Oct 26

Almost everyone has seen it or even have personal experiences with what is commonly called ‘addictive relationships’. These are the forms of relationships where everyone around a particular couple might raise their hands in disbelief over why both partners are still together.

There might be a strong and obvious imbalance between both of them, sometimes aggressiveness or jealousy of one partner towards the other or blackmailing, but still, for some reason, the ‘addicted’ partner can’t find a way to ultimately break up or might even excuse their loved one’s behavior. Others are highly indifferent to the unhealthy aspects of their relationship as they are hard to see, especially if one is in the middle of it.

I have helped numerous clients get rid of their addictions over the years, and in working with couples (another major field of my work), I couldn’t help but notice certain patterns in chronically difficult relationships that resemble problems of addicts that their partners or family members have to fight with.

An addictive relationship thus is unthinkable without one partner who is emotionally unstable and would in most cases require professional support to successfully deal with their problems for one. This person might also be very self-centered and look very independent and self-confident – or very needy on the other hand. But this since they are not ready to do that or because they are delusional, it needs someone who is ready to ‘support’, or in better words: invest their time, energy and often enough money to take the edge off the other’s imminent issues and to keep not only themselves, but also the relationship going, hoping for things to get better in the near future.
But often enough, it just keeps a vicious circle going – a circle the partner might actually already have experienced during their entire life, sometimes extreme behavior endured by helpful souls who took care for them along the way.

7 Signs of Addictive Relationships:

  • Dishonesty. Both partners don’t communicate openly about their real intentions, needs or worries.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Both partners hope for the other one to ‘fix’ their problems, be it their self-esteem, body image, family, or existential problems. They believe the ‘right relationship’ will make everything better. Yet, they’re in a disastrous addictive relationship.
  • Instant gratification. One of both expects the other one to be there for him whenever he needs her; he’s using her to make him feel good, and isn’t relating to her as a partner – well, because she’s like a drug.
  • Compulsive control. Imminent threats of one partner to leave if the other one doesn’t behave a certain way, and anxious worries of the other one if this idea comes up. Both might feel ‘stuck’ together – for good or for evil.
  • Lack of trust. Neither partner is 100% certain about being ‘truly’ loved by the other one as sometimes they can sense the feelings of hate or desperation their partner is experiencing.
  • Social isolation. Nobody else is invited into their relationship – not friends, family, or work acquaintances. People in addictive relationships want to be left alone and can react harshly if someone is asking about the status of their relationship.
  • Cycle of pain. Often, couples living in a relationship determined by addictive patterns regularly experience cycles of pleasure, pain, disillusionment, blaming, and (often emotionally or sexually  loaded) reconnection. The cycle repeats itself until both partners seek professional help or one partner breaks free of the addictive relationship.

Unfortunately, there is no simple ‘recipe’ on how to help such partners effectively, as the one who suffers most is often very resistant to all efforts aimed at helping them get back on their feet again. Often, someone with a neutral viewpoint as a counselor can help, but if both partners feel determined enough, have strong self-control and are able to accept mutual accountability they might also find back to a fulfilling, balanced relationship.

Strategies for Overcoming Addictive Relationships:

  • Make your ‘recovery’ the first priority in your life.
  • Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings.
  • Cultivate whatever needs to be developed in yourself, i.e., fill in gaps that have made you feel undeserving or bad about yourself and/or get rid of the problems that turned you into an addict in the first place.
  • Learn to stop managing and controlling others; focus more on your own needs for a while and improve your self-esteem to become more independent
  • Find out what brings you peace and serenity and commit some time to that endeavor on a daily basis.
  • Learn not to get ‘hooked’ into the games of relationships; avoid dangerous roles you tend to fall into, e.g., ‘rescuer’ (helper), ‘persecutor’ (blamer), ‘victim’ (helpless one).
  • Find a support group of friends who understand and share your experiences.
  • Consider getting professional help to speed up the recovery process.

Many of you will know firsthand how many times friends or acquaintances entangled in an addictive relationship end up emotionally damaged, financially weakened or even physically injured. What you as a fellow friend can do is to avoid getting sucked into the ‘black hole’ of such an relationship yourself and to push both of them to seek professional advice.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011; Image source: bhaskar.com; Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, Counselor; Hints on how to overcome AR based on Robin Norwood’s book ‘Women Who Love Too Much‘)

06.01.16