering loneliness within the relationship. Sometimes relationship addicts even accept abuse rather than let go.

 (3) Romance addicts are in love with  romance, i.e. euphoria, intimate rendezvous, passionate sex, erotic fantasies, etc. They do not obsess over one person except for short intervals. To romance addicts the objects of their affection are interchangeable. Anyone they are attracted to is who they want to be with - the more partners the better. Romance addicts are high on the chemistry of love, wherever they find it, and they move on as soon as the romance wanes.

 (4) Codependent love addicts are people who have an overwhelming need to take care of someone else no matter what the price. These love addicts are so sensitive to the caretaking compulsion that they even try to protect their partners from any negative feelings normal to the human experience - feelings such as sadness, disappointment or anger. Codependents try to protect their partners from such feelings by making extraordinary sacrifices. For instance,  codependent love addicts will give their partner money earmarked for the rent in order to prevent them from experiencing the disappointment of not getting what they want. Or they will defer to their partners even when they disagree just so their mate will not have to experience anger. Not that codependents aren't trying to protect their own feelings as well. Most codependent behavior is geared toward reducing the anxiety codependents feel when their partners are not happy. (An unhappy partner might leave.)

 (5)  Narcissistic love addicts are self-centered, controlling, possessive, demanding and even have illusions of grandeur or the feeling that they are perfect - without human flaws. On the outside these love addicts appear distant and detached. They may even have affairs with other people. But don't be fooled. Narcissistic love addicts are still addicted to their partners. It is just that their obsession only manifests itself when the person they are attached to cannot be controlled and/or considers ending the relationship.  

It is the narcissistic and codependent love addicts who run hot and cold. Let me give you an example. Nancy and James met at a bar and were instantly attracted to one another. Within days Nancy (the codependent) had fallen madly in love with James (the narcissist).  From the beginning she was helpful, nurturing, attentive and went out of her way to make him happy. James, on the other hand, appeared to be able to take or leave the relationship. He canceled dates, neglected to return phone calls, saw other women, became very domineering and for the most part seemed aloof and detached. Still, six months later Nancy married James because she was in love with him and secretly hoped that he would change.

After Nancy and James were married the pattern of neglect continued, especially his affairs with other women.  When Nancy objected James bullied her until she stopped nagging him about it. This went on for years. Nancy tried to save her marriage by placating James in every way she could think of, but he continued to do what he wanted. Eventually Nancy stopped loving James and thought about leaving him, but she just couldn't bring herself to face the loneliness of being single again.

This was better than nothing she thought. So she continued her codependent behavior - always trying to keep James happy and comfortable even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness in the process.  Eventually Nancy sought counseling and within a year she felt strong enough to leave James. He had other ideas. The first time Nancy brought up the subject of divorce he laughed at her. Then he threatened her verbally. The day she presented him with divorce papers he beat her so badly she had to go to the hospital. It seems that despite his lack of love and respect for Nancy, James was addicted to her and the relationship they shared. He also felt that if he couldn't have her nobody else could. 

When Nancy finally left, James stalked her for months and threatened to kill her if she didn't come back. The roles were now reversed. James was running hot and Nancy was running cold.  In the case of James and Nancy, James eventually let go and stopped harassing Nancy. However, you only have to read the newspapers to realize that such a lethal combination of codependency and narcissism can lead to homicide. From the narcissist's point of view a codependent has no right to change and start caring about his or her own well-being. And narcissists will go to almost any length to keep from feeling their own sense of abandonment when their partner has had enough. This is the one thing codependent love addicts and narcissistic love addicts have in common. Separation anxiety must be avoided at all cost. The pain of an unhappy relationship is better than the feeling of emptiness which creeps in when there is no one to love or be with.

 Both hot and cold love addicts need to face their addiction and the underlying personality disorders that go with it. Recovery means facing the truth, implementing changes in behavior, seeking counseling to deal with issues left over from childhood and in the case of the codependent love addict making a concerted effort to raise self-esteem. For further information about recovery I refer you to my book: Addiction to Love : Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships.

Your excellent book is already on my Book Shelf of recommended reading. Thank you Susan!   Dr. Irene