Obsessive Love Disorder: Definition, Signs, And Treatments

Reviewed by Dr Nancy B Irwin, PsyD Dr Nancy B Irwin Dr Nancy B IrwinPsyD facebook_icontwitter_iconlinkedin_iconyoutube_iconinsta_icon
Written by Sneha Tete
Edited by Shatabdi Bhattacharya
Fact-checked by Sneha Tete
Last Updated on

When your love for a person turns into an overwhelming and obsessive desire to protect and possess them, it is called obsessive love disorder. People with this disorder often try to control their partner’s behavior and limit their contact with others. They may also face difficulties in regulating their emotions and feelings, which can be harmful to both the person with the disorder and their partner. In this article, we explain obsessive love disorder in detail. Continue reading to know more.

What Is Obsessive Love Disorder?

Obsessive love disorder (OLD) is an overwhelming desire to be loved or control a loved one. People with this condition override companionship and trust. It is similar to an addiction that slowly takes over one’s life and goes from butterflies in the tummy to extreme jealousy and controlling behavior. A person experiencing OLD seeks excessive contact and affirmations from the person they are obsessed with; yet, it is never enough for the person with OLD as they are a bottomless pit of need. It affects a person’s work, family life, and physical and mental state.

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Studies show that the prevalence of obsessive love in the US population is about 17.9% (1).

Difference Between Healthy And Obsessive Love

An unhappy partner sits behind a healhty couple
Image: Shutterstock

Obsessive love involves persistent thoughts and the need to spend every moment with their love. A healthy love relationship evolves with time without any desperate intensity and fervor of infatuation. It includes friendship, trust, commitment, and respect for the other person’s time, space, and individuality.

However, OLD often nurtures possessiveness and devastating suffocation. A person with OLD wants to be the utmost priority in the other’s life – the feeling of infatuation becomes extreme and unhealthy. A healthy love relationship is based on understanding your partner’s personality and ways of life. Doubting their faithfulness and obsessing over every move is a symptom of OLD.

Want to know if you or your partner has obsessive love disorder? Look out for the signs mentioned below.

Signs Of Obsessive Love Disorder

Couple depicting the signs of an obsessive love disorder
Image: Shutterstock
  • Overwhelming Attraction: Being in total awe of your love interest to a level of obsession is a sign of OLD. Comparing everyone to them and wanting to be in their company exclusively is unhealthy. It becomes difficult to maintain other relations and friendships because one is so overwhelmed with their partner.
  • Controlling Nature: The need to control the other person’s daily routine, needs, actions, or course of life is a symptom of obsession. Deciding what the other person will do, where they go, whom they meet, and how they behave with people are all attempts to control someone.
  • Obsessive Thoughts: These thoughts range from building hypothetical, dream-like situations in your mind, making plans for a life together, or other intimate fantasies. Continuously thinking about your object of love being with you in every situation can be harmful even to your own goals. You are unknowingly making them the priority of all your life decisions.
  • Urge To “Protect”: Believing that you constantly need to protect your partner from the world can sound sweet, but they are quite capable of taking care of themselves. Wanting to be their “knight in shining armor” all the time sends the message that you think they are incapable of handling their issues. It gets obsessive when you believe that you absolutely cannot live without your partner and that the whole world is out to harm them, and only you can save/protect them.
  • Jealousy And Possessiveness: Getting jealous about all your partner’s personal or professional relationships is a sure sign of OLD. It also proves that you do not trust them or have faith in your relationship. You feel they must be cheating, or someone will take them away from you at any moment. Constantly wanting them by your side and expecting them to spend every free moment with you are signs of extreme possessiveness.
  • Quick Rebounds: Falling in obsessive love quickly with new people and acquaintances indicates the compulsive need to be constantly loved and acknowledged. You may feel that you are worthless or that life is not worth living if you are single.
  • Disrespecting Boundaries: The feeling that you are allowed to cross all boundaries with your partner, such as dropping in at their office or family events unannounced, imposing your choices, dragging them to places they do not want to go, hacking their computer, or snooping in their phone logs, and of course stalking, are all signs of an OLD.
  • Low Self-Esteem And Anxiety: If a person gets severely anxious not knowing the whereabouts of their love concern or not receiving an instant text reply during a working day is a classic sign of OLD. The obsessive behavior stems from low self-esteem, where a person thinks so little of themselves that they feel vulnerable to betrayal and are constantly seeking evidence to support their worst fears. Constant obsessive behavior can cause mental anxiety, depression, frustration, and even make them suicidal in some cases.
  • Constant Communication: If your guy or girl is communicating throughout the day, dropping in to see you as a surprise regardless of the place or time, they are probably obsessed with you and somehow trying to get control of every moment of your life.
  • Need For Reassurance: The need to hear those magic words routinely and the reassurance of what they mean to you is a sign that they are not comfortable and there are relationship issues. They do not have faith in you or have low self-esteem that requires constant nurturing. It crosses the limits of sweet nothings when not uttering the three words can fuel a bad argument.
  • Stalking: In case of a broken relationship, stalking the ex through spying, trolling their social media accounts, making prank calls, or messaging without response are all signs of OLD.

