How To Differentiate Healthy Love From Obsession - How To Win a Man's Heart

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December 11, 2014

How To Differentiate Healthy Love From Obsession

# 1. Courage and willingness to look for the underlying drivers that keep a person from facing reality is the key to breaking out of obsessive love

Dr. Randi Gunther

Better to ask, how do you differentiate fantasy from reality anywhere in your life? Obsessive love is a fantasy expectation of an ego-centered outcome based upon idealized romantic illusion. It is a pre-written script that requires an often unsuspecting partner to memorize the lines and not expect to ever alter them.

In other words, to be in an obsessive love relationship is to play a role that is clearly defined before you ever meet that person, and to play that role with passion and commitment. Very often both partners are following each of their individual one-sided expectations and happen to dovetail during the lust/obsessive beginning of most relationships. It is only when the internal baggage emerges that they feel the anguish of the eventual disappointment that must ensue.

Obsessive love has many faces but some are more evident. Perhaps the most obvious is the need to possess and control the other partner’s every thought and action. Without access to that information, an obsessive love becomes painfully insecure, paranoid, and deeply anxious. He or she may go to great lengths to gain information as to the whereabouts, relationships, or experiences the other partner might be having that could have a negative impact on the relationship. That can be evidenced by ruminating, nagging, investigating, and emotional tantrums when the fear of loss appears potentially likely.

Another common characteristic of an obsession is constant expectation of reassurance that love will never die, that passion will never lapse, and that commitment will never die. There is an intense focus on future security and an ongoing terror that there will be no ability to survive if the relationship ends. An obsessed lover looks and feels like a small child who is sure that his or her love-object will disappear if out of sight.

The third manifestation of obsessive love is intense focus. Whatever else might have been important or demanded priority before a relationship begins, soon is almost relegated to oblivion. All other resources within that person’s cache are directed towards securing and maintaining the idealized partner. When connection occurs as it is desired, the obsessive partner feels much like an addict who has gotten the need fix to stop hurting. When it does not, the anguishing feelings of anxiety, withdrawal, and inability to function emerge with startling intensity, much as they do to someone who feels they cannot function without that experience.

Obsessively loving people often attract partners who seek control. Because they are so willing to give up anything to maintain the relationship, they will suffer whatever they need to make sure that other partner doesn’t leave. That can lead to acceptance of humiliation, abuse, rejection, and threats of abandonment that ultimately destroy personal integrity and lead the controlled victim-of-need to feel even more dependent and anxious.

Many times people who care deeply for these people try to pull them away from a relationship which, from the outside, is obviously hurting them. Sadly, a love-obsessed person will often sacrifice others who were once very important as they defy rescuing and only push farther into their delusion. If he or she continues to re-create that pattern with each subsequent relationship, their back-up resources often disappear, making it more likely that the next relationship will have to provide even more sustenance and sacrifice.

It is not fair to assume that it is easy for people who are love-obsessed to give up their patterns. The act of obsessive love is at once both deeply nurturing and fantasy fulfilling. Until reality emerges and the relationship begins to falter, it appears to offer everything those people wanted. The predictable and anguishing loss that inevitably follows does not seem to deter them from grieving and going right back into the next relationship without their fantasies being daunted in any way. If there are no relationships that follow, they may accept living in daydreams and memories, rather than being able to leave those no-win patterns behind.

Breaking out of being an obsessive lover takes great courage and the willingness to look for the underlying drivers that keep a person from facing reality. Childhood attachment loss that can leave a gaping immature wound is one of them. Growing up without being taught how to face and mold reality is another. Being unable to face a romantic existence that is devoid of the possibility of meeting a person’s basic needs is a third.

Perhaps the most powerful healing comes from finding a partner who neither indulges nor abandons, but sees beneath the obsessive love partner’s core goodness and legitimate fear. Then the reassurance is not made up of false promises of forever commitment, but a continuous and authentic valuing of what is worthy and desirable independent of the need to sacrifice self to be secure. That kind of partner is an ally in healing and must not have his or her own underlying motives to rescue or fix.

People who love obsessively have positive qualities that are out of control and too easily exploited. But they are valuable and positive attributes when they are reciprocal. They know how to sacrifice for the good of another, they care deeply about the people they love, and they are able to adjust, adapt, and accommodate to the legitimate needs of another. It is only when they are looping through another to keep their own demons at bay that they cannot use those attributes in a healthy way.

