Emotional dependency vs. love

Reading Time: 2 minutes Valentine’s Day, one of the most anticipated dates of the year for lovers, is quickly approaching. We all know that love is the focus of this special day; yet what is love, how is it different from emotional dependence, and do both affect our health?

A couple embrace in a sunset.Reading Time: 2 minutes

For humans, love is one of the most powerful emotions, reported Linda Thrasybule, a previous contributor for LiveScience. However, according to Margaret Paul, Co-Creator of Inner Bonding, “Love is easily confused with emotional dependency because they both usually come with intense feelings around another person. [Yet] in an emotionally dependent relationship, people feel they’re ‘in love’ when really they’re ‘in need.’” What is emotional dependency, and how can it be prevented?

Emotional Dependency

In an article summarizing insights gained from psychologist Walter Riso’s book, “The Limits of Love,” emotional dependence is defined as “a product of hyper-romanticism, which can lead a person to suffer pathological jealousy, emotional dependence, a lack of identity, and more.” Shortly put, emotional dependency is when a person has a deeply sentimental relationship with another yet presents dangerously obsessive behavior as a result of this relationship. 

According to Crystal Raypole, a contributor for Healthline, examples of emotional dependency may include:

• an idealized view of your partner or the relationship

• the belief your life lacks meaning without them

• the belief you can’t find happiness or security alone

• a persistent fear of rejection

• a constant need for reassurance

• feelings of emptiness and anxiety when spending time alone

• needing them to build your self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth

• feelings of jealousy or possessiveness

• difficulty trusting in their feelings for you  

Additionally, individuals affected by emotional dependency may think only about their partners for most of the day, may constantly seek to spend as much time as possible with them, and may leave behind long-held goals and aspirations to make themselves more available. 

These behaviors are dangerous. According to Raypole, “[W]hen you need your partner to meet all of your emotional needs, you’re probably not doing much to meet those needs on your own. This total reliance on another person can eventually take a toll on your relationship and overall well-being.” Since emotional dependence is a condition that can be mentally and physically dangerous, it is important to see a mental health professional or couples therapist to help reduce the chance of harm to yourself or your partner. 


As acclaimed neurologist Sigmund Freud (summarized by doctor Berit Brogaard) explains, “Love completes our deficient narcissist selves.” Brogaard continues, “When the love is reciprocated, the tension between self and other is eliminated, and the lover experiences a relief from the freedom from envy of the other person’s qualities and abilities.” This leads to the characteristic feeling of love: reward in the presence of the beloved as well as an idealization of the beloved. 

Manifestations of love are typically determined by how different groups of people show affection to each other (hugs, kisses, giving gifts, etc.). However, in any respective case, there is a definite distinction between genuine love, which is based on healthy behavior and respecting established limits, and emotional dependence, which ignores these boundaries and negatively affects how lovers feel around each other.

Interpersonal relationships are very complex because each person tends to establish different parameters by which they express their love. This is why love is not only expressed through gestures such as gift-giving or kissing but may also be expressed through quality time or acts of service. Although the differences between love and emotional dependence are definite, they can be very difficult to notice since behaviors and expectations vary from person to person. This is why boundary-setting is so important; setting personal limits on any relationship is key for people to avoid risky situations and unhealthy emotional dependence.