Other common symptoms of OLD include:

  • Inability to take rejection
  • Threat to cause self-harm
  • Difficulty in keeping jobs, maintaining family ties, and following hobbies
  • Attachment disorder
  • Being in love with an imaginary person, or imagining a real person returns their feelings when they do not.
  • Borderline OCD or personality disorder

In this blog post, the author delves into the complexities of obsessive relationships, sharing insights on the challenges faced by a friend dealing with her boyfriend’s changing behavior: “However, as i kept talking to her, i realized people who are involved in an Obsessive Love are passionate people.” She advises, “Teach him, educate him, men are kids. Praise him, cherish him but don’t spoil him. Show him love, but be strict. Make him strong and when the time comes, you will see your hard works paid off. (i)”

The following section explains what leads to obsessive love and the treatments available. Take a look.

What Causes Obsessive Love Disorder

Unhappy couple showing obsessive love disorder
Image: Shutterstock
  • Disturbed Childhood: Disturbed childhood and adolescence can be breeding grounds for abandonment, physical and mental abuse, neglect, or comparisons. They cause an inferiority complex in the child, making them feel unworthy and emotionally void. A love interest later in life fills that void, which can turn into an obsession the person does not want to lose at any cost.
  • Low Confidence: People with low self-esteem think little of themselves and are not worth receiving healthy love, and that they cannot handle rejection. Therefore, when they enter into a relationship, they constantly feel betrayed because others are better than them, either in social class or level of attractiveness. If their object of love is not a part of their lives anymore, they convince themselves that overtly showing them that they are loved so much will bring them back and will automatically solve all their problems. They feel their happiness only lies in that one person.
  • Disruptive Families: A person who has grown up in an unloving and dysfunctional family will either not know what healthy love is or will crave love to the point of obsession.
  • Ego: Ego can also be a major cause of obsessive love. An egoist and narcissist has a superiority complex about themselves and feel they have to be the center of attention at all times. They become obsessive and mentally or physically abusive in an attempt to show their power and control.

What Does Treatment For Obsessive Love Disorder Look Like?

Couple talking to a therapist to overcome Obsessive love disorder
Image: Shutterstock

Based on the severity of the disorder, the doctor may prescribe psychotherapy or medication.

  • Medication: Medication or drugs help stabilize behavior, mood, thoughts, and perception, reducing OLD symptoms. They work on neurotransmitters and improve mental well-being. However, this treatment has various side effects like fatigue, dry mouth, loss of appetite, and weight gain.

Note: Medication is the only recommended option if the patient is exhibiting extreme violence or suicidal tendencies.

