Why Are People Addicted to Unhealthy Relationships?
A few questions remain:
- Why did she stay on the call and listen to his diatribe?
- What prevented her from responding and shutting down his angry venting?
- How did she attract this man and remain in the relationship for as long as she did?
The answer may come from a wide array of sources. Most prominent are a person’s core beliefs about themselves and relationships.
- I am not worthy of being loved.
- Men/women can’t be trusted.
- I can change or heal him/her.
- I can’t make it on my own emotionally or financially.
- I am willing to settle for crumbs rather than wait for the whole cake.
- I can handle it.
- Relationships are hard.
- Love hurts.
- I have to take care of my partner.
- I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
- I am damaged goods because of my history.
- I can’t leave because of my religious beliefs.
- I have to stay for the sake of the children.
- I don’t have the right to have my own needs met.
- It is dangerous to express myself.
- I will feel like a failure if I end a relationship.
- People hurt me.
- Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
What Are the Distinct Markers and Patterns That Have Come to Shape These Attitudes?
- History of abusive relationships.
- Parental modeling.
- Early abandonment.
- Attachment styles: secure, anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, and fearful avoidant.
- Accustomed to the drama and chaos.
- Cognitive dissonance and self-deception— knowing that one should leave and then asking, “What does it mean about me that I stayed as long as I did?”
- “Post romantic stress disorder” — According to recovery pioneer John Bradshaw, this is what occurs when the brain chemical cocktail of dopamine and norepinephrine wears off.
- Secondary gain and payoffs for remaining, such as gleaning sympathy and appearing to be a victim.
- Apathy — it takes too much energy to consider leaving and then following through.
- Love addiction —“characterized by compulsive patterns in romance, sexuality and relationships that have harmful consequences for the addict and their partners.”
- Fear of relapsing on substances.
- Wanting the fantasy of the relationship, rather than the reality as it exists.
- Denial that the problem is as severe as it is.
- Fear of change and lacking the knowledge to do so.
- Feeling incomplete whether in or out of a relationship.
Break the Addiction
- Recognize that you are in an unhealthy union. If you spend more time questioning it than enjoying it, that is one sign that it is in need of relationship repair.
- Know that relationships are not 50/50, but rather 100/100 with each person bringing all that he or she is to the table.
- Acknowledge that your history is not your destiny and that you have the freedom to alter it.
- If someone tells you who they are, believe them.
- Don’t attempt to repaint them with your palette and brush.
- If a new relationship seems remarkably like a previous one, it probably is.
- Make a list of the costs and benefits of remaining together.
- Seek nourishing relationship role models. If there are none in your immediate circle, look beyond it.
- Attend 12-step or alternative meetings for love and relationship support such as Co-dependents Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.
- Engage in sober activities that nurture you.
- Learn to be alone with yourself, knowing that intentional solitude is not the same as loneliness and isolation.
- Forgive yourself for making the choices you did, knowing it is possible to make new choices.
- Invest in yourself as you would a partner.
- Explore new interests and hobbies and/or return to those you had prior to the relationship.
- Don’t allow someone to take up space in your head without paying rent.
- Create a list of your finer qualities and assets.
- Focus on maintaining an attitude of gratitude.
- Journal on the topic “what I did for love.”
- Record, either on paper or aloud, what a relationship means to you, as well as the qualities you seek in a partner.
- See a competent therapist who specializes in relationships, either with your partner or alone.
- If the relationship is mentally, emotionally, financially, sexually or physically abusive — leave.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1