Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
Another kiss is all you need
Ohh oohh… (“Addicted to Love,” words by Robert Palmer)
It may seem sacrilegious to say, but not all love is healthy– some of it may be downright addictive. I am not talking about romantic love which seems to be at the beginning of most relationships and often leaves us moon struck and imbecilic. Addictive love also begins innocently enough with a good feeling that ends in a euphoric experience. The lovers cannot maintain such a level of ecstasy, so there is a separation and a sense of depression followed by another round of intimacy which takes the experience to new levels; and then the chemistry wears off. Soon one person becomes aware that passion does not a relationship make and pulls away leaving the other to fall into utter despondency. This addictive love most often characterizes “affairs” which take place outside of marriage.
Here is part of a letter written by such a despondent lover still recovering from an addictive relationship: To say I miss you only trivializes the matter for me. I miss the “me” I become when there was “we.” Now that there is no more “we,” I am not “I” but a shadow of my former self that became a self in you. Do you see how self-centeredly dependent this “love” is? This letter gets worse and it ends up sounding like a recovering alcoholic fantasizing about the day when he can be reunited with his drug of choice. He only remembers the good times and not the painful part of the relationship.
And so we see that addictive love is characterized by the rush and thrill of a new experience; where the “me” reigns supreme and yet where one’s identity is lost in the “us” of the relationship. And when the relationship is over there is not just sadness and grief, but anger and confusion and “lostness.”
Not all love is addictive, but neither is all love healthy. Perhaps I am more aware of this right now working on a college campus where love is often misunderstood and unhealthy. So here are some questions that should be asked to test for the qualities of a healthy love that can form the basis of a solid relationship: Could you live without the other person? Are we friends as well as lovers? Are we able to maintain appropriate relationships outside of ours? Do we celebrate each others victories and personal growth or do they make us jealous? Can I stand with you in your sorrows or triumphs without being swallowed up by them? Does our relationship promote or hinder our personal and spiritual growth? Do we give to each other because we love to give or because we want to get? Is there space in our togetherness? (William Lenters, The Freedom We Crave)
This notion of addictive love should not be dismissed out of hand by those of us who have good marriages. Usually affairs don’t begin in the bedroom, but with a hungry heart. Pastors are very susceptible to temptation because they are caring people who deal with needy people. They also are not typically rewarded by monetary gain or promotion, but by a sense of satisfaction when they do help someone. They feel good when they are useful and are fulfilling their calling. It is this powerful influence of “feeling good” that can subtlety hook a pastor and draw him (or her) to someone whose encouragement and affirmation may jump start an unhealthy addictive relationship, and so on…
I am not inferring that feeling good about ministry is wrong, but there are those who while they would never be hooked on drugs of booze get addicted to self-affirming relationships that lead to disaster. Don’t play around with this phenomenon. You won’t survive. “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Prov. 6:27) NO!
“Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).