Obsessive Love: When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go


Is it impossible to let go — despite the pain?

• Do you yearn for someone who is not physically or emotionally available to you?
• Do you believe that if you love him ...

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Is it impossible to let go — despite the pain?

• Do you yearn for someone who is not physically or emotionally available to you?
• Do you believe that if you love him enough he will have to love you?
• When you feel insecure, does it drive you only to want her more?
• Do you find yourself phoning repeatedly or waiting long hours for the phone to ring?

Do you wish someone would let go of you?

• Does an ex-lover or ex-spouse refuse to believe that it’s over?
• Do you receive unwanted phone calls, letters, presents, or visits?
• Is this pursuit of you creating so much anxiety that it affects your physical or emotional well-being?

In this invaluable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward presents vivid case histories as well as the real-life voices of men and women caught in the grip of obsessive passion.

Whether you’re an obsessive lover or the target of such an obsession, here is a proven, step-by-step program that shows you how to recognize the “connection compulsion,” what causes it, and how to break its hold on your life so that you can go on to build healthy, lasting, and pain-free relationships.

Is it impossible to let go--despite the pain? Do you wish someone would let go of you? The author of Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them presents vivid case histories of people caught in the grip of obessive passion and explains how they can break these holds and go on to healthier relationships.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Riveting! Once again, Susan Forward has shone a light on relationships in her uniquely compassionate and dramatic way.”
— Dr. Barbara De Angelis, author of What Women Want Men to Know

Bantam Books by Susan Forward:

Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them:
When Loving Hurts and You Don’t Know Why

Obsessive Love:
When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go

Toxic Parents:
Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

Library Journal
Addressing those consumed by their obsessive propensities, Los Angeles therapist Forward dramatically describes the effects and consequences of out-of-control passions. Drawing on her extensive practice, she uses vignettes to illustrate a variety of smothering, volatile relationships. She portrays situations where one partner seeks to completely dominate the supposed object of his or her affection, and highlights unrealistic expectations that can turn unrequited love into violent anger. Forward devotes her third and most important section to ``Freeing Yourself from Obsession.'' While self-help may be inadequate for a person suffering from these destructive behavior patterns--indeed, professional therapy is most likely required--Forward has a following and this book will undoubtably be popular.-- Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553381429
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 278
  • Sales rank: 368,998
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Forward, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned therapist, lecturer, and author of the number one New York Times bestsellers Toxic Parents and Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, as well as Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and Its Devastation, Money Demons, Emotional Blackmail, When Your Lover Is a Liar, and Toxic In-Laws.

In addition to her private practice, for five years she hosted a daily ABC talk-radio program. She has also served widely as a group therapist, instructor, and consultant in many southern California medical and psychiatric facilities, and she formed the first private sexual abuse treatment center in California. She lives in Los Angeles and has two grown children.

Dr. Forward maintains offices in Sherman Oaks, California. For further information, call (818) 986-1161.

Craig Buck, a film and television writer and producer, has also written extensively on human behavior for many national magazines and newspapers. He is the co-author, with Susan Forward, of Toxic Parents, Betrayal of Innocence, and Money Demons. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The One Magic Person

I can’t believe I did all those things. The phone calls, the drive-bys, the letters, the tantrums, the threats ... it just wasn’t me. But it took me so long to get him out of my head. The way he looked, the way he smelled, the way he touched me ... he drove me crazy. — Margaret

It was Margaret’s last day of therapy. She had worked hard to break free from the painful obsessive patterns that had been plaguing her for the past three years, and she had largely succeeded. She was a very different woman from the depressed, desperate, volatile Margaret I had first met a year and a half earlier.

Margaret is a willowy, red-haired, thirty-four-year-old divorcée who works as a paralegal with a large law firm. She came to see me because her preoccupation with Phil — a lover who was clearly not interested in a monogamous relationship — was making her feel like she was losing control of both her personal and her professional life. She was becoming increasingly short-tempered with her ten-year-old son. She was making careless mistakes at work. And she was alienating her friends by avoiding them, not only because she wanted to be available in case Phil called, but also because her friends were virtually unanimous in their criticism of Phil.

