by Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

Since Valentine’s Day was upon us, I thought it would be a great discussion about what happens in Pathological Love Relationships— that attraction is on over-drive while love (from a pathological) is lingo-bling.

But what about real love, healthy love? People write all the time and say ‘When are you going to write How to Spot a Healthy Partner because with as many bad relationships that I’ve been in, I can hardly tell the difference between what should be obviously toxic and what should be obviously healthy.’

The opposite of healthy love is what we often call ‘toxic’ love. Sometimes understanding what toxic ‘looks like’ helps us to see what real ‘love’ should look like too.

Here is a short list of the characteristics of Love vs. Toxic Love (compiled with the help of the work of Melody Beattie & Terence Gorski).

Love Toxic Love
Development of self is first priority Obsession with relationship
Room to grow, expand, desire for other to grow Security and comfort in sameness;
insensitivity of need seen as proof of love
(may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness)
Separate interests; other friends; maintain other meaningful relationships Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests
Encouragement of each other’s expanding; secure in own worth Preoccupation with other’s behavior; fear of other changing
Appropriate Trust (i.e. trusting partner to behave according to fundamental nature) Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects “supply”
Compromise, negotiation or taking turns at leading. Problem solving together Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation
Embracing of each other’s individuality Trying to change other to own image
Relationship deals with all aspects of reality Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant
Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other’s mood Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other
Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go) Fusion (being obsessed with each other’s problems and feelings)
Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification
Ability to enjoy being alone Unable to endure separation; clinging
Cycle of comfort and contentment Cycle of pain and despair


Love is not supposed to be painful. There is pain involved in any relationship but if it is painful most of the time then you are probably in a Pathological Love Relationship because the end result of these relationships is ‘Inevitable Harm.’  Let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship – it is natural and healthy. If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment – it is a lesson. And these lessons are mostly about pathology, its permanence, and the lives it affects without discrimination.