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Are you in love or in lust? Disentangling and distinguishing your feelings can help you make positive decisions in your romantic life.

Being in love is one of the most joyful experiences we can have. It’s natural to get swept away when you meet someone and feel a true connection.

In the early weeks and months of a relationship, often called the “honeymoon phase,” you and your partner may feel you can’t get enough of each other. You want to be together constantly and might spend a lot of time thinking about the other person when you’re apart.

Some people may find those other aspects of their life – such as friends and work – fall by the wayside because they’re so focused on their partner.

All of this is common and, in most cases, a perfectly healthy stage of the relationship-building process. But at some point, you may wonder whether what you’re feeling is love or something else like lust or infatuation. Maybe you’ve started to worry that you’re too dependent on your partner or even have a kind of addiction to them.

Disentangling what you’re feeling can be challenging, especially when you’re right in it. But there are some key differences between love and lust. Learning about them can help you stay grounded and make positive decisions in your romantic life.

Love and lust often go hand in hand, and lust often leads to love. But they’re distinct emotional experiences.

Lust, in scientific terms, is the desire for sexual gratification from a person. The sex hormones testosterone and estrogen regulate the libido and play a significant role in creating the experience of infatuation.

In a relationship, lust can manifest in many ways. Some signs that you’re in lust rather than in love are:

  • You’re fixated on a person’s body and physicality.
  • You’re more interested in having sex than conversations.
  • You haven’t discussed your feelings or future.
  • You don’t feel much desire to spend quality time together outside the bedroom.

There’s no single definition of love, but it’s a profound feeling of connection, passion, and warmth toward another person.

Love is also influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters – in particular oxytocin, the “love hormone” that triggers feelings of affection and safety.

When you’re in love, you may spend hours conversing with your partner. You become invested in their feelings and well-being and show them your vulnerabilities. Sex is a part of your relationship, not the end goal.

Over time, you’ll begin to integrate into each other’s lives and meet each other’s families. All of these are signs that what you’re experiencing is love.

Lust can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re first getting to know each other. The intensity of that feeling of attraction may lead some people to assume that lust is a more powerful emotion.

But lust almost invariably dissipates over time as couples settle into a routine. The intense lust of the honeymoon phase isn’t sustainable over the long term.

Love, on the other hand, can stand the test of time. As couples become more comfortable, desire isn’t absent in long-term relationships. Building trust over time can increase intimacy and sexual satisfaction.

If both partners are committed, love will only grow stronger.

Research from 2017 suggests that it’s possible to become addicted to a person or a relationship. This is because the state of being in love, or lust, is inherently tied to powerful biochemical reactions in the brain.

Lust and love produce chemicals in the brain’s reward center, including the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which promotes bonding and emotional connection.

Oxytocin, according to a 2014 study, may also be the reason that “party drugs” like MDMA are so addictive. Being around a person you love or desire can produce a kind of dependency, as your brain craves another hit of oxytocin or dopamine.

Though it’s not recognized as a mental health condition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), “love addiction” is a term used by some experts to describe this pattern.

No formal definition of love addiction exists. But a 2019 article defined it as a “pattern of behavior characterized by a maladaptive, pervasive and excessive interest toward one or more romantic partners.” This behavior results in a lack of control and giving up other interests and behavior.

Love addiction may lead to a codependent relationship dynamic.

Codependency refers to a pattern of behavior in relationships. It was first introduced by experts in the 1940s, specifically in dynamics where one partner was living with substance use disorder.

It has since evolved into a broader term. Codependency describes any relationship in which:

  • One person (or both) loses their sense of independence.
  • One person becomes enmeshed in the other person.
  • A person subsumes their own needs and boundaries.

There isn’t a clinical definition of codependency, and it’s not considered a mental health condition in itself. But some common signs may indicate that a person is codependent. These include:

  • a profound need for approval
  • self-sacrifice or taking on too much
  • minimizing or ignoring one’s desires
  • intense fear and avoidance of conflict
  • people-pleasing or over-apologizing to keep the peace
  • overwhelming fears of rejection or abandonment

It’s important to distinguish between codependency and healthy interdependency. It’s natural for partners in a relationship to depend on each other and be conscious of one another’s needs.

In a healthy interdependent dynamic, both partners can support each other but not at the expense of their mental health. They feel comfortable stating their desires, asking for support, and setting boundaries. They rely on each other but don’t become overly entangled.

No romantic relationship is perfect, and even the best-matched couples will face challenges.

Early on in a relationship, when you’re still getting to know each other, it’s easy to get swept up either in unrealistic fantasies or worst-case scenario anxieties about the future.

If you’re unsure whether what you’re feeling is love, lust, or a kind of addiction, you may feel even more confused.

But, remember, there’s a natural ebb and flow to most relationships that can take time. So try not to put too much pressure on yourself or your partner. Focus on enjoying your time together and getting to know each other. But also, make sure to retain some independence outside of the relationship.

If you’re concerned about codependency, love, or sex addiction, there are resources you may find helpful:

Looking for a therapist but unsure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.