The Thrill of a New Romance

Margaret met Phil about six years after she divorced her husband. She had been dating on and off but had been unable to find anyone with whom she was interested in establishing a serious relationship. After six years, she was getting pretty discouraged. She hated the bar scene. She had already met most of the single men her friends knew, but nothing had developed. She had even gone to a video dating service — both the dates she’d had as a result had been disappointing.

Margaret met Phil at the courthouse while she was assisting her boss in the defense of an embezzlement suspect. Phil was a police officer, testifying in a highly publicized murder case. Margaret first saw him in the cafeteria during the lunch break.


This gorgeous hunk sat down across from me and it was lust at first sight, which hadn’t happened to me in years. We started talking and he asked me out that same night. I remember coming home after that date and as soon as I closed the door I broke into this little victory dance. Within a week we were seeing each other almost every night. It was an incredible high. During the day he’d call me at work and I’d get the most delicious butterflies in my stomach just hearing his voice. I was really in heaven.

Even though Margaret was describing the beginnings of what was to become an intensely obsessive relationship, there is nothing in her description that could not just as easily describe the beginnings of some healthy relationships. Most of us relish the giddy feelings that Margaret talked about. When we first fall in love, we feel like we’re walking on air. Flowers smell more fragrant, music sounds more beautiful, the sky seems bluer, our pulse quickens, our mood soars.

These heightened sensations are not just imaginary. Physical changes are triggered in our bodies by romantic feelings, hopes, and fantasies. Our heartbeat quickens, we become flushed, our adrenaline pumps, we experience hormonal changes, and our brains release endorphins — the body’s natural opiate. As a result of all this chemical activity, love is a physical state as well as a state of mind.

The Idealized Lover

In the thrill and passion of a new romance, it is only natural to see a lover through rose-colored glasses. We go out of our way to see only what we want to see, filtering our perceptions through romantic expectations and dreams. This optimistic filtering of reality is called “idealization.”

You can see idealization at work in Margaret’s description of Phil.


After a couple weeks, he told me he was in love with me. I was ecstatic. He was so perfect. I felt like my life was finally rounding out. Not only did I have a job I liked, and my son seemed to be doing okay, but now, finally, I had this fantastic guy. The sex was great, the talk was great, he cooked these romantic meals, he even fixed my car for me. I felt totally safe with him, not just physically but emotionally. I’d finally found the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. He made me feel like I was more than I’d ever been before, like I was finally a whole person. And I knew there was no one else on earth who could make me feel that way.

Margaret jumped to a lot of conclusions about Phil simply because he was a good lover and fun to be with. She really didn’t know much about him. It would have been impossible for her to have learned much about his character or his past relationships in the two short weeks of passion that they’d shared. Yet she was convinced that he was “perfect,” that he would make a lifetime commitment to her, and that he — and only he — had the power to make her feel like “a whole person.”

I certainly don’t mean to imply that Margaret did anything unusual. We all idealize. This is especially easy to do in the early stages of a relationship, since new lovers are typically on their best behavior. We all put on our best face when we are attracted to a new person. We make a special effort to be as alluring, charming, witty, sympathetic, flattering, and accommodating as we can. This is part of our mating ritual.

However, while this behavior might reveal certain facets of our personality, it can’t possibly tell the whole story. We all have our moody days, our petty jealousies, our knee-jerk reactions, our rigid opinions, and our unattractive habits. And we certainly don’t want to reveal any of these to a new lover.

In the heat of a new relationship, as we downplay our own shortcomings, we don’t give much thought to the fact that our lover is doing the same. Under these conditions idealization can’t help but thrive.

The One and Only

In healthy relationships, idealization helps lovers believe that — maybe — they have found the person of their dreams. But healthy lovers give themselves a safety net called reality. They hope their relationship will work out but also recognize that it may not.

Obsessive lovers, on the other hand, work without this net as they struggle for balance on the high wire of romantic expectations. In the heightened reality of obsessive passion there is no room for doubt. Obsessive lovers live by an unshakable credo:

This is the one — and only one — magic person who can meet all my needs.

Obsessive lovers truly believe — sometimes without realizing it — that their “One Magic Person” alone can make them feel happy and fulfilled, solve all their problems, give them the passion they’ve yearned for, and make them feel more wanted and loved than they’ve ever felt before. With all this power, the One Magic Person becomes more than a lover — he or she becomes a necessity of life.

