Obsession is an all-consuming preoccupation with someone or something. The early stages of a romantic relationship often includes some amounts of obsessive behavior. Both individuals are usually experiencing feelings of desire, physical attraction, excitement and the possibility of having found "the one," and the desire for constant nearness, either in person or through phone or messaging contact, can be strong. Over time, however, that all-consuming need to be in constant contact wanes in a healthy love experience.
Boundaries and Limitations
According to empowerment coach and clinical psychologist, Monique Belton, in her book, "The Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love," real love means setting boundaries and limitations within a relationship which are healthy and to the benefit of both partners. For example, if at any point in the relationship one of the partners feels as if they are moving too fast, then both partners will slow things down, allowing things to take their natural course. On the other hand, obsessive individuals are oblivious to boundaries, and they often overstep them. For example, they are more likely to call or text repeatedly within a short space of time following a first meeting or date, already imagining themselves in a full-blown relationship with the person they were destined to be with. In their view, there is no such thing as moving too fast.
Needs Versus Wants
In a healthy love relationship, individuals often desire contact and intimacy with partners through virtually or physically hanging out. However, as psychiatrist Roxanne Dryden-Edwards points out in her article, "Confusing Love with Obsession," this desire, or want, for closeness with a romantic partner does not include the constant need to know where they are, who they are with and what they are currently doing. Instead, this is an example of obsession. Eventually, this obsessive need may turn into stalking. Obsessive individuals often act out of deeply-rooted insecurities. Thus, while a normal individual wants to be in a relationship for the pleasure it brings to both partners, someone who is obsessive needs that relationship because it makes them feel secure.
Healthy romantic love enables both partners to socialize outside of the relationship without either partner feeling insecure or jealous to the point where they cannot function. According to Dryden-Edwards, an obsessive partner will easily misread simple social interactions as a threat to the relationship. A wave of greeting, a phone call or a text can easily lead such partners to suspect cheating. Classmates or workmates can be viewed as competition. This unfounded jealousy can sometimes be displayed as violent behavior in their all-consuming possessiveness.
The Need to Control
Real love entails mutual respect of each partner's beliefs, dreams, strengths and weaknesses. Conversely, a person in a relationship with an obsessive individual may find themselves constantly criticized, having their faults and weaknesses highlighted as their partner attempts to "perfect" them. Although obsessive individuals may truly identify constructive ways to make their partners better, no one can be completely comfortable when constantly subjected to scrutiny and criticism.
Neglected Friends and Responsibilities
In a healthy relationship, both partners are free to pursue and enjoy friendships and interactions, as well as take care of responsibilities outside of the union. In obsessive relationships, on the other hand, partners who try to balance both worlds may find themselves chastised for not spending enough time with or giving enough attention to the obsessive partner. Obsessive individuals, in their turn, may spend so much energy, time and focus obsessing over their partners that they neglect responsibilities and obligations in their separate lives, which may cause them to pull away from friends and family, as well as decrease their productivity in school or at work.
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