Some relationships and the start of new relationships can indeed be full of passion and the feeling of always wanting to be together. It is normal, in these instances, to want more intimacy, sex, more time with one another, and to share things because you are infatuated.
But, when do these feelings cross the line into obsession? And how can you tell if this relationship is or turned into an addictive relationship?
Addictive relationships are characterized in the way that the person obsessively continues in the relationship even if it harms them and they use it as an escape from their problems, as a quencher for their fears, and a filler for their insecurities. These traits are what make the addictive relationship a toxic relationship.
But, how can you tell if you are in an addictive relationship? It is difficult to notice when you are in one of these relationships so we at Psych2Go have compiled six signs that you may be in an addictive relationship and five things you can do to break free of them.
This article is for educational purposes only, it is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you need advice or help with any mental health issue like the one discussed in this article please reach out to a mental health professional.
1. Having withdrawal when you’re not together
Do you feel nervous or even physically sick when you’re not with your partner? This might be a sign that you are in an addictive relationship.
Relationship addiction, just like any other addiction, can cause withdrawal when you’re not interacting with the person in any way. Especially if this relationship is characterized by breaking up and getting back together again.
Being consumed by the relationship, being anxious, having to text the other person every fifteen minutes when they are not together are all signs of withdrawal in an addictive relationship.
Those highs and lows can cause significant chemical disbalances in the brain and have the addicted person acting out. But, withdrawal is not the only thing you can feel in these cases. The Addiction Center site, states that depression is also a symptom you can experience when you’re not together with that other person.
“In the case of love addiction, someone who is off and on with another may feel extremely lonely or depressed”, says the Addiction Center, “The lack of chemicals when apart from their significant other can cause someone to crave them even more”.
Because of the emotional waves and the cravings, the addicted may engage in erratic behavior or behavior they wouldn’t have considered before, to get it.
“Constantly feeling disappointed or resentful can easily create low moods and impact someone’s self-esteem”, the Addiction Center explains, “In response, someone can develop negative relationship beliefs or increase substance abuse to try and numb the pain”.
2. You spend too much time thinking about your partner or relationship
Have you ever found yourself thinking or daydreaming of your significant other constantly? Maybe even delaying or not doing certain things just to think about them? You might be engaging in a trait of addictive relationships.
“Thinking of, engaging in, or recovering from interacting with them”, Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes, a licensed professional counselor, and mental health provider say, “What we are talking about here is being with the person. If your thoughts are all consumed with that person.”
Dr. Snipes explains that if you are completely consumed by the thought of that other person and that it begins to impact your life negatively in other ways, then this has become an obsession and is a problem.
Dr. Snipes continues, “If it ends up negatively impacting other areas of your life like you’re not getting enough sleep. Or maybe you’re skipping work, so when you go to work the next day you have more to do and it takes a lot more effort to recover from spending time with that person. That’s when you’re starting to see a problem”.
3. Making impulsive or risky life or financial decisions
Do you find yourself making last-minute or impulsive decisions (often negative) that in other circumstances or relationships you wouldn’t do? You might have an addiction to relationships and you might want to keep that other person by your side by controlling them.
“A lot of times to avoid abandonment people will make impulsive or risky life or financial decisions”, says Dr. Snipes in her video about addictive relationships, “With addictive relationships sometimes we will see people doing whatever they feel the other person wants to keep them in their life”.
“But it’s not a healthy compromise”, Dr. Snipes continues, “Examples are giving all of your savings, buying something out of your means because you think it’s something they want and maybe if you give it to them they won’t leave you”.
Pulling all of your financial assets for that person will cause you financial harm, maybe even bankrupt you. When it comes to other life decisions, it might mean that you’re giving up your livelihood.
4. All of your time is for your partner
When was the last time you saw your friends, family, or even made time for yourself since you’ve been dating your partner? If you say that it’s been a long time, of not even texting or calling your friends or family, then you might be addicted to relationships and cutting yourself from other people because of it.
People in addictive relationships tend to stop interacting and socializing with other people including family and friends, due to their laser focus on the relationship and the other person. They want to spend as much time as possible with their partner, even to the detriment of their other relationships.
This separation from people you know can take the form of and begin in different ways including talking less, not going out as much, creating excuses to stay with your partner, hiding things from friends and family, etc.
