Episode 36: Love Addition with Susan Peabody
Susan Peabody is a recovered codependent, love addict and a pioneer in the field of love and love addiction. In her twenty years of experience she has written two books ‘Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationship’, and ‘The Art of Changing’. In this interview she discusses what it means to be a love addict and codependent in relationships, and the unhealthy ways to look at love. She shares her own experience as a love addict and her journey through recovery explaining what makes a relationship unhealthy and the steps to take to break the cycle.
Monique DeBose: Hello everyone. I’m Monique DeBose and this is “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Series” coming to you from One Taste Urban Retreat Center here in San Francisco. Each week on the show we host eminent people whose work challenges the status quo of our mainstream culture, real trailblazers. So, tonight we’re exploring love and love addiction. We have a special guest: Miss Susan Peabody, who is an expert on love addiction and has been working in the field for over 20 years. She has written two books: Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships; and a new one: The Art of Changing.
Susan Peabody: And the best example that I always give is O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson. She was very codependent. She tolerated abuse and neglect. He was a womanizer and she put up with this. She was codependent, she was addicted to him. At some point, she wanted to break the cycle. She divorced him and all of a sudden this man who wanted to see other women during the course of their marriage, now only wanted to see her and he stalked her and you hear the 9-1-1 tapes when he was jealous of other men and wanted her back. So he’s a love addicted, but he’s narcissistic.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So Susan, welcome.
SUSAN PEABODY: IT’s nice to be here.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Thank you. So I want to get right into it. When I heard we were talking about love addiction tonight, I got really curious because I don’t know what that means. So if you can just start off with a brief description: What is love addiction?
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, addiction, per se, is an unhealthy dependency on something. Typically, people are familiar with an addiction to alcohol, or an addiction to drugs. Love addiction is when you have an unhealthy dependency on love itself, romantic love in particular, or a person that you may be obsessing about, or a relationship that you just can’t let go of, even though the relationship is unhealthy.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Hm. And is that similar to sex addiction?
SUSAN PEABODY: No. Sex addiction is an addiction to orgasm, an addiction to the sexual act, and usually sex addicts are trying to avoid intimacy, try to avoid relationships. A sex addict will get addicted to pornography, or prostitutes, or having an affair with someone they don’t know very well, and the love addict is interested in a relationship, they’re interested in bonding. They’re getting addicted to attachment. So, the sex addict is almost just the opposite of the love addict.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: And you said the love addict is interested in attaching and you also mentioned that the sex addict is not interested in intimacy. So, are we making a connection between intimacy and attachment?
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, the sex addict is just interested in sex.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: The physical act?
SUSAN PEABODY: It is very simple. The physical act of sex. They want to get aroused, they want to have an orgasm, and then they want to go away. And the love addict may want sex, and they may want orgasm, but they also want to bond and fall in love and become attached and see this person again.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So are there different kinds of love addicts? Like people maybe who are…yeah. Are there different kinds of love addicts?
SUSAN PEABODY: Yes, there’s several different kinds. Often, you have an underlying personality disorder like codependency. A codependent love addict is somebody, when they get addicted to a person, act in a codependent way. They’re attracted to wounded people and they try to fix them. They’ll get involved with an alcoholic or a drug addict and enable that person. They typically have low self-esteem. They’re loyal beyond a fault. There’s many books written about codependency and if you are codependent and you get addicted to a person, then you are what I call a codependent love addict. But there are other personality disorders that coexist with love addiction. For instance, you could be a narcissist and also be a love addict. And a narcissist is self-centered, cold, unfeeling, very aloof in a relationship, but then, when it’s over, they often find that they have become dependent on that relationship and they kind of go nuts and this is…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: What are they getting from that relationship?
SUSAN PEABODY: The attachment is more subconscious for them. They feel as if they can exist without this person, but a part of them has grown attached and they enjoy the controlling and they enjoy being one up on this person and they enjoy the attention and, without realizing it, they become addicted to all of that. And the best example that I always give is O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson. She was very codependent. She tolerated abuse and neglect. He was a womanizer and she put up with this. She was codependent, she was addicted to him. At some point, she wanted to break the cycle. She divorced him and all of a sudden this man who wanted to see other women during the course of their marriage, now only wanted to see her and he stalked her and you hear the 9-1-1 tapes when he was jealous of other men and wanted her back. So he’s a love addict, but he’s narcissistic and so you have to have a combination of a personality with the actual addiction.