Dr. Randi Gunther –

# 2. Inquire within

Kristen Brown

The best way to tell the difference between obsession and healthy love is to inquire within. What are the motives behind your feelings? Obsession most often reigns from a “needy” position and healthy love often reigns from a “wanting” position. The difference between the two is: Obsession is trying to fill a void inside oneself through the presence of a partner. Healthy love is already “full” but desires a partner to share his/her life with.

Inquire Within:

Needing your partner gives the “I can’t live without you” feel.

Wanting your partner gives the “I enjoy having you in my life” feel.

Needing your partner is: “I only feel good about myself when you are around or giving me attention and/or compliments”.

Wanting your partner is: “I feel good about myself all of the time”.

Needing your partner is: “I will do most anything you say to make you happy”.

Wanting your partner is: “I will honor you while honoring myself as well”.

Needing your partner is: “I need to keep him/her happy or he/she will leave me”.

Wanting your partner is: “I love you and if you need to exit the relationship, I will be ok”.

Needing your partner is: “I can’t stand others giving you attention because it is attention that is taken away from me”.

Wanting your partner is: “I love seeing/watching how others interact with you”.

Needing your partner is: “I have very few boundaries when it comes to you”.

Wanting your partner is: “My boundaries are the same with you as they are with others”.

Needing your partner is: “Your goals and desires can come before mine because your happiness matters the most to me”.

Wanting your partner is: “Both of our goals are equally important and we will work together to support each other”.

Needing your partner is: “I am jealous”.

Wanting your partner is: “I am secure with who I am”.

Needing your partner is: “How did I get someone as great as you?”

Wanting your partner is: “I deserve a wonderful person equally to what you deserve.”

Needing a partner is: “I have a hard time expressing my authenticity because I am too busy making up in my mind who you want me to be.”

Wanting a partner is: “This is me. All of me. Authentic me.”

Needing a partner is: “I will adjust my morals and ethics to accommodate a space in my life for you”.

Wanting a partner is: “I am strong in my morals and I will not be with someone who is not in alignment with them.”

Needing a partner is: “I always have to look my very best when I am around you”.

Wanting a partner is “Sometimes I am not dressed to the nines and that is ok.”

If you found yourself leaning more toward the “needing” department, it is an indicator that there is work to be done. Through and with a dedicated self-improvement plan, you can and will shift from “needing” to “wanting”.

Kristen Brown, Certified Empowerment Coach/Mentor –

# 3. A love is obsessive when it starts to detract from other important things in your life


We all must make time for our loved one and it is natural to give more attention and effort to your romantic relationship, but when you find you are losing friends, missing out on fun things you used to do, your career is in jeopardy, your family is distant and you are less in-touch with yourself, your love may be more obsessive. No one can tell you exactly where the line between healthy love and obsession may lie, and sometimes even healthy love can become obsessive–obsessive love can become healthy.

To ensure that your love stays on the healthy side, make sure you have many sources of interest and support in your life. Don’t couch all your time and support into that one love relationship. Make sure you keep a bigger picture in focus when you distribute your time, attention and energy. Consider all your life’s needs and all the dimensions of your self before you pour everything into one relationship. No one relationship is going to define or fulfill you completely, nor can you be the only source of fulfillment for someone else.

There are many dimensions to your life, and obsession constricts your existence to one spoke of your wheel.

Brett McDonald, M.S., LMHC –

# 4. Love is based on respect, trust, deep friendship and real communication and realistic expectations whereas obsession is like an addiction


How do you know what you are feeling in a relationship is true love, rather than infatuation or obsession?

Infatuation can be fairly harmless and is like having a crush on someone. There’s lots of sexual attraction and you think about the person and fantasize a future together. Your world revolves around him and you ignore your other friends and interests.

Your normal patterns of sleeping and eating are interrupted and it’s somewhat like a ‘puppy love’ where you just want to hang out all the time with the person. You think the person, without knowing them well, is going to fulfil all your longings, fantasies and desires. You basically project all your unfulfilled wishes onto him, without any real proof or evidence that this is true. Infatuation tends to happen fast and doesn’t last long. Longing and ‘romantic love’ is not necessarily real love.

However if infatuation becomes extreme, it can turn into an obsession which is more like an addiction. You crave and seek a ‘rush’ all the time from the other person, like taking a drug.

If infatuation is taken too far, it becomes possessive, jealous, emotionally out of control, paranoid and potentially dangerous.

Here are some signs of unbalanced love.

