What Is Obsessive Love Disorder?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Love can be a healthy and fulfilling part of life, but it’s also possible for feelings of love to go along with an unhealthy fixation on another person that may motivate harmful emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Some call this phenomenon “obsessive love disorder” (OLD) and view it as a distinctive mental illness that may be treatable with psychiatric help. At the present time, obsessive love disorder is not widely recognized by clinicians. However, it can be a useful way to describe a group of symptoms that may be associated with more commonly diagnosed mental health conditions. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as obsessive romantic thoughts, an inability to accept rejection, and extreme jealousy or overprotectiveness, it might be a good idea to seek out a licensed therapist for assistance. One easy way to do so can be through an online therapy platform.

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Worried you might have obsessive love disorder?

What are the signs of obsessive love disorder?

The current edition of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not define obsessive love disorder as a mental illness. This can make it difficult to provide a definitive list of symptoms. That said, the following signs may serve as warnings that someone is developing an obsessive romantic fixation:

  • Inability to stop thinking about another person
  • Craving contact at all times
  • Intense, possessive jealousy
  • Controlling thoughts or behaviors
  • Extreme obsessive worries about the other person’s safety
  • Disregarding and overstepping personal boundaries
  • Hypersensitivity to negative feedback or lack of attention
  • Difficulty accepting rejection
  • Monitoring the other person’s communications, whereabouts, and behavior
  • Violating the other person’s space
People with obsessive love disorder may become convinced that there is a relationship between themselves and the person on whom they’re fixated. This can sometimes happen even when the other person is unaware of the individual with OLD or has definitively rejected them. Other cases may involve existing romantic relationships in which one party’s attachment becomes controlling, paranoid, or otherwise unhealthy. 

Why obsessive love can be a problem

When you’re in the grips of a romantic obsession, it may be hard to recognize your own unhelpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The American Survey Center reports that more than one-third of U.S. adults consider a committed love relationship essential for a fulfilling life, and only 14% say it’s not important. With these statistics in mind, it can seem normal and natural to have an extremely intense desire for romance.

But issues can arise when your craving for love becomes so strongly fixated on one person that you have trouble moving on when they’re not interested. It’s also possible to focus so much on feelings that you neglect or disregard other possible sources of happiness in your life. Some people may even come to view their love for the other person as an essential piece of their identity, which can create the potential for an emotional crisis in response to rejection or relationship difficulties.

OLD may sometimes involve extreme feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. Multiple studies have identified these emotions as risk factors for harmful behaviors such as psychological abuse, stalking, and intimate partner violence. There’s a chance that obsessive love could make a person more likely to emotionally or physically harm someone else.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

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How common is obsessive love disorder?

Since OLD is not currently recognized or diagnosed by most mental health professionals, it can be difficult to find reliable statistics on how widespread it is. However, one study on obsessive love estimated that less than 0.1% of the population experiences this phenomenon. The same paper suggested that obsessive love may be more common in women than in men, although there’s not a clear explanation for why this might be.

More research is likely needed to validate these findings. If and when OLD gains broader recognition among clinicians, it may be possible to develop a clearer idea of the prevalence and demographics of this phenomenon.

Other conditions that may accompany obsessive love disorder

Many of the emotions and behaviors associated with OLD can also occur in individuals with other, more well-known mental health disorders. Numerous studies have shown that someone diagnosed with one psychological illness tends to be at a greater risk for a wide range of other conditions. Disorders that might make a person more likely to experience obsessive love may include:

Childhood attachment disorders

Some contemporary psychological research has focused on the concept of attachment styles, or interpersonal relationship patterns that are influenced by parental relationships in early childhood. Studies suggest that attachment may have important effects on mental health and romantic behavior. Childhood neglect may lead to attachment disorders that may have effects on future romantic relationships. This could potentially increase the likelihood of obsessive love behaviors, such as attempting to monitor or control a partner.

