Treatment for love/relationship/romance addiction typically uses the same strategies that have been shown to be effective with other forms of addiction, including sexual addiction, compulsive gambling and substance use disorders. If you or a loved one decides to work with a therapist or counselor who specializes in love addiction, treatment will likely involve some form of counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), coupled with group therapy, 12-step and other social support groups and maybe alternative therapies. The latter might include equine therapy (working with horses), art therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), among other treatment approaches.
As with sexual addiction, the definition of sobriety for a love addict differs significantly from the how sobriety is defined for someone who’s addicted to a chemical substance. While ongoing abstinence is the goal with a substance use disorder, love addicts focus on changing their behavior. It can be helpful to think of treatment for love addiction as similar to that for an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. Complete abstinence from eating isn’t possible, of course; nor is giving up intimate adult relationships. So the goal in treating a love addiction is not avoiding romantic relationships altogether, but learning to develop and maintain healthy, non-compulsive, life-affirming romantic connections.
Defining Romantic Sobriety
It’s important to note that just as every person who’s dealing with love addiction is unique, every love addict’s version of “romantic sobriety” will also be unique. Some addicts may need to abstain from Internet dating sites, dating apps and social media sites, while others may have an entirely different set of problems to address. This is why love addicts are typically asked to provide a complete sex and relationship history early in their recovery process, usually within the first few weeks. This allows the addict, working in conjunction with his/her treatment team, to develop an understanding of what his/her romantic sobriety should look like. Love addicts then commit, in a written “dating plan,” to abstain from problematic romantic activities and to engage in non-problematic romantic activities only moderately and appropriately.
Early on, treatment for love addiction focuses on two main issues: separating the love addict from his/her addiction; and uncovering and debunking the lies, rationalizations and justifications (the denial) that love addicts use to make their behavior seem acceptable. As mentioned above, most treatment regimens rely heavily on CBT, an approach that focuses on the here and now, rather than on ways in which the past affects the present. Emphasis is also placed on holding the love addict accountable for his/her current problematic behavior. Longer-term issues are left for later, after the addict has established at least a modicum of romantic sobriety (usually six months or more). Simply put, CBT teaches love addicts to recognize and then stop their romantic fantasies and behaviors by thinking about and/or doing something else – whether by distracting themselves (for instance, cleaning, meditating or going for a run), calling a supportive friend or attending a 12-step or other support group.
Those recovering from love addiction, like most addicts, tend to do best when supported by others who are also in the process of healing. To this end, group therapy that’s focused on love addiction is particularly useful for breaking through addicts’ denial — the rationalizations used to justify addictive behavior – and it also helps love addicts learn that their problems are not unique. This realization eases the guilt, shame and remorse they feel about their many failed relationships.
Most often, therapy with a certified sex/love addiction treatment specialist allows an addict to reach initial sobriety and then serves as a bridge to more informal, addict-run self-help groups. (Most choose to attend either Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or Love Addicts Anonymous.) That said, many love addicts choose to remain in therapy (individual and/or group) for long periods, simultaneously attending 12-step or other love addiction support meetings. Ongoing therapy offers the chance to address longer-term issues, like childhood sexual abuse and other trauma, with 12-step groups providing continued support for and guidance with romantic sobriety. Sometimes love addicts struggling to establish and/or maintain their romantic sobriety will benefit from residential and/or intensive outpatient love addiction treatment; these programs may last as little as a few weeks or as long as several months, depending on the treatment facility and the needs of the addict.
Finding Your Own Happily Ever After
Every love addict’s road to healthier, happier and more emotionally fulfilling relationships is different, of course. That’s because every person comes to treatment with a unique life history and a distinctive pattern of romantic misbehavior. If you’re not sure where to start to help yourself or a loved one, it may make sense to see a certified addiction treatment specialist – preferably someone who understands both love addiction and sexual addiction (as the two disorders sometimes overlap). To learn more about treatment, visit our Get Help section.
Sources: American Society of Addiction Medicine; Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence, and Treatment; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5); European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience; Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy (2nd ed.); Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex and Relationship Addiction; Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction; Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence-Based Guide.