I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years and I love him very much. The problem is that twice he’s cheated on me. After the first time, even though it broke my heart, I forgave him and I believed him when he swore up and down it was a one-time thing and would never happen again. Now I find out that he’s been seeing someone else for the past three months behind my back. I broke up with him, but he was so devastated, apologizing so much, asking me to go to therapy with him, that I’m not sure I can really let him go. I want this relationship to work, but it hurts so much at the same time. What can I do?
When someone cheats on you while you’re dating, it’s a very poor indicator for a good marriage. If it happens once, you can get past it with a lot of healing work. If it happens more than once, it’s almost certainly a pattern of his. That’s an indicator that it will happen again and again. But I want to tackle this with you on another front. I suspect that you may be a love addict.
Love addiction is a serious problem. How many of these behaviors look familiar to you? If more than half of them do, you may be a love addict, meaning that you can’t let go of a bad relationship:
• Though you tell yourself you don’t need a man, the minute you meet someone attractive who’s interested in you, you’re certain you’ve met “the one”
• You fall in love quickly and deeply with men you’re attracted to
• Once you fall in love, you think about him all the time and want to spend all of your time with him
• You’re upset if he doesn’t want to spend every available minute with you
• Whatever his lifestyle and beliefs are, yours quickly morph into his
• In the beginning of the relationship, you’re afraid to challenge him
• Later in the relationship, you resent his lack of consideration for your point of view
• The men you love always have a fatal flaw, such as being married, a player, an ex-con, an addict [current or recovering] of some kind: sex, drugs, alcohol, work, a financial/career loser, geographically undesirable, or commitment phobic
• Despite your early gut feeling of anxiety, or the warnings of friends and family, you dive headlong into relationships that hold little possibility of long-term happiness
• Most of your time and energy in the relationship is consumed with trying to get him to change in some way: to divorce his wife, stop drinking so much, stop drugging, stop womanizing, or make a real commitment to you
• You’re depressed and anxious most of the time when you’re in a serious relationship, punctuated by brief periods of ecstasy when the two of you connect
• You grieve heavily after a break-up, out of proportion to the event; you obsess about getting back together with him
• You never really let go of a guy, no matter how painful the relationship is; it’s usually the guy who finally moves on
• Your obsession with the old guy stops as soon as you meet a new interesting guy
• You don’t allow yourself any downtime between relationships to reflect and grow; serial monogamy is your m.o.
• Your life and your relationships are full of drama
• When a relationship doesn’t go the way you want, you are unable to step back, assess if it’s good for you, and move on when you need to; instead, you work harder to try to get it to go your way
• Your communication with the man you’re with is characterized by drama, tears, anger, and manipulation
• You often feel that your life is out of control, that too many bad things “happen to you”
If these things sound familiar, take heart. You can recover from love addiction.
The path to recovery from love addiction begins with a commitment: To yourself, to be your own best friend, to treat yourself with kindness and respect, to expect nothing less from the people you are close to, and to be willing to end a relationship if it is unhealthy for you, no matter how strong the attraction. Once you make this commitment to yourself, seek any and all support that you can find. Join a counseling group, attend SLA (Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings, read every book on love addiction that you can get your hands on, and focus on taking care of yourself first.
Nina Atwood is a licensed therapist, executive coach, and author of three published self-help books. Her latest book is Temptations of the Single Girl. Have a relationship problem you’d like Nina’s help with? Get Nina’s expert advice for nothing when you e-mail her a question: firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps yours will be chosen for a future column. Anonymity guaranteed.