When Love Life Problems Cause Illness

In my experience, the love life problems that cause the most illness are:

1. breakup of a love relationship resulting in separation and divorce, if married;

2. chronic feelings of loneliness when living alone;

3. chronic mistreatment or abuse in a love relationship;

4. death of a lover or spouse. 

The most common forms of illness/disability that result from love life problems are:

1. depression;

2. anxiety disorders;

3. physical symptoms and illness;

4. chronic relationship problems;

5. inability to work.

The common thread for all of the love life problems listed above is difficulty coping with the perceived loss of love, in one form or another. This is easy to figure out if you’re dealing with a love relationship that breaks up, in instances of chronic loneliness, or the death of a lover. But it is also true when a person is suffering a lover’s mistreatment or abuse. In a love relationship that gets controlling and abusive, there is plenty to ‘lose.’ For example, the loss of freedom is particularly painful, and so is the loss of love one expected to feel in the relationship over time.

It makes sense that in a treatment tailored toward helping a person improve his or her love life, the focus would be on strengthening a person’s ability to understand and cope with feelings of loss. This usually involves accepting the reality of loss, living through the emotional pain involved, grieving the loss, letting go of the loved one, and moving on with life in the present and future. This experience of losing love is capable of creating all of the symptoms and disability listed.

The symptom of depression is common for people who are more directly in touch with the feeling of lost love, but are unable to grieve for one reason or another. Many people think grief is a weakness, or sign of sickness, and prefer to hide the grief resulting in a chronic depressive illness that is difficult to resolve.

Short or long-term use of antidepressant medications may provide temporary relief but they are only masking the symptoms and making it harder to work directly with the feeling of loss. Working with depression more directly can be difficult for some psychotherapists because of the feelings they will inevitably experience if the treatment is successful. Resolving one’s own experiences of lost love makes working with people who are feeling the loss of love this directly more effective.

When a person’s predominant love life symptom is anxiety, he or she is a step away from experiencing depressive feelings of loss. It is common for anxious lovers to be defensively avoiding the losses they’ve experienced because of some belief that the feelings would be overwhelming. You can think of the symptom as a sign that a person is nervously running away from inevitable feelings of loss and the emotional pain that entails. As in the treatment of the depressed lover, the objective is to grieve the losses and disappointments of love. The additional problem, however, is to make the psychological journey from the defensive state of anxiety to the underlying sadness and lost once the person’s tolerance for this emotion is strengthened.

By far the most complicated and troublesome symptoms are the physical ones. They are particularly difficult because the psychological and social causes are even more remote. Some people are more comfortable (relatively so) focused on physical illness than emotional illness. The latter feels to them like it cannot be tolerated or easily fixed. Physical symptoms and illness have a simpler more understandable medical treatment, regardless of it’s diminished effectiveness when the emotional reasons for illness are not acknowledged or worked with directly. The long and the short of it is, a lot of people suffer physical symptoms and illness caused by love life problems that are never really understood as the true cause of their sickness.

Chronic relationship problems usually show up as repeated difficulties finding and/or sustaining a love relationship. Multiple relationships or marriages ending in breakups and divorces highlight this difficulty. Chronic relationship problems often involve the same love life difficulty played out in different relationships. A lot of people are simply not conscious of this and end up suffering the same heartache over and over again. Being able to focus on what was learned about love earlier in life that is not helping a person find and sustain love, is the gigantic first step in correcting this problem.

I’ll briefly mention the inability to work because I’ve come to understand over the years that very often losing time at work is the direct result of love life difficulties. In fact, I would say at this point that it’s the biggest cause of what are called short-term work disabilities. Broken down this simply means that most people take time away from their jobs because of some kind of problem going on in their love lives, acknowledged or not. The various symptoms, both emotional and physical, that love life problems can create are at the root of a lot of sick time. Unfortunately, this connection is often overlooked and not directly treated.

Any love life experiences to share? Love to hear from my readers.

Dr. Thomas Jordan, author of Learn to Love: Guide to Healing Your Disappointing Love Life

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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