Addiction and Relationships … Finding Safe Places In The Face Of A Storm

Addiction and Relationships … Finding Safe Places In The Face Of A Storm (2017) — It has been said by many in the psychiatric field that those who begin to pursue some form of addiction in their adult life, be it alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, relationship addiction, sex addiction or any other type of compulsive behavior, stop growing and maturing emotionally.  What all addicts share, no matter which gender, is the reality that addictive substances and/or compulsive behaviors are used as a way to regain a sense of control over anxiety triggering life stressors.  Those stressors may come in the form of emotional discomfort, the ongoing emotional pain caused by the downward spiral of unresolved depression, coping with past traumas, abuse, or the like. A person may not be able to control what he or she experiences in the moment of day to day life, but if that person has a drink or two, takes a drug, binges on a favourite food, or has sudden sex, then he or she knows exactly what feelings of relaxation, elation, and satisfaction will follow.  Until reality steps back in.

During an active season of addiction, the addiction turns relationships into a volatile unpredictable mess, impossible to maintain for both the addict and their partner or caregiver.  Studies show that 9 of 10 married women who seek out some form of addiction treatment, and stay sober for an extended period, still end up divorced.  For both men and women, addiction is not about living a reckless partying lifestyle and always having a great time, it’s about a very sophisticated and often forceful means to maintain control – a form of control that chokes out or back benches the needs of a loving mutually respectful relationship.

In relationships where addictions exist, individuals are often held back from many of the normal essential freedoms experienced in a healthy relationship; the freedom to be the best version of themselves in a relationship, the freedom to love their chosen partner by choice rather than through the guise which often accompanies dependency, and the freedom to leave a situation that becomes physically, emotionally, or psychologically destructive.

Why He Doesn't Love You Anymore by James C Tanner. Self-help for those struggling with the pain of a broken heart, rejection, and emotional abandonment.

Another challenging aspect of relationships where one or both parties are addicts is found in personal presentation.  Most addicts never reflect or project a true image of who they are.  When you spend time with an addict, you are witnessing in that person the ramifications, denial, and cover up of that addiction more so than the real person.

In the face of such a life storm, how do we respond?

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 Addiction and Relationships …

…Finding Safe Places In The Face Of A Storm

If someone were to ask me which movie scene is the most memorable from my perspective, I would immediately respond with the scene from the movie “Twister”.  The scene was that of a dozen or so people cramming themselves down inside an automotive grease pit while a tornado tore apart the automotive garage over their heads.  In the face of a horrendous storm, the grease pit became a safe place to ride out the ferocity of the winds, allowing them to return to their normal lives shaken up a bit but otherwise unscathed.  Coping with a partner’s addiction is often a very comparable to a tornado.  How then do we find safety in the midst of the storms surrounding addiction and relationships?

We are all worthy of a happy fulfilling life, but not everyone gets to experience such a blessing.  We all long for a sense of safety in our relationships whether they be professional, platonic, or romantic.  So how can we tell if we are living in a safe place?

There are certain criteria which make up a safe place, and those criteria are as follows.

  1. A safe place is a place where a person’s basic needs are met. Every life has its tough times and want lists. Some of us exist our whole lives deprived of the luxuries others get to enjoy, and yet we can feel safe even in the face of tough times.  A safe place provides the basic needs for human life to exist.
  2. A safe place is a place where a person can freely give and receive love.
  3. A safe place is a place where a person can better themselves by growing in personal maturity. Maturity is not an automatic development with age, it is a choice, and a safe place empowers us with an opportunity to deepen and grow as a person by our own choosing.
  4. A safe place is a place where trusting relationships are developed over time and not demanded up front.
  5. A safe place is a place where a person has an opportunity to live outside their shell through unfettered opportunities for service towards others.
  6. A safe place is a place where a person is free to express their emotions without fear of condemnation, rebuke, blame or shame.
  7. A safe place is a place where committed relationships are given the opportunity to be nurtured into strong and healthy relationships.

When we exist in a safe place, we feel accepted, valued and worthy.

Safe places are never guaranteed, as they must be nurtured and developed through healthy interactions.  Countries and global regions can be safe or unsafe place simply due to cultural beliefs and followings.  States or provinces can be safe or unsafe places.  Cities and villages can be safe or unsafe simply based on the prevailing attitudes and behaviours in those communities. Churches, contrary to popular belief, are often not safe places although they may profess to be.  Places of employment, clubs, or social groups all have the ability to be safe or unsafe places.  Circle of friends have the ability to be safe or unsafe places.  Your home and the relationships in it have the ability to be safe or unsafe places.

