Relationship addicts have an overwhelming need to bond with someone. This goes beyond a healthy need to connect with others. Unfortunately, this need to form an instant attachment tends to overwhelm other people and pushes them away. And it leads to poor decisions about whom to let into one’s life.
Throughout the course of the relationship, the addict spends a great deal of time thinking about the other person and how perfect things will be. Even after the relationship has ended, the fantasies about getting together again may continue. Of course, a healthy love relationship also involves fantasies, but addictive fantasies have an obsessive quality about them. These fantasies tend to take over one’s day. The need to fantasize takes precedence over socializing with others, work, taking care of normal daily routines – and they tend to become dreams or expectations that must come true.
The Need for Excitement
Addicts in general crave getting “high.” Relationship addicts base their ideas about a relationship on romance, and this involves creating drama. They might pick fights just to experience a rush of excitement. An ordinary argument becomes a war. They see reality in terms of their own needs, so they easily read between the lines (“No matter what she says, I know she really loves me”). A love addict fails to understand that a normal relationship involves a series of highs and lows – in real life, lows do not mean that the love has ended. They see an ordinary relationship as boring because it lacks a sense of constant excitement.
Exaggerated Anxiety and Jealousy about the Relationship
Relationship addicts typically have fears left over from earlier experiences in their lives when they have been neglected, rejected, or abandoned. Their greatest fear in adulthood is feeling lonely because this reminds them of their earlier negative experiences – and they never want to endure that again. They need to feel attached and find it difficult to live independently. So, in their relationships they tend to look constantly for signs that things are not going well. They become possessive of their partner, experiencing anxiety when the partner is not present and frequently accusing or nagging the partner.
Ineffective Expression of Emotions
The relationship addict, because of difficult earlier life experiences, is confused and overwhelmed by emotions. For example, she/he might feel that anger leads to rejection or abandonment, so she/he doesn’t express anger and instead holds in all emotional expression – and when someone expresses anger to the relationship addict, she/he is unable to tolerate it. She might harbor painful feelings that seem unrelated to present circumstances. She/he may become stoic (relationship addicts have a great tolerance for suffering and endure substantial pain rather than face the prospect of a breakup of the relationship). Because she/he suppresses her normal, flexible emotional expression, she/he may revert to polarized expression of feelings (“all or nothing”) – for example, love or hate (but nothing in between), vigilance or complacency, fear or courage.
Loose Personal Boundaries
Because many relationship addicts have issues with self-esteem, they have weak personal boundaries. They lose their sense of individuality and become enmeshed with their partner. They don’t know where their needs and emotions begin and where their partner’s end. If their partner feels happy, they feel happy. If their partner feels sad, they feel sad. If they sense that their partner wants them to be a certain way, that is what they become. They have difficulty saying “no.” Unfortunately, this sets the stage for being treated with disrespect. Addictive relationships show a lack of equality between the two partners.