Erotomania

Certain features of obsessive love disorder might be related to erotomania, a condition in which a person may experience the delusion that they are in a romantic relationship with another person. Often, but not always, the object of these delusions is a well-known, famous, or socially prominent person. This disorder could distort a person’s perception of reality and cause them to feel an intense attachment that is not reciprocated.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Persistent and intrusive thoughts about someone for whom you have romantic feelings could potentially be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Individuals living with OCD may have difficulty letting go of unhelpful ideas and feel compelled to take particular actions in response to obsessive thoughts. Some researchers have identified a specific variant of this disorder in which these obsessions and compulsions are directed toward a romantic partner or relationship. Known as relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD), this condition could lead to intrusive thoughts and persistent fears regarding the loss of a partner.

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that often goes hand in hand with difficulties in forming stable relationships. Individuals with BPD may be hypersensitive to rejection, which can result in an unstable self-image and a tendency to fixate on the possibility of betrayal or disconnection from others. These symptoms of borderline personality disorder can have some similarities with the intense jealousy and paranoia that may be experienced along with obsessive love. 

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Worried you might have obsessive love disorder?

How to overcome obsessive love disorder

What can you do if you’re feeling burdened by obsessive romantic feelings? Here are a few steps you can take that may make it easier to move on from your fixation. 

Avoid contacting or “checking in on” the other person

Obsessive love is often reinforced by contact with the person for whom you have feelings. A study on people experiencing breakups found that contact with the other person normally caused feelings of love and sadness to persist longer. If you’ve become attached to someone who isn’t interested in a relationship with you, it may be best to avoid being in their presence for a while. Otherwise, it may be more difficult to move on.

You may also want to avoid digital communications and block them on social media. One 2016 study demonstrated that simply viewing a picture of someone you’re pining for can activate neurological reward pathways associated with habit formation. In other words, looking at the other person’s digital activity could strengthen your tendency to obsess over them.

Put your energy toward other interests

Some people may obsess over romantic relationships because they feel other areas of their life are lacking. If you want to get over your unhealthy interest in the other person, it might help to focus on other things in your life that provide meaning and happiness.

Spending more time on a neglected hobby is often a useful approach, as is strengthening your ties with friends and family. You may also be able to find fulfillment by learning a new skill or redoubling your efforts in your career. When your life feels full and well-rounded, you may not feel such an intense need for romance. 

Work on your self-esteem

Obsessive love tendencies could also arise from a diminished sense of self-worth. If you don’t feel that you’re good enough on your own, you may crave validation from another person. 

Some people find that practicing self-affirmation boosts their self-esteem. This practice generally involves writing down and reaffirming your core values, reminding yourself of the things that really matter to you in life. Possible examples include creativity, compassion, achievement, experiencing new things, or spending time with loved ones. The effect of this practice may be enhanced by visualizing yourself fulfilling these key drives, followed by taking real-world actions in line with your values.

Talk with a therapist

Even though mental health professionals rarely diagnose obsessive love disorder, they may be able to help you cope with and manage many of its symptoms. For example, a study on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for obsessive jealousy found that in the majority of cases, treatment “resulted in a significant improvement on all jealousy measures.” You may want to find a licensed therapist to help you manage your unhelpful thoughts and emotions.

Many patients find that internet-based counseling makes the process of finding a good therapist faster and easier. That speed can be very beneficial when you’re struggling not to act on obsessive feelings and need help quickly. If you and your partner are working together on difficulties caused by obsessive love, online relationship counseling might also be beneficial. 

Some research suggests that a virtual format can make it easier for couples to develop trust in a counselor. In addition, studies on web-based counseling have found that it can work every bit as well as face-to-face sessions. One meta-analysis of past studies, which looked at results from more than a thousand participants, concluded that online therapy and traditional therapy showed “no difference in effectiveness”. If you think online counseling might be for you, an online therapy platform can pair you with a licensed therapist experienced in helping clients work through love and relationship issues. 

Takeaway

Obsessive love disorder may not be a broadly recognized diagnosis, but it can describe a pattern of persistent and excessive romantic attachment that many people may find familiar. Feelings of obsessive love may also be linked to better-known conditions such as BPD, relationship OCD, and erotomania. Limiting contact with the object of your obsession and working to build a healthy sense of self-worth may reduce your romantic fixation. Licensed therapists can often provide assistance as well, and you can connect with a mental health professional in your local area or online.
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