There are no prerequisites for the One Magic Person. It is not necessary that he or she be especially attractive, intelligent, witty, or successful or possess any other qualities we usually associate with desirability.

In fact, some obsessors fall in love with deeply troubled or even addicted lovers. These obsessors are irresistibly drawn into relationships by a deep-seated need to be needed and a belief that they alone can save their lover (as we’ll see in Chapter Four).

Obsessors’ fantasies and expectations about their One Magic Person may have little to do with who that person really is and everything to do with what they themselves need and how they expect that person to fulfill those needs. No one really knows with absolute certainty why one person has such a powerful effect on another. But something about the One Magic Person clearly taps into the individual needs and yearnings that lie deeply embedded in the obsessive lover’s unconscious.

The Mental Sculptor

In healthy relationships, as lovers grow more emotionally intimate, they begin to feel secure enough to reveal themselves as real people with shortcomings. The romantic expectations of these lovers naturally evolve to reflect the changes that this increased honesty brings to their relationship. If they don’t like what they find, they have the choice to leave the relationship.

But leaving is not an option for obsessive lovers. No matter what the reality may be, they create the relationship they want in their minds. Like mental sculptors, they shape their expectations, using wishes, rather than truth, as their clay. These expectations are remarkably resistant to the inevitable hammer blows of reality.

My friend Don is a regular Rodin when it comes to mental sculpting. Don is a stocky, balding, soft-spoken, forty-two-year-old attorney whose James Joyce glasses give him a distinctly academic look. He was born and raised in Georgia and still retains a charming trace of a southern drawl. When he heard I was working on this book, he told me the story of his torturous, on-again-off-again, five-year-long obsessive affair with a married woman.


I met her when I was in my last year of law school. I was working part-time in a bookstore and she came in — the most gracious, elegant, gorgeous woman I had ever seen. I was captivated from the moment I saw her. My first response was “God, I would love to be involved with her.” As fate had it, I was talking to a friend when she walked over and just kind of entered into the conversation. She had this gorgeous British accent and this beautiful translucent skin and these eyes ... she just knocked me out. We talked for a while, then my friend left and I suddenly had this impulse to ask if I could take her to dinner. She looked at me, and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m married.” Normally, that would have been the end of it, but this time the words didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t just let her walk out of my life. I needed to find a way to spend time with her, no matter what. So I asked her if she’d be willing to join me for a cup of coffee, just to talk. When she said “okay,” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Don fell in love at first sight, just like in the movies. But there was a problem — from the first moments of their meeting, Don knew Cynthia was married. In other circumstances this would have discouraged him, but Don was convinced that he had found his One Magic Person. So he began to mold his own reality to eclipse the magnitude of this stumbling block.


We began to have lunch together pretty regularly, and we’d talk and talk and talk. She was very British, so she wasn’t used to discussing her feelings openly, but that only intrigued me more. Then one day we took a walk on the beach. The sun was shining, the water was shimmering.... I looked at her and I just ... leaned over and kissed her. It was the most amazing moment of my life. After that, all I wanted to do was be with her, all I could do was think about her. As we got to know each other a little better, she finally began to talk more about herself and her marriage.

Cynthia had come to the United States when she was eighteen to study piano at Juilliard. A year later, she had met her husband, a physician fifteen years older than she. They married, and she gave up her studies to move to the West Coast with him.


She’d always resented giving up the music, but she never talked to her husband about it. She never talked to him about anything. She said she’d never been able to open up to him like she could with me. She said no man had ever been so tender and warm and caring and sincere with her as I was. Here was the woman I’d dreamed of since I was a teenager, and she was making me feel like I was the only man for her. I knew it was only a matter of time before she’d leave her husband, even though she never talked about it. I started checking the paper to see how much it would cost to get a bigger apartment when she was ready to move in with me. I even asked around for the name of a good divorce attorney so I could give her a reference when she was ready.

At this point in their relationship, Don had only established a platonic friendship with Cynthia. They had ventured as far as a kiss on the beach, but that was it. But from this one kiss and a few tender words, Don had become convinced that he and Cynthia were destined to be together.

