There are some who might argue that falling in love is by its very nature a sign of mental illness. It's not natural to develop such deep emotional bonds and passionate feelings so quickly, and the expression of those feelings can often border on the irrational. The need to be in the company of a loved one can override physical pain or all sense of propriety. That person can almost fulfill the role of a drug or any other addictive substance. Society appears to encourage some irrational behavior when it comes to passionate romance, but there is clearly a line between passion and obsession.
After the initial rush and excitement of a new romance has had time to cool a bit, one partner may notice that the other's behavior has changed significantly. Petty arguments become much more heated quickly or expressions of affection become more serious. He or she may seem to be demanding more and more of your time and attention, to the exclusion of other friends or family members. If this is the case, you may be caught in the unhealthy throes of an obsessive relationship. Sometimes an obsession will burn itself out and the relationship returns to normal, but other times the obsessed partner will exhibit signs of true emotional instability, love addiction and codependence.
Here are some warning signs of an obsessive relationship.
- It is not unusual for a normal romantic couple to call each other frequently or send personal emails and gifts. Obsession occurs when one partner leaves numerous messages knowing that the other person is not at home to return them. An obsessed partner may also send a significant number of personal or forwarded emails, even after spending time face-to-face.
This is all an effort to establish a feeling of security between visits. If the recipient's answering machine or email address is still functioning, so is the relationship. Gifts may suddenly escalate in intimacy compared to the status of the relationship. An obsessed partner may be trying to force intimacy far ahead of schedule, with gifts such as expensive jewelry, intimate apparel and sex-related items.
- Obsessed people will not respect boundary lines. This is a classic warning sign during the casual, non-committal dating phase. You might set a workable boundary for your partner such as not calling after 11pm or not visiting you at work. The next morning, an partner who is obsessed may suddenly appear at the front door of your office. The phone may ring at midnight or 1am. The problem is that the person may think violation of your rules is humorous. There is no real punishment behind it. Once someone actively decides not to respect your privacy or reasonable requests, he or she has crossed over into some degree of obsessive - or even abusive - behavior.
- Obsessive people often become fact-finders. It's one thing for a healthy partner to dig around in your school yearbook or ask family members about your childhood, but an obsessive personality won't stop there. He or she might perform intensive online searches or seek out family and friends for detailed interviews. He or she may even contact former partners to find out even more intimate details. Finding out every possible fact about your life becomes a quest. This is definitely a warning sign of an addictive relationship. You may want to check computer search histories for evidence of past searches.
- Codependent personalities often copy their partners' emotional states. If you're having a bad day, your partner will also seem especially depressed. If you're happy, he or she may be delirious. When the line into obsession has been crossed, every aspect of the healthy partner's life becomes a trigger for the obsessed partner.
Obsessed people will copy the clothing, eat the same foods, watch the same television programs or develop the same hobbies as the object of their obsession. They often hope that their partner will be flattered by this imitation, but it often comes across as a desperate attempt to maintain the unhealthy relationship.
- The worst thing that can happen to an obsessed partner is a collision with the truth. A romantic breakup is a painful thing for even the most healthy person, but for an obsessive it is akin to death. The first few weeks following a breakup can be the most hazardous to the healthier partner. As passionately as the obsessed person may have 'loved' you, he or she will be equally as passionate during the 'get out of my life forever' stage. Essentially, you have ripped away all of his or her carefully-crafted identifiers. What remains is the same emotionally scarred person he or she has always been, and he or she truly hates that person. The best thing you can do as a concerned friend is to suggest professional counseling so they can get some relationship help before they have the opportunity to hurt you or themselves. Obsession is a true mental illness, so it shouldn't be taken lightly.
Remember, the excitement is higher in the beginning of any relationship. But it's important to know how to spot the warning signs for unhealthy relationships. If you think you may be dealing with an obsessive partner, don't be afraid to seek relationship advice from a professional.