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Is It Love or Obsession? How to Tell the Difference

With a degree in Sociology and concentrations in English and Religion, Jaynie is interested in politics, social norms and mental health.

Knowing the difference between love and obsession can mean the difference between a long and healthy relationship and a potentially damaging and controlling one.

Knowing the difference between love and obsession can mean the difference between a long and healthy relationship and a potentially damaging and controlling one.

The Fine Line Between Love and Obsession

So you’ve met the man of your dreams; at least you think you have. He is handsome, charming, educated and he treats you like a queen. You haven’t been dating for very long, yet he has already opened up to you completely. Your last boyfriend didn’t do that in the entire ten months you were together. This guy somehow seems different. He is thoughtful and kind, sending you flowers at least once a week and calling at least three times a day. He makes you feel special and loved. You’ve only been seeing him for a couple of weeks, yet he makes you feel as if you are more important to him than anyone or anything else in his life. It seems implausible to you that you could already be in love with him, but he has told you that he loves you and you can’t imagine what more you could possibly want in a man. This must be love. Right?

Not exactly. There is a devastatingly fine line between love and obsession and in this case, the man you are so wild about might just be obsessed with you. Love is a healthy emotion that grows between two people once they’ve invested time and energy into getting to really know one another, flaws, pet peeves and all. Obsession is different. In the beginning it may feel a lot like love. It makes your heart race and you can think of almost nothing else except the other person. Obsession is an unhealthy emotion that becomes more and more suffocating over time.

When two people fall in love, they maintain their individual identities and interests. They are not threatened when their partner elects to spend time with family or friends without always including them. They are happy for and proud of their partner’s accomplishments, even when those accomplishments are exclusive of the relationship. With obsession, it becomes nearly impossible to be without one another. The obsessive partner feels a physical need to be with the object of their obsession every day and to know exactly where they are and who they are with whenever they are not together. Negative feelings such as jealousy and paranoia begin to creep into the relationship. The obsessive individual suspects that their partner may be cheating or that everything they do or say is somehow a reflection of how they feel about them.

What Obsession Looks Like

An obsessive person will spend inordinate amounts of time trying to please their partner in an ongoing effort to assure that the partner does not want to cheat on or leave them. They may place multiple phone calls, send countless texts or emails all in one day. They may write poems or songs to the object of their obsession. They make attempts to spend every unoccupied moment with them, often making plans well in advance to assure that every moment can be accounted for. They limit the other’s ability to spend time with family or friends and become angry and jealous when they do choose others over them.

Often, an obsessive person can become verbally or physically abusive and express great amounts of remorse afterward, yet they consistently blame their partner for bringing on the abuse themselves. Over time, they reduce their partner to a helpless, dependent individual that is a mere shell of the person they supposedly fell in love with. This is done in a subconscious attempt to maintain control over their partner.

The individual who becomes involved with an obsessive partner can grow to realize it, but it is often well after the relationship grows out of control, though in most cases, that doesn’t take too long. Once that has happened, it becomes harder to extricate oneself from the relationship, especially without much guilt and possibly danger. In extreme cases of obsessive love, the obsessive partner may subject their lover to verbal or physical abuse, rape, stalking or even murder.


Warning Signs of an Obsessive Partner

In order to protect oneself from a potentially obsessive partner, it is important to know the warning signs. It is also important to apply these signs to oneself in order to determine if you are feeling obsession vs. love for the person you are attracted to. These signs may include:

  • Getting too close too fast. This might include having your partner express feelings of deep attraction or even love within minutes of meeting.
  • Romanticizing the relationship on an almost fantastical level. (i.e. feeling that the love is deeper and more real than anyone else’s, or that it is somehow magical and makes life possible)
  • Inability to apply reason and logic to the relationship. (i.e. you know you are pretty incompatible or that your partner is cruel or even dangerous, but you choose to ignore the obvious signs)
  • Paranoia exists about possible infidelities, especially when you are not together. Over time, the paranoia may become even more illogical (i.e. accusations of infidelity with unlikely partners such as relatives, clergy, teachers, etc.)
  • You or your partner place multiple phone calls, and send several emails and texts on a daily basis and become agitated if they go unanswered for even a few minutes.
  • Driving by a partner’s home, office or other frequented places hoping to catch a glimpse of them or catch them with someone else to validate feelings of paranoia.
  • Inability to focus on anything else, including work, because the obsessive relationship occupies all thoughts and consumes copious quantities of time. This might mean that even while at work one constantly tries to reach their partner by phone, sends emails, daydreams, writes poetry, takes long lunches to buy gifts or to stalk their lover, etc.
  • Feelings of confusion (i.e. I know I can’t possibly be in love with them, but when why can’t I imagine life without them?)
  • Loss of sleep and appetite. Increasing feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Feelings of extreme depression and low self-esteem brought on when the relationship begins to suffer strains. This happens to individuals who allow their entire identify to become wrapped up in the relationship.
  • Inability to accept the end of the relationship. May believe that your partner really can’t live without and still loves you even when they refuse to take your calls, ask to be left alone or even seek restraining orders.
  • Belief that if you continue your stalking or obsessive behaviors, they will realize that they still love you and will take you back.
  • Manipulation of a lover through guilt tactics (i.e. If you leave me I’ll kill myself; or half-hearted suicide attempts meant to gain attention and reignite affection and compassion rather than to actually harm oneself).
  • Dulling pain through use of drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors as feelings of rejection and depression become more frequent.
  • Promises to change oneself to please the partner. This may mean anything from changes in behavior, to changes in appearance, habits, interests, etc. At times, changes may even become apparent, but they are not likely to be lasting, so beware of such tactics.

What to Do If You Recognize These Signs

If you recognize any of the above signs in your relationship, it is important to seek help immediately. If the signs are present in your own behavior, seeking professional psychological help might be in order. If the signs are present in a lover, you may need to seek legal advice or the help of law enforcement. If you are aware of the past relationships that an obsessive lover has been involved in, chances are, they will have had other obsessive relationships prior to yours. This is because the obsession is an engrained part of their personality and isn’t likely to change. If your partner has an obsessive history it is likely that your suspicions about their obsession with you are well-founded and you should proceed with caution.

How to Protect Yourself

Take reasonable steps to protect yourself. This might include:

  • Setting up your email account to filter out messages from your ex-partner
  • Instituting caller-ID and avoiding phone calls from your ex
  • Having a security system installed at your home or having extra locks put on your apartment door
  • Keeping shades and curtains pulled
  • Keeping lights off in rooms that you are not using
  • Keeping porch lights on at night (motion sensor lights save energy and may startle stalkers, causing them to flee)
  • Never walk alone at night
  • If you jog or bike, consider doing so during well-lighted times of the day and in highly traveled areas. If possible, take a friend
  • Ask neighbors to be aware of suspicious activity in or near your home when possible
  • Keep law enforcement officials abreast of suspicious or concerning behaviors
  • Consult with an attorney so you know your rights as a potential victim of domestic violence
  • Do not do anything to lead your ex on. It is important to remain consistent and not send out mixed signals. When you are ready to end the relationship, be firm and do not relent.
  • Each time you waffle on your decision, it creates an opening that encourages the ex to continue pursuing you in hopes of prevailing.

Movies About Obsessive Relationships

If you are still not sure what an obsessive relationship looks like but suspect you could possibly be involved in one, it is important to follow your instincts. There have been a lot of movies out that revolve around the issue of obsessive love. Check out a few of these titles to get a better idea of what obsessive love might look like.

  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Cruel Intentions
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Against All Odds
  • 9 1/2 Weeks
  • Sleeping with the Enemy
  • The Crush
  • Killing Me Softly
  • Boxing Helena
  • Damage
  • Dead Ringers
  • Monsieur Hire

Be Safe and Be Happy!

Your safety, security and happiness are of the utmost importance. Hopefully through application of the knowledge gained above, you will be able to engage in healthy, productive and long-lasting relationships with suitable partners. Best of luck!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there any hope for a relationship to work in the long run if the obsessed person catches themselves, seeks treatment and/or medication and puts some distance between them for a while to work on becoming healthy again?

Answer: It's hard to say. It really depends on the individuals involved, one's commitment to treatment, success of treatment, and a host of other factors. I'd be pessimistic about the realistic chances of long term success.

© 2010 Jaynie2000