• The other person doesn’t love you back but you ignore that.

• You feel insecure and have low self-esteem.

• You ignore all the evidence that he doesn’t really care about you and is unreliable and casual, rather than treating you with respect.

• The relationship is destructive to you and you refuse to let go and move on.

• You know the person is not available and you continue to obsess about them.

• You become controlling, jealous and paranoid and need excessive reassurance and start checking up on them. You look at their phone and computer and want to control who they see and when.

• Infatuation and obsessive relationships are connected to dependency, not true love and trust. Fear and insecurity, rather than love rules you.

What is healthy love?

You want to take time to really get to know the other person, before rushing into falling in love. Love means you don’t need them in a dependent way and don’t feel that you can’t live without them. It means you want to share your life with the person, based on a grounded authentic relationship.

Love is based on respect, trust, deep friendship and real communication and realistic expectations. You both care for each other and encourage each other’s individuality, work and friendships rather than behaving in a controlling way.

Love means real stability, support and deep intimacy rather than the ‘drama of the chase’ and game playing. It is knowing and accepting your partner as he is. Love is a dynamic process where the relationship is always changing and you are consistently there for each othet.

Be aware of which phase you are in and then make appropriate decisions in for your future.

Sherry Marshall, BSc, MAA –

# 5. Follow the 4 tips below

Amanda Patterson

Are you new in a relationship and wondering if what you are feeling is love or obsession? Are you worried that your feelings are developing too fast? In the beginning of a relationship, women can find themselves asking these questions and more. The feelings can be confusing. The true nature of the feelings can be muddled. And to make matters worse, at times, women are expected to keep their emotions in check in order not to “scare off” the guy. So you find yourself in doubt about your true feelings. Here are some suggestions to explore your true feelings and distinguish between healthy love and obsession.

1. Look into the length of the relationship and the experiences you have had together

There is not a time table on love; however if you have just started dating and you begin to wonder if you are feeling obsessive love versus healthy love, chances are you are experiencing the obsessive type. While feeling love and expressing love can come at any time, deep love for a person takes time to build. What type of experiences have you had together? Has he done something out of his way to make you feel special? Has he met your friends and family? What red flags have you seen but have explained away?

2. Look inside to your inner knowing for the answer

Only you know how you feel. Check in with yourself and see what is coming up. Journal about your feelings and get it down on paper. There is something cathartic about writing out your feelings and thoughts. It will give you a look into your heart and mind. Interested in meditation? There are many great meditations available on YouTube designed to help you get in touch with your inner being. Take ten minutes of your day and do a meditation on love and see what comes up.

3. Look at past relationships to see if you had familiar feelings

Do you have a pattern of falling too quickly in relationships? Do you love easily and end up getting hurt? Do men present their red flags later in the relationship? It’s important to know your pattern of dating and to see if any of these patterns are repeating themselves now. Unless you have done some work around relationships, chances are you will repeat the same patterns.

4. Look at your family of origin to see if you see a pattern

Is your father emotionally unavailable? Did your parents model appropriate relationship behavior with you? Our family of origin issues definitely come up in our relationships. It is important to have a good understanding of your own issues in order to be more aware when you are going into relationships. If you have an emotionally unavailable father, chances are you will find yourself attracted to emotionally unavailable men. If that is the case, then you might be more prone to obsessive love.

Amanda Patterson, LMHC –

# 6. There are two very easy rules to follow to keep the love going

Brynn Cicippio

When we are deeply in love with the man of our dreams, it can certainly feel like an obsession. We can’t wait to see him, think about him all day, do little things for him, and just want to spend as much time with him as possible. So how can we tell when we’ve gone from madly in love to just plain madness?

There are two very easy rules to follow to keep the love going:

1. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t give up your interests and your hobbies for someone else or to get that extra time in. If you go to the gym three days a week, keep doing it. If you meet friends once a month, don’t stop. If you are on an after hours planning committee at work, stick to it. Your partner may not even be asking you to do these things. It could very well be all your idea. While at times it can certainly be tempting to ditch our routine to get that snuggle time in, its crucial to our relationships and ourselves as individuals to maintain who we are. Play this tape through – girl meets boy, girls stops everything to be with boy, relationship ends, girl has lost herself and is starting over. Now look at this one: girl meets boy, girl and boy spend time together and also maintain own interests, relationship ends, boy and girl move forward OR relationship continues and boy and girl continue to develop as the person their partner first fell in love with. Doesn’t that feel better?