Sadly, it’s often easier to spot an unsafe environment based on how you as an individual as well as the people around you react and feel.

In an unsafe place, people often shrivel up within their spirits complying to outer peer or societal expectations because they have bought into the lie which states that compliance is the only way to find and obtain acceptance and validation.

In unsafe environments people begin to build hidden walls around them, never opening up, and never expressing a negative opinion out of fear of being humiliated, abused, criticized or punished.

In unsafe environments, people are conditioned over time to follow authority figures and marital partners blindly without question.

In unsafe places, people often walk through life feeling entitled to rewards for their being faithful, ending up disgruntled when those tokens of appreciation never come their way.

In unsafe places, people begin to place a greater focus on “looking out for number one”, rather than living a selfless life.

In unsafe places people feel a domineering pressure to perform to the whim and will of their partner or authority figure.  This would include peer pressure.


Addiction and Relationships — Living With A Lost Sense of Safety

Ken (not his real name) came to me the other day and broke the news that he had decided to leave his wife.  His wife, a truly remarkable and talented woman had slowly over time become lost in the bottom of a bottle of alcohol.  Her addiction had taken its toll on her marriage relationship and Ken had reached the point of no return.

It’s never easy to hear of a relationship ending, but in scenarios where addictions are at play, many people make the mistake of hanging in too long in an unsafe place.  Having said this, one must realize that for some relationships where a partner is an addict, there is a chance to turn the relationship around for the better, but that path is not easy.

Choosing to stay in an unsafe place, over time results in the non-addictive partner experiencing negative consequences.

  • People who stay too long in an unsafe place often discover that in time they begin to struggle with remembering the accurate details of their past as denial begins to mask over their missed opportunities to leave.
  • In time, people who remain too long in an unsafe place lose any concept of what it is like to be “normal” or existing in a “normal environment”.
  • The longer one stays in an unsafe environment, the more shame and guilt they take onto themselves resulting in an increased feeling of alienation from extended family and social circles.
  • As confusion begins to well up in an unsafe environment or relationship, a person begins to over-evaluate every move second guessing every decision.
  • Tension begins to swell up in an unsafe place and a person soon begins to struggle in their ability to recall when they last laughed, taking life way too seriously, struggling to take time to relax or have fun.
  • In unsafe places, cover up stories and lying become second nature as one tries to make everyone else believe everything is okay.
  • In time as their self-identity erodes away, people living in an unsafe place find themselves constantly seeking validation through approval and re-enforcing positive affirmations from peers, family and co-workers.
  • In their attempt to conceal the pain of their existence, people who stay too long in unsafe places soon begin to compensate by appearing to become super industrious, highly responsible, or by giving up becoming very irresponsible.
  • Finally, as all sense of inner wellness is smothered out, people who stay too long in an unsafe place lose all sense of who they are, plummeting into depression, or taking on a miserable persona which begins to poison the relationships with those who want so desperately to help.

The longer a person tries to do “the right thing” and remain in an unsafe place with an addictive partner ends up leaving one lost to feelings of inadequacy, personal guilt, loneliness and loss of significance.  In extreme cases, victims of unsafe places often live 24/7 in constant fear.

addiction and relationships,james c tanner

Addiction and Relationships – When Women Are The Addicts

Frequently, women who complete some form of substance abuse treatment, often re-enter the world filled with a shaky confidence and questioning degree of hope. This shaky self-confidence is often borne out of their current and past pattern of problematic adult intimate relationships.  The challenges with intimate relationships, sexuality, and dating was either not dealt with during their substance abuse treatment, or was prematurely written off as something to be addressed later.  In these situations, these women are ill-prepared for the very real challenges of an ongoing real-world sobriety.  Their shame and heavily guarded secrets pertaining to past and present sexual as well as relational struggles were left unaddressed.  It’s important that substance abuse treatment include some form of education with regards to how a recovering woman might be able to handle/tolerate/manage sex and intimate relationships in sobriety without relapsing. When these issues are not addressed in a treatment or therapy setting, eventually those relationships (or the ending of them) leaves a woman vulnerable to relapse.

addiction and relationships,james c tanner

Addiction and Relationships – When Men Are The Addicts

Even as women often struggle to stay sober, there is a plethora of reasons as to why men, who are struggling to remain sober from alcohol or drugs, relapse. The four most common and recognized reasons are:

  1. They refuse to give up the old circle of unhealthy friends, connections, and social settings that aided them during there substance abuse;
  2. They have an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder (about 10 percent of men and women do have an undiagnosed disorder), and would benefit from some form of therapy;
  3. They experience extreme stress, traumas, or great success without having a proper support network in place to help them remain accountable as they manage their lives through change.
  4. They too quickly launch out into or rebound into a sexual or romantic relationship before they have developed the skills needed to handle a relationship (or its potential ending).

