Wonder whether you’re in love or in lust? Whether your obsession about someone is a sign of love or addiction? Whether you’re staying in a troubled relationship because you’re addicted or in love? It’s complicated, and lust and love and addiction don’t always exclude one another. Endless analyzing doesn’t help or change our feelings, because we’re often driven by forces outside our conscious awareness.
Initial attraction stirs up neurotransmitters and hormones that create the excitement of infatuation and a strong desire to be close and sexual with the person. These chemicals and our emotional and psychological makeup can cause us to obfuscate reality and idealize the object of our attraction. Time spent in fantasy fuels our craving to be with him or her. This is normal when it doesn’t take over our lives.
When it’s purely lust, we’re not too interested in spending time together without sex or the expectation of it. We don’t want to discuss real-life problems and may not even want to spend the night. Fantasies are mostly sexual or about the person’s appearance and body, and we aren’t interested in meeting the person’s needs outside the bedroom — or maybe even inside!
Sex releases oxytocin, the love chemical that makes us want to nest with our partner. As we get to know our lover, we may want to spend more or less time together, depending on what we learn. At this juncture, our brain chemicals as well as our attachment style and psychological issues can lead us to become codependently attached through a romance or love addiction that feels like love, but is more driven by our need for the chemical rush to avoid feelings of abandonment, depression and low self-esteem.
Excitement and desire may be heightened by intrigue or our partner’s unpredictability or unavailability. We may remain attached and even crave our partner, but our discomfort or unhappiness grows. Instead of focusing on that, our hunger to be with him or her takes center stage, despite the fact that disturbing facts or character traits arise that are hard to ignore. We may feel controlled or neglected, unsafe or disrespected, or discover that our partner is unreliable, or lies, manipulates, rages, has secrets, or has a major problem, such as drug addiction or serious legal or financial troubles.
Nonetheless, we stay and don’t heed our better judgment to leave. Increasingly, we hide our worries and doubts and rely on sex, romance, and fantasy to sustain the relationship. Out of sympathy, we might even be drawn to help and “rescue” our partner or try to change him or her back into the ideal we “fell” for. These are signs of addiction.
But lust also can lead to true love as we become attached to and get to know our sexual partner, and lust doesn’t always fade. I’ve seen couples married for decades who enjoy a vibrant sex life. However, true love does require that we recognize our separateness and love our mate for who he or she truly is.
There’s always some idealization in a new relationship, but true love endures when that fades. As the relationship grows, we develop trust and greater closeness. Instead of trying to change our partner, we accept him or her. We want to share more of our time and life together, including our problems and friends and family. Our lover’s needs, feelings, and happiness become important to us, and we think about planning a future together. When the passion is still there, we’re lucky to have both love and lust.