2. Maintain ownership of your actions and emotions. Many times when a person has gone from love to obsession an outsider can easily see that this person’s actions and emotions are completely reactive. Their entire disposition is based off of someone else. Everything this person says and does is in response to what their partner may do or say, has done or said, or will do or say. If you find yourself editing your conversation and behavior so that you are pleasing him or avoiding discomfort, you may want to take a closer look at what is happening.

By keeping your interests a priority and being mindful of your emotions, you will not only continue to develop as the person your partner fell in love with, but you also will have your eyes and ears open to any warning signs in the relationship.

Brynn Cicippio, MA, LMFT –

# 7. Real love is not a feeling but a flow that has developed over time between two people

Cynthia Pickett

Love is in the air, birds’ songs are sweeter and life is dreamier! But wait, hold on, is it love or infatuation? In my experience love is not chemistry, connection, or an intense feeling. It is a behavior!

In the whirlwind of romance, we tend to get caught up in how good everything feels. The loneliness and boredom goes away, we feel loved and lovable. Our smiles get bigger and brighter, our stress and irritation with life softens. It is quick and intense and just what we needed when we needed it. If any of this sounds like you put the wedding on hold. It is probably infatuation.

All to often we fall for a feeling not a person. That feeling will fade within three years which leaves us wondering who this person is and how do you get the feeling back? Well, you can’t because it wasn’t real to begin with.

Very rarely can infatuation turn into love. For that to happen there has to be a lot of self and mutual respect and a lot of excellent communication.

Because the feeling is strong it clouds our ability to see who the person really is that is standing in front of us. We are wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses and are actually seeing who we want to see not who they really are. When the feeling is gone we find ourselves confused, heart broken, in a financial mess and thinking, “I don’t like _____.”

Love is not emotion based. Because there is no intense emotion you can clearly see whom the person is and can consciously evaluate their faults and flaws. Love is not overlooking the red flags. Love fully sees them and says, “over the next 5-10 years this is something that will fit with me and my life?”

Real love is not a feeling but a flow that has developed over time between two people. It is based on a deep like, friendship and mutual respect. It is very honest; it is a behavior. I hope this helps!

Cynthia Pickett, LCSW, LADC –

# 8. Ask yourself the below questions


I recently saw a comedian who started out with a question that we all thought was going to be another joke. He asked the following question “How many of you ladies had a man say to you – Girl, I love hard?” A few ladies raised their hand and some clapped. He then said, “You just told me that he is kicking your [butt] and following you around in slippers and a housecoat.” [I cleaned it up a little bit]. At that moment, the crowd ceased laughing. We were immediately forced to think about love, obsession and abuse.

You know how you get when you first meet someone. You think he is cute. You want to spend time with him. You talk for hours every day and even text during the times you can’t talk. In essence, you start to become accustomed to certain behaviors and attention. And then it happens, something in the atmosphere changes – somebody does something different [e.g., called at 3:00 instead of 2:00; decided to go to the store instead of coming right home after work, etc.]; somebody shows up at your job; somebody starts texting your friends – the list can go on and on.

So, let’s talk about healthy relationships. Because a healthy relationship suggests that growth, support, and respect of each other exists, we surmise it should be reciprocal. In other words, are you actually in a relationship with this person? If you are, do you each support each other, equally – are you meeting each other’s needs in this relationship?

Ask yourself these questions:

• Do I always want him to ‘check-in’ with me during the day? Or when out with friends? Or when he is at home?
• Have my interests changed? If your mate is your only interest where you no longer hang out with friends or stopped that spinning class, there might be cause for concern.
• Has my schedule changed? If you adjust your entire schedule to make sure you are available when (or just in case) he or she calls.
• When (…or if) I am with my friends, is he the only thing I want to talk about?
• Does how I feel about my day depend on whether or not he is having a good day?
• Do I get physically ill when he doesn’t call me or when we’re not together?
• Is the only time you are happy is when you are with him?

If you’re finding yourself saying yes more than no, I suggest you re-evaluate your emotions, your definition of love, and your relationship. What are your feelings and behaviors really saying when you begin a new relationship?


Behavior: I smile a lot when I’m with him.
• Meaning: He makes me happy.

What are your needs?
• Needs: I want to be happy.

How would you meet those needs as a single woman?
• Meeting My Needs: Engage in activities that make me happy.

Once you can meet your own needs, you will know what love really is.