Don began to fantasize extensively about what their life together would be like. First he would help her through her divorce and settle into an apartment with her. She would continue working as a travel agent until he finished law school. Then he would be able to support them both, freeing her to quit her job and go back to her music. He pictured her sitting in their living room at the piano, beside a blazing fire, bewitching him with the sensual strains of Chopin and Brahms. He saw them jetting to London to visit her family, then hopping over to Paris to share a bottle of young Beaujolais on the banks of the Seine. And always, always, these scenes would culminate in a frenzy of passionate lovemaking.

Cynthia gave Don no indication that she was inclined to leave her husband, but this in no way prevented him from developing the conviction that she would. Don’s extravagant fantasy constructions reduced the fact of her marriage to little more than a minor annoyance.

Worshipers From Afar

Most mental sculptors have at least some romantic encouragement from which to springboard their fantasies, even if it’s only a few dates. But it is not necessary for a target to encourage his or her obsessor. In some extreme cases, the One Magic Person may not even know the obsessor’s name.

Laurie, a registered nurse in a large midwestern hospital, called in to my radio program one morning in tears. She told me she was in her early thirties and had left an abusive marriage two years earlier. She hadn’t been involved with anyone since. But now she was madly in love with a doctor at the hospital where she worked — a doctor who may have seen her in the hallways but otherwise had no direct contact with her.

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2007

    Road to recovery at last.....

    I usually try to read christian books about relationships and such and I was somewhat skeptical about reading a book by an author I hadn't heard of. Something drew me to this book and as I scanned through the pages in the store and saw myself, my story, I decided this book must be for me. I came home and could not put the book away because Dr. Forward uncovered so many of my behaviors and the reasons why I acted them out. I must say that Chapter 12 (your inner child) was a very tough one but it helped me see the reasons I am the way I am. I'm about to begin the road to recovery by using the guidelines set forth in this book but I have every confidence that what I've learned is exactly what I needed to get on with my life and stop obsessing over things I cannot change. I can't wait to regain my dignity and self worth and repair some of the holes that have been created in me my entire life. If you are hanging on to a relationship that screams it's over simply because you refuse to face reality, buy this book and take back your dignity and learn how to love effectively.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2006


    What a remarkable, and an intelligent book to read if you are suffering and trying to get over a person who has left you, and you have worked so hard to get them back, and worked so hard to make them happy and rebuild a relationship that no matter how hard you tried went nowhere. This book makes you take a look at your self and your behavior, and what you are doing wrong, and what you have done in the past that got you in this position in the first place vs what your lover is doing wrong. I defiantly recommend this book to you if you are in this position and are looking for a way to LET GO! At first I was intimidated by the title but once I picked up the book at the store and scanned through the pages the book hit a nerve, I grew eager to read more to find out how I may let go of my lover. I am only on page 79 and each time I read more I am stunned. It is me that I am reading about. Like, why I do the thing I do, why I think the way I think, why I try so hard to make that relationship work when it's not going nowhere, and why I was so convinced that I would make that relationship work time after time regardless of what it was doing to me mentally and physically, and socially. This book defiantly makes you understand your self more, as well as your current relationship and why it was so bad!!! Undoubtedly a positive outcome book. STOP STRESSING AND LET GO!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2003

    Never thought

    I never thought that a single book could be such a great help. It really helped me to realize what was going on in my life and how to cope with it. A 'MUST READ BOOK'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2002

    A must read for the rejected

    I just happened across this book. God must have been guiding me. I too felt that so much that was written was a case study of me. Dr. Forward is so much on the money. She knows all that possesses and drives those who can't let go. This will be my bible as I work on recovery. It will allow me to move on with my life

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2000

    Obsessed with reading this book

    I picked this book up and couldn't put it down. I was reading about myself point by point. I'm not alone and it gave me the courage to LET GO. I finished this book just a little over a day after I started reading and the changes it made in the realizations of what I am and how I got to be there. But more importantly, how to fix it. I wanted to be fixed and needed to be fixed. This book may surprise you about how much of us live inside other people. READ IT if you've gone far enough to read the reviews - get the book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2008

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    Posted March 8, 2011

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