Some other examples are a torch-bearer. A torch-bearer is somebody who loves someone that’s unavailable, that they fantasize about. Someone, say someone that you loved in high school, and for the next 20 years you’re still in love with that person. You may be married. You may have fallen in love with other people, but in the back of your mind you’re carrying a torch.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Is it so black-and-white, though? I mean, I think about people in the world today, especially, I’m assuming especially today, lines aren’t so black-and-white. I mean, you have all these names and categories for type of personality and type of addiction and type of person, but…
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, they overlap. First, you have to find the primary kind of love addict. When I work with clients, we sit down and we determine what kind of love addict you are. Are you in love with an unavailable man, or are you in love with an alcoholic and the relationship is toxic? We have to define. But the labels pretty much apply and then they overlap. Beyond the torch-bearer is the person that is not in love and it’s misleading to even call them a love addict because they’re actually bonded to the relationship, don’t want to be alone, don’t want to start over, but they don’t even like their partner anymore and I call this the love addict who is “I hate you don’t leave me.” And I call them a relationship addict…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: …because they’re addicted to the relationship. And then there are triangles where people have more than one love addiction. A married man could be addicted to his wife of 25 years, he’s addicted to the relationship, he doesn’t want to get divorced, he doesn’t want to leave the kids, but he falls in love with another woman and becomes addicted to her and the (luminance) and the chemistry and the sex. And so he’s both a love addict and a relationship addict and he’s’ in a triangle. This happens more often than you realize. I was actually on a jury in which a man was convicted of murdering his wife because she asked him to choose between his mistress and her and he couldn’t.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: That brings me, I just went to Outsider Borders, because I know in a lot of places in the rest of the world, that may just be normal practice and so I’m getting the sense from you that this is not a normal thing.
SUSAN PEABODY: I call it love addiction because I believe in monogamy. I think healthy relationships are based on monogamy.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Why do you believe that?
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, because relationships, healthy genuine relationships, go beyond chemistry, they go beyond the honeymoon. You get to know each other, you grown and change. You develop tolerances for other people’s weaknesses, you grow in your own way to become a better person, and often the chemistry for a little while is on the backburner, but you don’t abandon the relationship. When you have 3 people in a relationship, there is tension, there is competition, someone is getting all their needs met and the other 2 are fighting over you.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: That’s very interesting. Which makes me want to ask you, if you have, say you have a nice duo, a nice, you know, husband and wife, or however you define partnership. You’re saying that by having that “healthy” relationship, then there is no tension, there is no…
SUSAN PEABODY: If you’re compatible…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: …dueling for energy or?
SUSAN PEABODY: If you’re compatible, if the relationship is healthy. A lot of love addicted relationships are twosomes but you’ve got say, a codependent woman in love with an alcoholic or a drug addict or a sex addict or a gambling addict…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So that energy is still there?
SUSAN PEABODY: …and the relationship is not healthy because one person is doing all the work and the other is just living their life as a hedonist, you know. And so, in that case, if the codependent were my client, then I would be trying to get her to end the relationship and find someone who can give her attention, someone she gets along with, someone that is more than just attractive but is a worthy partner and the relationship is reciprocal.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: What if she, or he, whoever is the client, isn’t interested in that, really? Because, it makes me just think, like it’s a quick-fix solution, like my partner is not treating me the way I think I should be treated so I should leave that relationship. What happens, what if that is what the person wants, underneath it all? I mean, it’s feeding something. It may not be healthy in your definition, but it is feeding something for them.
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, codependents are getting some needs met. They’re getting their needs met, their childhood needs met, for trying to help a wounded person, so it makes them feel good about themselves. It gives them a false sense of self-esteem because they’re sacrificing. So needs are being met, but they’re not healthy needs because codependency, you, know, giving more than you get, is not healthy. That’s just the way it is. It’s widely recognized as an unhealthy relationship if one person is an addict and the other person is codependent. You know. But many people do live like this and I get a lot of people who come to me initially, they’re tired. They’re worn out. They want my help. I tell them they’re a love addict. I suggest that they make changes. Sometimes, this means the relationship gets into counseling and both partners change and grow and their relationship is saved. Sometimes it means ending the relationship, cutting your losses and starting with scratch with someone who’s relationship material. But, many times I never see these people again. Because they’re not…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: They run out the door?
SUSAN PEABODY: They wanted the information and they wanted the information to fix them, but they don’t want to change how they think, they don’t want to change their values and round relationship. They don’t want to do the work.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: That sounds like a lot of work.
SUSAN PEABODY: It is. Recovery is a lot of work.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So, even as they come in tired…
SUSAN PEABODY: Recovery takes years and it’s a lot of work and you have to be dedicated and you can’t do it alone.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: OK. Well, this is very interesting. We’re going to take quick break and this is “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Series.” We’ll be right back.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So, welcome back to “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Series.” We’re here with Susan Peabody, who is talking with us about love addiction, and before the break we were getting deep into is it possible to break the cycle? So I want to ask Susan that, but first I want to actually get into how did you even get into this field of love addiction?
