Relationship Addiction – The Love Addict
Relationship Addiction … The Love Addict (2016) — When people speak of addictions in general terms, one quickly thinks of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, but one rarely thinks of the love addict or appreciates the existence of a personality dysfunction known as a relationship addiction.
How does an addiction to a person look in comparison to a healthy love for a person? How do we know if we are addicted to a person or simply walking through life deeply committed to a relationship that is a work in progress?
There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Every relationship requires work and effort to some extent, and at times conflict will arise, forcing one or both of the parties to face certain issues and grow through those issues to create a stronger relationship as a couple, and to create a stronger healthier individual who is part of a growing vibrant relationship. A growing organism knows the pains and perils of the growth dynamic, as well as the ability to reap the fruits which result from growth and development. Pain, anger, disappointment, self-doubt, contentment, fulfillment, and joy are all normal healthy dimensions found in any relationship. How then does an addiction to a person look different?
Healthy Love vs. Relationship Addiction
Healthy loving relationships make the lives of both you and your partner larger and happier. In healthy loving relationships, there is a vested partnership, a commitment to come together in a mutual nurturing manner by both parties in the relationship. At the same time, a healthy couple recognizes the healthy role each person plays in life as an individual outside of the relationship and for this reason each person recognizes the need to have interests and time away from their partner to nurture and develop themselves as an individual. Vibrant partners in a healthy relationship don’t need to have the same interests or hobbies, but rather the same general view of life. Healthy love, and healthy relationships are all about taking care of both yourself and your mate, and when those two key elements of a desirable relationship are in balance, there is seldom any collision between the two.
A person who is healthy in their approach to love does not seek someone to “complete them”. Real genuine love requires a complete person, and those who we often define as being “needy” struggle in their ability to grasp a clear understanding as to what love truly is. Healthy love inside a relationship exists when the two partners love each other in equal amounts. Yes, it’s normal for the dynamics to shift back and forth from time to time, as one of two individuals works through personal issues, or as a couple discovers an area where the need for team growth becomes evident. Healthy growth requires give and take…healthy relationships require compromise. When you walk through life placing expectations on other people to complete you by filling your brokenness or filling up the empty places that lay deep within you, that is not healthy love; that is dependence, co-dependence, and a very self-sacrificing unhealthy form of neediness.
Real love between two healthy people does not allow room for the playing of head games, cause one or both partners to lose sleep due to stress or anxiety, does not cost us friends, jobs, personal finances, an unhealthy amount of time, or cause a loss in the personal value found in our lives. A sound robust love bares evidence of itself through a relationship that as a couple, and as individuals, is enlarging and not tightening.
In the case of a relationship addiction, an addictive relationship is most often characterized by one of the two parties’ need to continue to engage with or ‘keep’ the other partner/person in their life despite what are the flagrant negative consequences of doing so. This can happen in romantic, plutonic, or family relationships. This can be a murky or somewhat difficult concept to diagnose as often there are couples who find themselves in an unhealthy non-addictive relationship, which takes on the outer appearance of an addictive relationship when they insist on “hanging in there” with the relationship due to societal beliefs entrenched within them such as the very heavy religious stigma that divorce is a grave sin, or that staying together is better for the children. These latter two situations are not the result of an addiction, but simply the result of an often destructive response to external influences.
An addictive relationship is one that diminishes you, often bringing some form of social, emotional, psychological and even physical pain into your life. A love addict, inside a relationship embodies a love/hate relational dynamic, which is frequently disrupted by conflicts, and dissatisfactions. Having stated such, one must keep in mind, that in every healthy relationship there are seasons of disappointment, love and even anger with your partner which is resolved in time. You can have a disagreement with your partner, and love them one minute while hating them the next until you process the situation and grow through it. The love addict, despite being aware of how dysfunctional and unhealthy the relationship is, keeps buying into the ongoing cycle or relational dynamics, that keeps them participating in the conflict; keeping them focused on what the other person is doing wrong instead of stepping back to ask themselves inwardly, what am I doing wrong and what do I need to do to make it right.
Breaking Free From A Relationship Addiction
Personal boundaries become a key ingredient in the successful recipe to break free from a love addict or addiction to a person. At the end of the day, love is always a choice. You can be in a love with a person who repeatedly does something stupid and hurts your feelings, simply because you choose to love the person but not their action; that is the key requirement of unconditional love. Personal boundaries are set in place to ensure you do not end up directly and relationally “in harms way”.
