Love Vs Attachment: Is It Truly Love?

By Dylan Buckley|Updated August 17, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

Loving someone and being loved in return is an amazing experience. Not everyone is certain of when they are truly in love and when they are feeling attachment, lust, or passion. This confusion can leave individuals feeling unsure about their mutual love and relationship, fostering doubt rather than commitment.

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The truth is that love transcends control, so relationships are not always as solid as we initially believe. Feelings and emotions are fluid, and they are not always easy to discern. That means that there is always the possibility that we may not feel the way we think we do, and that these feelings can easily change and evolve into something else over time.

Most people crave stability in a relationship. They want to know that the relationship is not going to fall apart down the road and that they won’t ultimately break up with soul mate. While this cannot be guaranteed, there are some ways that you can figure out whether or not the relationship you are in is worth your time.

This article explains the difference between love and attachment and details ways you can differentiate the two. Continue reading the information provided below, and find out the differences between the two concepts, in addition to where you currently are in your own relationship.

Firstly, What Is Love?

Real love is a very complex emotion. There are many other emotions that tend to mimic some of the main components of love. Sometimes it can be hard to determine if what you are sensing is genuine love when experience feelings that you’ve never felt before.

To oversimplify it:

Love Is Selfless.

When it comes to being in a relationship with someone we love, we are typically focused forming an emotional attachment to them. We love and celebrate all that they are and our partner fuels positive emotions that hopefully boost our self-esteem. While our own needs matter, we put our significant other's needs first, and make sure that there is room for compromise. The strong bond that is shared between you and your lover is able to overcome almost anything that is thrown your way. These types of relationships are ones in which both parties enjoy spending time with each other, care about each other, and do the most to make sure that we are making the other person happy. True, there are moments when these relationships become strained, one person becomes heavily dependent on the other, or one party can annoy the other, but in the end, the relationships based on love and mutual respect are typically able to continue.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have an attachment.

Attachment Can Be Selfish.

When we are attached to someone, we are often in that relationship to meet our needs. Being attached to someone means that we are receiving something from the relationship that keeps us there – validation, encouragement, respite from our own problems. These types of self-centered relationships are often unhealthy for everyone involved. While attachment may seem like love, when people form unhealthy attachments or unnecessary dependence on their significant other, the highs and lows are typically far stronger, and there are some telltale signs that help individuals to determine whether they are attached or in love.

Love And Attachment: Signs to Pay Attention to

Here are some of the most common situations or feelings that you may have encountered within your relationship that will help you to distinguish between true love or attachment.

You Feel Nervous and Upset When You Are Not With Your Partner

Love is based on trust. Trust is the foundation which allows two people to go about their day without worrying that their partner may be doing something that could ruin the relationship. Attachment, on the other hand, tends to lead people to play mind games to avoid abandonment and feel anxious or upset when their partner is gone. It also fuels controlling behavior and obliterates mutual trust. When they’re together, the person who is attached may feel very happy, but when they leave, they get anxious. If they cannot get in contact with their partner, they may feel even worse about the situation and can go to drastic measures to attempt to contact them. If you feel this way when your partner is away from you, you are likely attached, not in love.

You Are Not Someone Without Your Partner

When you fall in love with someone, you begin to develop a joint identity – the loving version of yourselves, so to speak. This consists of everything you do together, and many people will be able to see this separate entity that has been created from the relationship. However, this does not mean that you lose all sense of your true self. Space is needed in order for relationships to thrive. Couples should still maintain their own identities, do their own things, process their own issues and feelings (in a healthy way), and enjoy time apart even when they are in a relationship.

In unsatisfying relationships where one or both partners are attached, the relationship becomes the sole focus. Some people may give up on their own lives and personal growth entirely. They try to spend every second with their significant other and they will sacrifice their time and their freedom to make sure that they can be with their partner. Over time, they lose a life of their own. Instead, they simply exist within the relationship and seek to rid both people of their singular identities. They may also become so dependent upon the person that they are attached to that they are unable to function in certain capacities without them. We may see power struggles, keeping score, controlling behavior, mind games, and emotional blackmail in these kinds of relationships where one person takes advantage of the attached person as well. Attachment is typically dominated by possession, while real love allows for space to exist.