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, I’m a pioneer. I, in 1982, was depressed and had a nervous breakdown, and went to get some help from a therapist and didn’t make a lot of progress even though I talked a lot about my depression and anxiety. Back then therapists didn’t give you homework assignments, they didn’t diagnose you, they didn’t tell you what you needed to do to change your life. They just sort of listened and nodded their head and validated you. Which was all very good, but eventually I came upon a book written by Robin Knollwood entitled “Women Who Love Too Much” and it just blew my mind. I recognized what was wrong with me and I was very introspective at the time because I was in therapy. I knew that if I didn’t do something about my depression that I was going to die.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: What was wrong with you? You said…
SUSAN PEABODY: I was a woman who loves too much, I was codependent, I was a love addict, I was trying to find love and instead I was finding toxic relationships, men took advantage of me and did not reciprocate, alcoholics and drug addicts…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: OK.
SUSAN PEABODY: …and I did not have a clue as to what I was doing wrong. I thought I was nice person, a good person, and that it was just bad luck that I was meeting these losers, and didn’t realize that I was actually drawn to men who needed help and needed fixing because I was, by nature, a teacher and hadn’t explored that side of my life at the time. I channel all of my caretaking energy now, which I believe I was born with, into teaching. I no longer mix romance and teaching by finding someone who needs to be propped up and fixing him and taking care of him and suffering, you know, as a result of his abuse. And so I read the book, I followed her recovery program, and I started a support group and I started teaching and writing and here I am.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: And here you are. Well, I want to say congratulations on that, because…
SUSAN PEABODY: Thank you.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So, for that codependent person, who thinks they’re a nice person, kind of like how you were describing yourself but they keep running into a series of bad luck with men or partners, what do you do to break the cycle?
SUSAN PEABODY: Well, they have to break the cycle themselves. They have to have what Oprah Winfrey calls a light-bulb moment.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Ah-ha, yea.
SUSAN PEABODY: And usually, that is preceded by depression and anxiety and they either give into that and continue on and die, or they seek some kind of treatment. And they often will not seek treatment for love addiction. They may go to AA because they’re alcoholics, or they may go to Overeaters Anonymous because they’re overeaters, and…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: These things are covering up the love addiction?
SUSAN PEABODY: These are subsidiary addictions.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: OK.
SUSAN PEABODY: These addictions go hand in hand with the love addiction. But once they get into therapy or in a support group and become self-aware, then if they read they may discover, you know, that they’re also a love addict. Nowadays, there’s so much written about love addiction. You can go online; you can hear the word bantied about. Get online, find out what it is, and do your own intervention. Sometimes a therapist will do an intervention or a family member who is a little ahead of you in recovery will say “I think you’re codependent. I think you’re a love addict. Read this book. Get on this message board.”
MONIQUE DEBOSE: IS that what an intervention is, how you’re describing it?
SUSAN PEABODY: An intervention is forcing someone to become self-aware. Sitting them down and telling them what their problem is, rather than waiting for them to stumble upon it on their own.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: I keep coming back to this thought, and I’ve been saying, “Oh no, I don’t want to be rude.” But, how are we to say, or how are you to say, something’s wrong with me, or me to say something’s wrong with you? I mean, I’m just wondering about our life path and what if we’re here for, so, I mean, it’s not part of our education process?
SP: Well, aberrant behavior is aberrant behavior. I think an expert in the field has a right to point out that if you are stalking your boyfriend, that’s aberrant behavior. It’s illegal behavior, and it is symptomatic of love addiction. So it’s pretty easy to diagnose people.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Is it that clear cut?
SP: Yes. Very clear cut. You know, and I talk about all this in my book “Addiction to Love.” There is a quiz you can take so you can determine if you are a love addict. There is the description of the symptoms and you either have them or you don’t.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SP: But if you have all 40 symptoms, you’re a love addict. It’s that cut and dry.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: What if you had about 5?
SP: Well then you’re a potential love addict. You’re going in that...
MONIQUE DEBOSE: I think I might be a potential.
SUSAN PEABODY: You’re going in that direction. Addiction, all addictions are progressive. They start out with a mood-altering experience. It feels good. You do it again. And then you do it again, and it becomes a preoccupation and a habit and then an obsession. With love, you become preoccupied early on in your life with romance. Romance is going to take away your depression. That perfect relationship is going to take away your anxiety and you set your sights on finding a relationship. But if you’ve been damaged in your childhood, you don’t know how to pick the right partner and you attract sick people like yourself and develop sick relationships.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Hasn’t everyone been damaged in their childhood to some degree?
SUSAN PEABODY: No.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: No?
SUSAN PEABODY: A lot of children are getting their need met and they have healthy self-esteem and they get good parenting. But I will say that a difficult childhood is the norm in that more children have been, you know, in a dysfunctional home than haven’t. But no way can you say that it’s impossible to be a healthy child. And there are a lot of healthy children who grow into healthy adults and have healthy relationships. They’re just not out there in the media, you know. It’s like, there are a lot of alcoholics, but there’s a lot of sober people.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right. I get that.