It is normal and healthy when you go through a relational break up to endure a painful season of working through the emotions of letting go of that former relationship. In every relational break up, there is a season of letting go, grieving, inner reflection, and if a person is healthy, a period of time where one tries to assess their shortcomings brought into the relationship in an attempt to move forward in a healthier manner. The love addict struggles in this process, often choosing to look at the relationship through rose-colored glasses or through the psychologically unhealthy perspective of fantasy. In the process, a love addict enters into unhealthy self-negotiations in an attempt to diminish the negatives in a relationship. The magnification of reality based facts (making a mountain out of a mole hill) and minimization (placing an inappropriate diminished value on situations or things) are common cognitive distortions that a love addict grapples with, and this unhealthy dysfunctional way of thinking can enable a love addict to pretend that things in the current or former relationship are going well, or will get better soon.
It is healthy to recognize that we all have our issues, that is not an unhealthy self-negotiation; it’s not healthy to place greater significance on your former or current partner’s issues than on your own. We can accept our former partner’s imperfections, but we cannot change them, we can only change our own issues and grow forward.
Am I In An Addictive Relationship?
When our gut is telling us something in a relationship is a bit “off”, then it’s time to step back and analyze what’s really going on.
- Make a List — Is there open communication in the relationship where thoughts and feelings can be shared without fear of judgement, ridicule, belittling, blame, shame, or breach of confidentiality? Is there a spirit of fairness and willing negotiation within the relationship that leads to a mutually agreed upon conclusion and compromise? Is there respect for the individuals involved in, and the integrity of the relationship, or is there a power struggle? Are both parties nurturing an environment where trust can grow, and be respected? Is there healthy intimacy, including both physical as well as in respecting the other person’s boundaries? Do both partners have a sense of self distinct from their relationship where they can maintain their own values, tastes, and beliefs; where both partners step-up and take responsibility for their own individual words and actions?
- Past Relational Patterns – Take a look back and assess previous relationships looking for common denominators in those relationships. Are you repeating patterns in the choices you are making?
- If In Doubt Write It Out – Sometimes keeping a diary during a relationship can help keep a person aware of their true feelings during a relational event or season.
- Pay Attention To Your Communication Styles – Every relationship requires some form of communication. Healthy relationships allow for and nurture an environment of communicative intimacy where discussions go below the surface to include topics not open to the public. Addictive relationships are often controlling where communication rarely goes below the surface.
- Accept What Isn’t Healthy – There is nothing more destructive than a person who tries to fool themselves into thinking something is, that is not. Learn to accept the facts when a relationship isn’t healthy and you see clear evidence of obsessiveness, control, or abuse in any form. Don’t second guess yourself, abuse is abuse.
Coping With An Unhealthy Attachment
The first major rule in personal growth that we all must learn to embrace is that, I can only change myself, I cannot change someone else.
- Get Real – Take a look at the relationship and learn to separate fantasy from reality.
- Cut The Physical Connections You Have With Your Partner — Learn to stand on your own two feet, and this might require a complete separation in the area of how bank accounts and pay cheques are processed and by who. Reside elsewhere from your partner, and if you are the love addict, identify and remove from your residence any of the triggers that can worsen your addictive personality style.
- Change The Energy — Replace the negative emotions by introducing new positive influences into your life, and this might include new people or a twelve step program.
- Re-introduce Yourself To You – Begin the process of re-building a life as an individual.
- List and Pursue Your Dreams and Wants – Create a list of new dreams and desires that don’t include your old partner and go after them. Through this process you begin to grow yourself as a true individual.
- Never Feel Ashamed To Seek Out Help – There are great twelve step programs which exist for love addicts in major centres. It is healthy, when one is struggling, to find an environment where one can feel safe and not alone in their re-birth.
Relationship Addiction and The Love Addict
The process of moving into, building, and ending relationships is a learned process. People make mistakes, and hopefully learn from those mistakes. There is no rule book which states how many failed relationships a person will go through before they get it right, there is only the rule book which states that true lasting love is always a choice, BUT it’s a choice which must be shared by both parties in a relationship in order for a relationship to exist.
“Relationship Addiction — The Love Addict” is written by James C. Tanner.
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