  • Psychotherapy: This is a safer method of treating obsessive and compulsive behavior. A typical therapy to treat such conditions involves:
  • Cutting all contact with the person one is obsessed with.
  • Keeping the patient occupied with hobbies and other activities that provide a distraction from intrusive thoughts.
  • Teaching them ways to be mindful of their obsessive actions.
  • Increasing their self-confidence through new hobbies and interests.
  • Counseling sessions to help them open up about their fears and anxieties.
  • Teaching them methods and strategies to cope with anxiety and obsessive tendencies.
  • Practicing meditation to calm the mind.
  • Learning how to love the self.
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People with obsessive love disorder may benefit from group therapy, especially if the issue is related to attachment issues they may have with their family and friends.

How Can Obsessive Love Disorder Affect Your Life?

OLD can disrupt not just one’s love life but also affect their other relations or professional life. Unattended OLD only grows with time and can cause major havoc to one’s personality, interests, work, and physical and mental health. It causes the inability to see anything good in any relationship. Such behavior is likely to make people move away from you, and in turn, can lead to loneliness, depression, and lower self-esteem. Thus, it is important to recognize, accept, and treat the problem early to lead a healthy life, whether romantic or otherwise.

Obsessive Love Disorder is unhealthy for everyone directly or indirectly involved in a relationship. Fortunately, it is not a permanent condition. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help minimize or eliminate its adverse effects. This article will help you understand all about OLD in great detail. If you notice any of the signs mentioned above in your partner, you should take them to a clinical professional. If left untreated, this psychological illness could become a physical and mental threat to the affected person and the people around them.

Infographic: How To Avoid Becoming Obsessive In Love

Although an obsession can be treated with therapy, isn’t it better to nip it in the bud when you can? You can take active measures to avoid becoming obsessed with someone if you educate yourself about it. Check out the infographic below to know more about the steps you can take to avoid becoming unhealthily obsessed with your partner.

how to avoid becoming obsessive in love (infographic)

Illustration: The Bridal Box Design Team

Frequently Asked Questions

Is obsessive love a mental illness?

No. Obsessive love disorder isn’t included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a psychiatric disorder or mental illness. However, it may be a symptom of other underlying mental health conditions.

Is obsessive love disorder a symptom of bipolar?

It may be. Obsessive love disorder can accompany mental health illnesses like bipolar disorderi  A mental illness that causes mood shifts, switching between depression and mania (excitable or active moods). , borderline personality disorderi  A mental illness that affects a person’s ability to regulate their emotions, their self-image, and relationships. , obsessive-compulsive disorderi  A chronic disorder in which a person cannot control their obsessive thoughts and actions around a specific matter and keep repeating it. , schizophreniai  A mental health disorder in which a person's ability to grasp reality hinders due to hallucinations and delusions. , and others.

Is obsessive love disorder real love?

No, obsessive love disorder is not real love. Love is a feeling that comes from the heart. It is caring, supportive, and giving and has nothing to do with obsession which comes with the inability to accept failure or rejection.

How long does obsessive love last?

Obsessive love can be a serious condition that can last for years without treatment. If you are experiencing obsessive love, it is important to seek professional help. Seeking professional help is the first step toward getting better. In some cases, it may also require to cutting off all contact with the person you are obsessed with.

Key Takeaways

  • While love is a comforting, secure emotion, it might become unhealthy and abusive when a person gets obsessive about their partner of interest.
  • It highlights a sense of insecurity and possessiveness bringing in a tremendous amount of pressure and unrealistic expectations for the other partner.
  • While it may be a temporary phase, putting things into perspective early on, or seeking professional help can help pave the way for a healthy stable relationship.

Obsessive love disorder can be a real and debilitating condition. Check out this video and explore the symptoms and causes of this disorder.

Personal Experience: Source

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Dr Nancy B Irwin
Originally from Atlanta, Dr. Nancy Irwin graduated from UWG in 1977 with a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance. She moved to New York City in 1985 to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. She worked all over the country and abroad and moved to Los Angeles in 1994 when she heard that Hollywood needed more blondes.

Read full bio of Dr Nancy B Irwin
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