Dr. Maurita Hodge –

# 9. The difference between healthy love and obsession is that one evolves into something deeper and more meaningful and the other becomes a “sickness”

Amy Sherman

Do you think about him all the time? Does he preoccupy your thoughts and impact your decisions? Are you in love — or are you obsessed?

A healthy love relationship starts out with both parties thinking about each other all the time. You’re both infatuated with each other. You like what you see and the more you see this person, the more you like. There is nothing wrong with that. But the difference between healthy love and obsession is that one evolves into something deeper and more meaningful and the other becomes a “sickness.”

To clarify:

1. Healthy love allows both parties to have outside interests and friends. Obsessed love would be threatened by the lack of attention and time.

2. Healthy love is respectful of the other person and honors the boundaries set up by the individual. Obsessed love oversteps and ignores the wishes of their love interest and does what they want regardless of what they are told.

3. Healthy love matures into a strong commitment, friendship and trusting bond. Obsessed love is controlling, extreme in its behavior and wants to keep the love interest close by at all times.

Which have you experienced or been guilty of? Sometimes obsessive love can be less extreme, but it can still be smothering, so be careful.

What can you do to ensure you’re not allowing love to become an obsession?

1. Improve your self-esteem so that you don’t constantly have to be reassured that your significant other loves you.

2. Respect your partner and don’t feel the need to call, text or see him all the time.

3. Keep your outside interests, friends, commitments and social activities. This is especially important while dating and in any long-term relationship.

4. Be objective about your partner. This means you understand his good and bad qualities, weaknesses and strengths. You will not be deluded or misguided into thinking he is what he isn’t.

Healthy love is wonderful. When you experience it, you will have the ability to enjoy comfort, contentment and joy deeper than you’ve ever known before!

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC –

# 10. Healthy love leaves you feeling happy and fulfilled whereas obsessive love will leave you feeling empty and frustrated

Sarah Hofer

Relationships are complicated and there is a fine line between healthy love and obsession. There are times when obsession creeps into an otherwise healthy relationship and vice versa, which further confuses the issue. However, there are some key factors to consider when trying to distinguish one from the other. I would recommend using the following three factors to check yourself: balance, reciprocity, and connections.

1. Balance: Are you able to find a balance in your life? Are you taking time for yourself, your job, and your friends and family, or is your new relationship consuming most of your waking moments? It’s healthy to spend a lot of time with someone when you’re in a relationship with them, but only if that time doesn’t leave you neglecting other important parts of your life.

2. Reciprocity: Is your significant other as invested as you are? Or do you constantly feel like you’re putting in more time and effort than they are? If you are consistently feeling like your partner doesn’t care as much as you do, it may be time to take a step back.

3. Connections: No relationship should cause you to neglect your friends and family. Are other people in your life consistently complaining that you don’t have time for them or that they never see you anymore? This is a sign that your relationship may be taking up too much of your time and emotional energy.

The bottom line is that if you’re experiencing healthy love in your relationship, you and your partner are content with time apart, encourage each other to pursue your own interests and passions, and effectively communicate how you think and feel. Healthy love leaves you feeling happy and fulfilled. Obsession, on the other hand, will likely leave you feeling empty and frustrated because what you’re receiving from your partner is never enough to satisfy you.

Sarah Hofer, MA –

# 11. Slow down, touch base with your friends and keep up your regular activities


Obsession is sometimes hard to distinguish early on in a relationship. You just meet a guy and of course you are thinking about him and wanting to spend lots of time with him. That feeling is normal. However, I always tell my dating coaching clients that they need to slow down, touch base with their friends and keep up their regular activities. Ditching your friends for the guy all the time and not setting up plans just in case he calls, that will leave you lonely and bored. Besides, you’re much more interesting if you have your own life, too.

If you find yourself wondering where he is or what he’s up to just because he doesn’t text back immediately during the day, put your phone down and do something else. You may be becoming obsessed. If you’re searching online for engagement rings and wedding dresses and you have only been dating a few weeks, get outside and away from the computer. You may be obsessed. Find yourself driving by his place or his work – no where near you – to see what he’s up to? You are obsessed.

Stop, breathe and find a friend to hang out with. Engage in your life again and find something new to do. The right guy won’t be excited by all the attention, he’ll be threatened by it. You’re throwing up red flags for him. Need help? A dating coach or therapist can help you set appropriate boundaries and hold you accountable for your personal goals.

Teresa Petersen Mendoza, MS, LMFT –

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