Love, Lust, Or A Toxic Addiction? How To Know The Difference

love lust or toxic relationship

Love and codependency may coexist or be hard to differentiate because codependents idealize and often happily self-sacrifice for their partner. When differences and serious problems are largely ignored, minimized, or rationalized, it looks more like codependency, because we’re not really seeing or loving the whole person.

Facing the truth would create inner conflict about our fear of emptiness and loneliness. Similarly, when our emphasis is on how our partner makes us feel or how he or she feels about us, our “love” is based on our self-centered, codependent needs.

Related: Is it Love or Lust: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Healthy relationships and codependent, addictive ones have very different trajectories. Healthy partners don’t “fall in love;” they “grow in love.” They’re not as driven by overwhelming, unconscious fears and needs.


Codependent Relationships

  • Intense attraction – feel anxious.
  • Idealize each other, ignoring differences.
  • Fall “in love” and make commitments.
  • Get to know one another.
  • Become disappointed.
  • Cling to the fantasy of love.
  • Try to change our partner into our ideal.
  • Feel resentful and unloved.

Healthy Relationships

  • Attraction and friendship begin – feel comfortable.
  • Attraction grows as they know each other.
  • Acknowledge differences (or leave).
  • Grow to love each other.
  • Make commitments.
  • Compromise needs.
  • Love and acceptance of each other deepen.
  • Feel supported and loved.

Codependency is an addiction and underlies all other addictions, including sex addiction, and romance, relationship, and love addiction. Lust and love and love and addiction can overlap. When we heal our codependency, we can see whether love remains. We might even leave an unhealthy relationship and still love our ex.

Meanwhile, some things are knowable:

1. It takes time to love someone. Love at first sight may be triggered by many things, but it’s not love.

2. Having sex with strangers or frequent multiple partners is a sign of sexual addiction.

3. Compulsive activity, whether sexual or romantic, that feels out-of-control, such as compulsive sex, stalking, spying, constant calling, or texting is a sign of addiction.

4. Ignoring your partner’s boundaries, and abusing, controlling, or manipulating him or her (including people-pleasing or rescuing) are signs of addiction.

5. Using sex or a relationship to cope with emptiness, depression, anger, shame, or anxiety is a sign of addiction.

6. Using sex or romance to substitute for vulnerable, authentic intimacy is a symptom of addiction.

7. Staying in a painful relationship out of fear of abandonment or loneliness is a sign of codependency and addiction, not love.

8. Inability to commit to a relationship or staying involved with someone who is emotionally unavailable shows a fear of intimacy – a symptom of addiction.

9. Trusting too much or too little are signs of addiction.

10. Sacrificing your values or standards to be with someone is a sign of addiction.

Healing from codependency and addiction requires abstinence and the support of a Twelve Step program and/or psychotherapy. It’s very hard to abstain from compulsive, addictive behavior without support because the unconscious forces driving us and the pain of abstinence are overwhelming.

There is hope and a way out.

Related: Love Vs. Lust: Funny Illustrations to Explain The Difference

Recovery includes:

1. Learn more about the symptoms of codependency.

2. Healing the shame and abandonment pain of your childhood.

3. Building your self-esteem.

4. Learning to be assertive.

5. Learning to honor and meet your needs and nurture yourself.

6. Risking being authentic about your feelings and needs.

To learn more and start healing, do the exercises in my books Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and ebooks, 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits.

©Darlene Lancer 2014

Written by Darlene Lancer JD, MFT
Originally appeared on
Love, Lust, Or A Toxic Addiction This Is How You Know
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Love, Lust, Or A Toxic Addiction? How To Know The Difference
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Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an expert author on relationships and codependency. She's counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books and other online booksellers and her website.View Author posts