Both drugs and sex stimulate the same basic rewards circuitry in the brain.  Addicted men who go sober, but have not yet addressed underlying psychological and emotional challenges often transfer their chemical addiction into the sexual or romantic arena.  Just as with women, the two go hand in hand, and it’s not uncommon to see addicts attend 12 step programs for no other reason than to hook up or satisfy other struggling addicts.   The ricochet reaction often comes when men experience impotence as a result of their past drug use, choosing to once again take drugs such as cocaine which can temporarily provide some form of sexual performance enhancement, only to have those performance qualities replaced once again with impotence.

Addictive Relationships – When the Addiction IS TO Your Partner

It is often very hard to end a romantic relationship even when you know it is bad for you.  Many baby boomers were raised in religious homes where the concept of divorce was tabooed.

I was raised in a Canadian Irish Protestant family where the thought of divorce wasn’t even allowed.  A couple was married until death they did part, and there was no other option.  No matter how difficult the relationship was it was up to the couple to work it through or find a way to co-exist.  When you are raised in that mentality, and programmed to think this way, the danger which results is prolonged exposure to abusive and toxic treatment from your partner.

My marriage failure was the first such failure in my entire family unit.  Yes, I grieved the break up of my home, as I had tried very hard to make a bad situation work.  My greatest emotional turmoil had little to do with the actual break up of my marriage, and had more to do with the shame and embarrassment I had brought upon my extended family.  In the months after my marriage failure, I went through an absolute identity crisis.  I had to unravel all the myths, and traditions I had been taught pertaining to what a marriage is, and gain a fresh perspective of what was for me, a new truth.  I had been raised in a religious bubble, where by the teaching of that bubble was not healthy when it came to keeping people in bad marriages.  The beauty of this life season was discovered as I and my parents travelled this walk of new insight together, and I am thankful to say, my parents became my strongest supporters and allies when it came time to file the divorce.

An addiction to your partner is something different from the ramifications of religious beliefs.

A bad, toxic, or abusive relationship is not the kind of relationship that simply goes through the normal disagreements and disenchantments which occur naturally when two separate individuals come together.  Every couple argues over the issue of raising or lowering the toilet seat when you leave the washroom.  A toxic relationship is one which contains a continual growing frustration; the relationship seems to have such great potential but that potential is always just out of reach.  The connection in such toxic relationships is to a partner who is emotionally unavailable in the sense that he or she is possibly committed to someone else, doesn’t want a committed relationship, or is incapable of one.  Remaining in such a relationship not only causes a continual build up of stress but eventually can become physically harmful through violence or stress induced illness.

Listed below are several signs of a relationship addiction.  If all of these describe you in your relationship, then in all likelihood, you are a relationship addict.

  1. Even though you recognize the relationship is not working, has now turned toxic and having a long-term negative impact on your emotions, psyche, and physical body, you take no effective steps to end it.  The key word in that last sentence is EFFECTIVE.
  2. To avoid the tough decision, you fantasize or lie to yourself, giving yourself false reasons which justify your staying in the relationship.
  3. When you consider ending the relationship, your world fills with terrible anxiety and fear motivating you to cling to the toxic relationship even more.
  4. When you do take steps to end the toxic relationship, you suffer painful withdrawal symptoms (these are very different to the natural emotions which occur when grieving a broken relationship).  These physical symptoms may include noticeable shaking/trembling, insomnia, psycho-somatic physical discomfort, which only seems to be relieved by re-establishing contact with your former partner.


Addictions and relationships rarely mix well together.  One cannot be healthy for their partner until they are healthy for themself.


Addiction and Relationships … Finding Safe Places In The Face Of A Storm written by James C. Tanner




Safe Places – Finding Security in the Passages of Your Life(1997) Stephen Arterburn, Frank Minirth, Paul Meier.   Thomas Nelson Inc. Publishers

Addictive RelationshipsUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

Women, Intimate Relationships, and Addiction Relapse Robert Weiss, Psychology Today,

Impact of Substance Abuse on Families(2004) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

When Substance Abuse and Intimacy Issues Are Linked — (August 2013) Psych Central

Drug Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence: A Comparative Study of Opioid Dependent Fathers(April 2011) American Journal of Orthopsychiatry

Sex Differences in Fear Conditioning in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder(January 2013) Journal of Psychiatric Research

Why Drug Addicts Will Always Choose Drugs Over Love(June 2014) Psych Central

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