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

But what about real love – healthy love? People ask all the time ‘When are you going to write How to Spot a Healthy Partner because with as many bad relationships as 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).



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

Self­care 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 &


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. The end result of these relationships is ‘Inevitable Harm.’ Let’s be clear – 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.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, on-on-ones, or phone sessions. See the website for more information).