Attachment Vs. Love: Is There a Difference?

By David Steele

This month our Director of Singles Programs, Lynne Michelson asked our coaches:

“A common problem that occurs for singles is the experience of a relationship ending but the feelings continuing for many months or longer with resulting sensations of emptiness and loss They know perhaps the relationship was not healthy, or that they are better off without the other person but they still feel “hooked” despite knowing the person isn’t right for them. They might also know their requirements were not being met, but they cannot get the person “out” of them. What thoughts do you have about this?”

It occurs to me that this problem is true for the breakup of committed relationships as well. Getting a divorce does not erase your love for, or your attachment to, your ex. This has certainly been true for me and many people in my life I care about.

It is tortuous to feel strongly about someone, really want it to work, but choose to let the relationship go because you must. If it could work, you would certainly find a way!

In my experience and opinion, what keeps relationships together, and makes breaking up hard to do, is more than love; it is attachment.


Attachment can mean many things, ranging from emotional affection to physical affixation. Psychologists have whole theories around attachment and identify clinical disorders caused by it. For our purposes, we can define attachment simply as a “strong emotional bond.”

We humans get attached. To objects, like cars, houses, money, books, clothes, etc. We get attached to routines (e.g. washing your hands), beliefs (e.g. killing is wrong), sensations and experiences (e.g. orgasm), activities (e.g. work), and people. In the extreme, our attachment can be an addiction.


Love and attachment seem pretty interconnected, but distinctly different. Without going into highly debatable explanations and theories, it seems to me that love is a positive feeling toward something or somebody, and attachment is an emotional need for something or somebody. The major difference seems to be that love is other-directed, and attachment is self-centered.


If attachment is a self-centered need for something or someone, then it makes sense to me that if we have difficulty letting go of a relationship that doesn’t work, it is less about love and more about our own grief, fears, loneliness, and emotional needs/deficits.

For more about the role of needs in a relationship, see the article “Needs vs. Neediness


It seems to me that the first step to letting go of an attachment is to be clear about love vs. attachment:

  • Understanding the difference (e.g. attachment is not love)
  • Understanding the implications (e.g. it’s about me and my needs)
  • Understanding the consequences (e.g. if I continue to pursue a relationship that doesn’t work I’m setting myself up for failure)
  • Acknowledge and honor the needs that are driving you to pursue an attachment that isn’t working by finding ways to satisfy your needs productively. It is hard to let go if doing so means falling into a chasm of pain and emptiness.
  • Get the support you need to move on and pursue involvement in activities and with people that are productive for you. A coach and/or support group is great for this.


If you find yourself continually pursuing an attachment that doesn’t serve you, seek the support of a therapist knowledgeable and competent in helping people with sex/love addiction and co-dependency.
© 2005 by David Steele /