Have you ever been unsure whether what you’re feeling is love in the truest, healthiest sense of the word, or if what you’re actually experiencing is an attachment to someone?
Is it a reliance on them that’s bordering on the unhealthy?
Some degree of emotional attachment is, of course, essential in a committed relationship. A thriving relationship is based on a healthy level of attachment, where you want to be with one another, but your life doesn’t actually depend on the other person’s presence in it.
It can sometimes be tricky, though, for people to recognize where the line between healthy and unhealthy attachment falls. The majority of people that cross this line don’t realize they have.
Sometimes love can turn into unhealthy attachment, and sometimes it’s never actually true love in the first place, just an addiction that you can’t shake or have no interest in shaking.
What are the signs that what you’re experiencing is an unhealthy attachment rather than true love?
Here are a few to consider:
1. You are emotionally dependent.
All couples do and should depend on one another to a certain extent.
A healthy amount of interdependence is when both partners know they can turn to one another when they need support, but don’t rely solely on each other. They maintain a wide network of people to help them when they’re in need.
They enjoy doing things together, but they don’t need to be glued to each other every second of the day.
Emotional dependence is different to interdependence in that one partner either relies on the other entirely and is willing to give nothing back or offers their partner their full support, to the extent that they sacrifice themselves, and expect nothing in return.
Someone who is emotionally dependent can’t be separated from their partner and is incapable of enjoying themselves when they’re apart.
2. You are overly invested in their life.
When you’re in a serious relationship, you’re a partnership, so you should be there to support one another and offer advice. But you should then allow them to get on with things.
You know full well that they are a capable human being and, whilst they might need a little extra support sometimes, they do not need you to do everything for them.
Unhealthy attachment is when you’re willing to abandon your own work or interests to dedicate yourself to solving their problems; when you just can’t leave them to sort things out on their own.
It might feel like you’re being supportive, but it’s actually a little disrespectful. To them, it might seem as though you’re questioning their capability.
You’re so attached that you struggle to see the lines between your life and theirs. You try to rescue them constantly, even when they haven’t asked you to.
If you start taking over their life, you stop being equal partners who respect one another, and, instead, become a strange parent figure who they might begin to resent or expect to fix absolutely everything that goes wrong.
3. But it’s really all about you.
Much as you might sacrifice your own time to focus on them, it’s really all about you.
Attachment comes from a place of selfishness. Everything you do for them is actually for you in some small way, even if you just do it because you think if will make them stay with you.
True love is all about the other person. You genuinely put their needs before your own, including respecting when they need their space and independence.
4. It’s only difficult when you’re apart
As the saying goes, the course of true love never did run smooth. Love is anything but straightforward, but attachment doesn’t have any other levels to it.
Real love is tough, and it needs to be worked on. It involves compromise and fights, whereas attachment doesn’t grow or evolve.
If you’re attached to someone in an unhealthy way, you’ll want to see them like an addict who needs their next fix, and you’ll worry about and obsess over what could go wrong.
Yet when you’re together, it won’t be complex and you won’t be overwhelmed by your emotions.
You only need to see them, be with them, and touch them. If you’re only attached, it will be as simple as that, and you’ll fight about when you’re next seeing each other, not the really big stuff.
5. You feel like the other person completes you.
True love is realizing that you both remain as two whole people; you don’t melt into each other.
It is knowing that you each need your own space, and being absolutely fine when the other person’s not there. It’s wanting the best for them, whether or not that involves you.
If you’re attached, you feel like you can’t live without them, and that they are the be all and end all.
It’s not caring about what’s best for them, just wanting them to be with you. It’s feeling like you’d somehow be incomplete if they were to leave.
How To Stop Unhealthy Emotional Attachment From Developing
A relationship that’s based on unhealthy attachment isn’t a positive experience for either partner.
But there are ways to try to make sure that you don’t find yourself caught up in a toxic relationship that, if you’re truly honest with yourself, isn’t real love.
1. Try to get into a relationship for the right reasons.
This is easier said than done, but if you’re looking for a relationship, try to put your finger on what your motives are.
Is your search for someone the result of a fear of being alone? If you’re looking for someone for the wrong reasons, you’re pretty likely to find the wrong person.
2. Take things slowly.
Someone that is experiencing attachment will often rush into a relationship, as that way they can be sure that they’ve got the other person all to themselves.
Attachment is possessive. Don’t get into a relationship just because you don’t want them to be with anyone else.
3. Make sure you have your own lives.
If a couple starts doing absolutely everything together, an unhealthy attachment becomes more likely. Whilst it’s wonderful to want to spend lots of time with the one you love, we all need space.
Make sure that you both have your own interests and spend time away from one another.
Don’t be afraid to do activities that your partner isn’t interested in. Don’t give up all the things you used to do before you met the object of your affections.
4. Nourish your friendships and familial relationships.
Don’t be the person that gets into a relationship and never bothers to make time for their friends and family.
Treat your good friends and your close family with as much love and respect as you do your partner, and consciously set aside the time to work on those relationships.
5. Don’t expect your partner to fulfil all your needs.
Whilst your partner should definitely be a wonderful source of strength, and someone you can turn to for support, you shouldn’t rely on them for absolutely everything. No one can handle that kind of load being laid on their shoulders.
6. Take pride in your independence.
If you love someone, then of course you’d be devastated if things ended, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you couldn’t survive without them, or that your life would end if they left you.
Much as it would hurt, you’d get through it, and, eventually, you’d be absolutely fine.
Take pride in the fact that, although you’ve chosen to be in a committed relationship with this person, you are still a completely self-sufficient human being.
Never forget who you are as an individual. You’re strong, and you’re whole, and you deserve a true love that nourishes you and doesn’t make you feel like half a person waiting for someone to complete them.
Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.