How Your Partner Treats You Dictates Your Entire Mood

When two people in love get into a fight, it can put a damper on things, but it doesn’t necessarily ruin the entire day. When someone is attached to another individual on an unhealthy level, however, how they are treated by their partner will dictate how they feel for the rest of the day, and their moods will often be extreme. Say, for example, that their partner decides to ignore them. They may respond by feeling terrible, crying, or exhibiting other negative behaviors as a result of the actions of their partner. Likewise, attention or gifts can elevate the mood very high and make the partner’s entire day. These drastic mood shifts can create an overall toxic environment in which a partner can withhold or give love in order to gain control over the attached person. Overall, this sign of attachment can be one of the more dangerous aspects of a relationship.

You Want More Than Your Partner Does

Love is a two-way street, and mutual trusts develops when both partners give and take in order to keep the relationship healthy. Those who are in love do what they can to make sure that both they and their partner are happy. You expect that your partner will take care of you, and you put out the effort to take care of your partner. In a relationship with unhealthy attachment problems, one partner will keep taking from the other without needing or wanting to give back. This goes back to the theme that attachment is selfish. A partner is staying in that relationship because someone is giving them the attention that they crave.

Learn How To Develop Stable Relationships With A Therapist

If one partner is severely attached or possessive, they will often force the relationship to move faster to keep their partner in the relationship. If the pressure is allowed to continue, both partners start to hold resentment because they are stuck in a relationship that neither one truly wants. Overall, one partner wanting more than the other partner can be a major sign that one of the partners is attached.

While love and attachment may seem like two very similar things to experience, it can be very easy to differentiate them when you break them down and we sincerely hope that the list above should help you to better accomplish this. In some instances, relationships where attachment is prevalent may be too toxic to save, while some can be fixed with the right plan and changes made by both parties. However, an outside perspective is often needed to make this happen (if there is a relationship there to salvage).

Fostering Stable Relationships With BetterHelp

Recent research points to online therapy as a useful way of helping couples achieve mutual growth and manage difficult emotions within relationships. In a wide-ranging report on the effectiveness of online therapy for couples in distress, researchers outlined the benefits of online therapy for personal and mutual well being. Benefits included the ability to complete therapy from the privacy of one’s home, and the reduction of barriers to treatment often associated with in-person therapy (such as transportation constraints, scheduling issues, perceived stigma, etc.). Another benefit of online therapy, according to the research, is the ability to more thoroughly personalize treatment for specific couples with unresolved issues or profound differences. The study concluded that online therapy can improve communication between partners, overall relationship function, and the individual mental health of the individuals. This is in line with a growing number of studies suggesting the effectiveness of online therapy when treating a wide variety of mental health issues.

As discussed above, online therapy is an accessible and flexible alternative to traditional, face-to-face couples counseling. Through BetterHelp, you and/or your partner will also have the option of participating in counseling completely anonymously. Simply select a “nickname” when registering, and your privacy will remain protected. The counselors at BetterHelp know how to guide you on your journey to better mental health, and a stronger, more stable bond with your significant other. Read below for reviews, from people who have sought help for similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Nerine is extremely helpful. She is great at giving me specific things to help with my situation. I appreciate her giving me helpful tips on how to cope with a loss of someone and she has amazing advice to help me have a strong and healthy relationship with my boyfriend.”

“John is extremely friendly and helpful. I was struggling for a long time trying to deal with past anxieties and a relationship where I was causing some problems due to this. John coached me through this and within weeks I was already doing better and progressing. Thank you John!”

Conclusion

If you believe that there are unhealthy attachment problems in your current relationship, and both you and your partner want to take the actions necessary to make positive changes and remedy this issue, know that help is available. You can learn to form a healthier emotional attachment and stronger bonds. Take the first step today.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:


Are you in love or just attached?
Is attachment stronger than love?
Can you be emotionally attached but not in love?
Is love emotional or attachment?
Can you love without attachment?
Can you turn attachment into love?
How do you tell if someone is attached to you?

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