Overcoming Obsessive Love: An Interview with Eileen Bailey

Patient Expert

As the Twilight movies are close to wrapping up, I find myself reflecting on my reaction to the first book. What so many found impossibly romantic, I found worrisome. To me, the depiction of the relationship felt like nothing but red flags indicating an unhealthy love.

What does this have to do with RA? Sometimes, a chronic illness can have significant impact on what's happening in the rest of our lives. One of those aspects is relationships. In October this year, several writers from across HealthCentral's different communities explore the topic of domestic violence in chronic illness and disability. Every now and again, we'll take a look at another facet of this important topic. Eileen Bailey is the Community Leader for our  ADHD and Anxiety sites and writes for several other communities, as well. She recently co-authored a book called The Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love.

Overcoming Obsessive Love is a wonderfully practical book, exploring the difference between healthy and unhealthy love. It  discusses issues related to the obsessive lover, as well as the partner on the receiving end of this kind of love. This book also covers the origins of obsessive love, how to find freedom from it and what happens when it turns dangerous. Throughout, this very readable book includes examples of situations taken from real life, ranging from mild expressions of red flag behavior to five-alarm situations. I highly recommend picking up a copy Eileen Bailey agreed to talk to me about obsessive love, including how RA may play a role.

You have yourself experienced being in a relationship characterized by obsessive love. Can you tell us about that?

I am a survivor of domestic violence. While not every obsessive relationship turns violent, some, like mine do. In my relationship, my partner wanted to control my every move, this made him feel safe and secure. He needed to know what I was doing, where I was doing it and with whom. His anxiety about the relationship would be too overwhelming if he didn't know. If I was out longer than expected, he would come looking for me. If he worried that I might be with another man (although I never was) he would follow me. In the end, it became much too smothering and I left.

What is obsessive love and how is it different from healthy love?

In the beginning of a relationship, you think about the other person all the time, you want to be with him (or her), you daydream about being together, but at the same time you understand that each has his own life and must pursue his own dreams. You respect the other person and while there are times you focus on his needs, there are times you focus on your own as well. In a healthy love relationship, both people's needs are important. In an obsessive relationship, there is usually an imbalance; the one who is obsessed wants and needs all of the other person's attention, his needs become more important and the relationship often ends up revolving around the obsessor.

Can you give us some examples of red flag behaviors that may indicate obsessive love?

Each relationship is different, so the warning signs are just that, warning signs. Every obsessive relationship isn't going to have every sign but there are some commonalities in many obsessive relationships. For example:

The relationship moves too quickly, you (or your partner) believe you have met the "love of your life" hours, days or weeks after the relationship begins.

You, or your partner, worry about the relationship whenever you aren't together. We already talked about early romantic relationships and how you have a desire to spend all your time together, but in an obsessive relationship, the obsessor has constant worry that the other person will leave him or her every time they are apart.

The obsessive lover feels panic at the thought of the relationship ending

The obsessive lover often wants to "fix" you, holding on to the relationship making you a better, prettier, smarter person. He believes that no one else can love you better or as much as him.

The obsessive lover has a hard time sharing. He wants you for himself and tries to keep you away from your other friends and even your family. He is afraid that if you spend time with them, you will leave him.

Jealousy is certainly a really big red flag and in fact, research has shown that jealousy can be a warning sign for later violence, so if you are dating someone who is constantly jealous (we may all feel a little surge of jealousy from time to time), be careful.

What can you do to discourage someone who's obsessive? What if you start feeling obsessive yourself?

Unfortunately, there isn't anything you can do to stop someone from being obsessive. This usually comes from their own insecurities and quite possibly from failed early childhood relationships or abandonment issues. If someone you are with is obsessive, the best thing is to encourage them to seek help so they can work through these issues and learn how to both give and take healthy love.

The same goes if you find yourself becoming obsessive, talk with a therapist or counselor to find out why you are obsessive and what relationships in your past have led you to feel insecure about love.

Are people who have a chronic illness more vulnerable to obsessive lovers?

Although I have not come across such research, I can certainly imagine that those with chronic illness may be vulnerable to obsessive love because they may feel they are dependent on their partner for so much and can't survive without him. On the other hand, they may be susceptible to being obsessed by someone because they feel unlovable.

Can you tell us how obsessive love can lead to control and abuse? What can you do about it?

As I mentioned before, when an obsessive lover has problems with jealousy, the relationship has a higher risk of becoming abusive, emotionally, physically or both. This normally happens as the obsessive lover can't control the panic felt over the possibility of the relationship ending and try harder to control the situation, feeling this control is the only way to make sure you stay.

To get more information about domestic violence, control and abuse, please see our Domestic Violence and Chronic illness and Disability area.

Thank you very much Eileen for writing such a wonderful book and for sharing your knowledge with the RA community!

Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View.