Relationship Addiction. The experience of finding the right partner and falling “in love” is one of life’s true joys. It brings a feeling of euphoria, passion, connection, and hope for a happy future. It can lead to a lifetime of loving contentment. Of course, sometimes it lapses and becomes one of our memories, sometimes pleasant and sometimes not. The “high” that comes from this feeling of loving passion, at least for some people, is so compelling they will do anything to maintain it. The limerance of new love, for some, is so compelling that they use it to fill gaps in their lives, much like a drug. Being in love, for them, can resemble an addiction.
The source of an addiction is found within the person, not in the substance itself. Some people can use a drug, including alcohol, and not become addicted. Similarly, some people can enjoy the high of being in love as a positive life experience without any indication of addiction. Other people, depending on their needs, their abilities, or their backgrounds, use the euphoric feelings that come from an outside source of gratification (drugs, relationships … or gambling, videogames – the list is endless) to create a false sense of fulfillment in their lives. They have difficulty looking within, perhaps due to a lack of sense of self to find a way to achieve contentment, so they look outside of themselves for a way to soothe their internal feelings. Everyone does this to a degree. But when it takes on a compulsive quality that inhibits more positive life experiences and leads to negative consequences, it can be called an addiction.
People who use relationships addictively usually harbor a sense of incompleteness in their lives – emptiness, despair, feeling lost, or sadness. They may lack a feeling of attachment to love that has roots in their early childhood. They believe their feelings can be remedied through finding that comforting feeling of euphoria that comes through a love relationship. See relationship symptoms.
An addictive relationship has a compulsive quality about it. While a healthy love relationship implies that both partners freely choose each other, in an addictive relationship there is a compulsive drive that limits this freedom (“I must stay in this relationship even if it’s bad for me.”) There is also an overwhelming feeling of panic over the thought of losing the relationship, even if there are arguments between the two partners and both know the relationship should end. If the relationship actually ends, there are pronounced withdrawal symptoms, much like drug, nicotine, or alcohol addicts experience when they go “cold turkey.”
They may experience weeping, physical pain, sleep disturbance, depression, irritability, and the feeling that they have no place to turn to now. These feelings are so intense that they might drive the person into another addictive relationship immediately. After this period of turmoil ends, however, the addicted person senses a period of triumph or liberation and they don’t typically go through the long, slow experience of acceptance and healing that characterizes the ending of a healthier relationship.
As a Marriage Counselor working with individuals who suffer from these types of unhealthy relationships I help them manage the ups and downs of tolerating bad behavior. For more information relationship addiction please contact me at (858) 735-1139.