SUSAN PEABODY: So there’s a lot of hope if you have love addiction and you want to research the problem, understand how it applies to you, get help. Help is a 12-step program, a support group, a therapist who understands love addiction. For me, it came in the form of the written word. I could not find a therapist who understood love addiction, so I just read a lot of books and I began to help myself and I believe I had to do things the hard way, that I wish I’d had teachers back then. And so you get help and then you formulate a recovery program which means you have to change.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Does religion or God come into this piece?
SUSAN PEABODY: Only if you’re involved in 12-steps programs does spirituality come up. And in a 12-step program, it’s about spirituality, not a deity. They talk about God, but they have many Buddhists in 12-step programs who don’t have a deity. And so, spirituality can be a helpful component in recovery, and I discuss this in my book, but it is optional. When it’s time to change, love addicts have to change in terms of how they look at love. For instance, the typical love addict will think that attraction and chemistry and sex and romance is more important than compatibility because they want to…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: In relationships?
SUSAN PEABODY: In relationships. Because they want to get high from the get go and this attraction is often based on physical appearance. They haven’t even gotten to know this person. They don’t understand that attraction can come later after you’ve gotten to know someone and had a good time with them and developed a relationship with them and suddenly the chemistry comes after the fact. Typically, love addicts fall in love overnight and quickly, and they’re attraction addicts and they’re fantasy addicts. And so you have to, in recovery, explain to them that this is an unhealthy way of looking at love and they have to change their belief system about love. And then they have to change their behavior. It’s not appropriate when you meet someone to call them 10 times every night, every day.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: You know. It’s not appropriate to drive by their house when you’ve broken up and take the license plate down of the person in their driveway.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: You know. So you have to identify addictive behavior throughout the stages. The early stages, the middle stages, and the later stages, and you simply have to stop all of that addictive behavior. And you have to research to know what that addictive behavior is.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right. So I’m really hearing the clear-cut addictive behavior, but what you were describing before, which is falling in love with somebody, being attracted to somebody and thinking like “Oh, I want to go with this experience.”
SUSAN PEABODY: That a value. That’s a belief system.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: OK.
SUSAN PEABODY: Believing that attraction is more important than compatibility is a belief. It’s a value. Attraction is more valuable than compatibility.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So I’m hearing compatibility is something that you value or are deeming as healthy?
SUSAN PEABODY: It’s necessary for a healthy relationship.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: OK.
SUSAN PEABODY: And a lot of love addicts think they can do without it. Adults understand that compatibility, getting along, ease, common interests, is more important than sex and romance. They co-exist nicely in a healthy relationship.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: So, is a healthy relationship, so they c-exist nicely. So if someone was lacking sex, or lacing romance, that would be another extreme?
SUSAN PEABODY: You want; you want both and so yes it would be an extreme to give that up unless there is some physical reason…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Sure.
SUSAN PEABODY: …you know, why that can’t happen. I’m not going to deem a relationship unhealthy because you’re not having sex because someone’s dying of cancer.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: But generally, you want them to all co-exist but the compatibility and the ease, not fighting, not picking someone up and bailing them out of jail, that….
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: …that stuff, you know, is, shouldn’t be happening in a healthy relationship, you know, and…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: What about those women, or there’s men, who are involved with people who are in jail? Or who are involved with people who are alcoholics? I mean, I’m picking random things right here, but.
SUSAN PEABODY: If you are with someone who’s in trouble, in prison, an alcoholic, or a drug addict, and that person has turned their life around, and they are in recovery and they are changing, they’re going to AA; they’re going to therapy…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Right.
SUSAN PEABODY: …when they get out of jail, they’re never going to rob somebody again, then you can stand by them. But usually these people are there because they’re sick and if they’re not dealing with their issues they’re going to go out and recommit to their addiction, whether it’s robbing banks or whether it’s drinking. And so I’m not going to say you can’t stand by your man…
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Sure.
SUSAN PEABODY: …but it depends on whether you’re getting hurt and how much you’re sacrificing and whether that person is in recovery with you.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: Thank you. Well, that’s all the time we have. I want to thank SUSAN PEABODY for being here with us. The author of 2 books: “Addiction to Love” and “The Art of Changing.” Thanks for joining us, everyone else, on “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews” hosted by the One Taste Urban Retreat Center. Thank you, Susan.
SUSAN PEABODY: You’re welcome.
MONIQUE DEBOSE: You can find us on the web at personallifemedia.com, all one word, or check us out at onetaste.us. For more information about our lectures and workshops in sensuality, communication, and relationships. I’m MONIQUE DEBOSE and we’ll see you next time.