“As with all addictions, a part of you knows that what you are doing is not healthy, even if you are not able to consciously admit it to yourself”, states an article about addictive relationships on Harley Therapy, “This can manifest in hiding certain situations or facts from friends and family to make things look better than they are”.
5. You don’t know who you are anymore
Have you noticed that you no longer have hobbies or do what you like in this new relationship? That’s probably because you are placing all of your attention on your partner and your partner’s wants.
This is something that characterizes addictive relationships, the Student Counseling Center of the University of Dallas (UT Dallas) says on its website.
“Addictive relationships can be characterized by obsessive attention that is given to the partner while an inadequate amount is given to the self”, states the Counseling Center, “All healthy boundaries disappear in terms of what they are willing to do or give up in hopes of maintaining the relationship”.
What you give up includes your wants, needs, likes, and whatever else makes you an individual. Instead, you only care about what your partner wants, needs, and likes.
“You do whatever that person wants”, says Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes, owner of AIICEUs Counseling Education, “Instead of being you and having your interests, you become so and so’s significant other. You do whatever they want and throw all of your thoughts, needs, and wants to the wind”.
In this manner you begin to lose your sense of self, often questioning who you are because you do not recognize yourself anymore or you have forgotten what it is that you truly want in life.
“Bad relationships can destroy self-esteem and prevent those involved from moving on in their professional or personal lives”, says the UT Dallas Student Counseling Center.
6. You don’t feel like you’re able to leave
Whenever you’re apart your strong withdrawal symptoms are so overwhelming that you feel overpowered and weak. This is due to the chemicals in your brain reacting to the absence of that person.
“The brain chemicals released when trying to detach are vastly different from the neurotransmitters and hormones released when you are with your loved one”, states GoodTherapy on their website, “The main chemical released during times of stress (including emotional stress) is cortisol. Any trigger (such as the loss of a loved one) releases chemicals from the noradrenergic system (which includes the release of cortisol and norepinephrine)”.
Breaking up or being apart from your partner in an addictive relationship can be described as “losing a loved one”. This is why you, both responding to “losing” your partner and your fears, feel the withdrawal so strongly.
“As you face another emotionally dysregulating departure from your loved one, your stress system goes into high gear, releasing stress chemicals in your body, which motivates you to “do something about this!”, explains GoodTherapy.
The body’s response is the reason many people say they are not able to leave the relationship despite knowing that it is bad for them.
Causes of addictive relationships
In her video about addictive relationships, Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes mentions a few causes for people entering or attracting addictive relationships:
- The feelings of rush and excitement can be a breath of fresh air for people suffering from depression and anxiety. Can give a sense of security if someone is afraid of abandonment.
- For some people, relationships become a substitute addiction.
- People with abandonment anxiety may get into relationships in order to quell that anxiety and help them feel safer.
- Some may be in addictive relationships because they were raised in an environment where their parent was a helicopter parent. So they may not have learned to make their own decisions, they may not feel safe or comfortable if they are not in a relationship. They would rather be in any relationship than not in a relationship.
- Some people get into addictive relationships because they have grown up in models of addictive relationships. They may think that that’s what a relationship is supposed to look like.
- Some people get into addictive relationships because they are co-dependent, have low-self esteem and they need another person to tell them that they’re okay. They need validation, if they don’t have someone else telling them that they are needed and indispensable they will feel very anxious and unnerved. Being in an addictive relationship makes them feel whole.
How to Break Free
Leaving an addictive relationship for good can be tough but it is possible. It is important to remember that it will be very difficult at first due to the withdrawal symptoms but it will be worth it in the long run as you start getting your life back together.
1- Accept that you’re in an addictive relationship
The first step of breaking free is accepting that you are in an addictive relationship. This gives you the power to seek help or ways to get out.
Remember that a person who doesn’t accept or know that they need help will never get help because to them everything is fine. So, realize and accept in your heart that you are in an addictive relationship so you can get the support that you need.
There are a few ways of accepting your situation and GoodTherapy gives us a few tips on this:
- Identify your feelings regarding your addictive relationship.
- Identify the relationship “crazy cycle.” For instance: anticipation – encounter – momentary bliss – confusion – departure – longing – despair. This is just an example; identify the cycle within your own relationship.
- Write down what is being fulfilled in your addictive relationship (a sense of belonging, feeling wanted, etc.). Notice the temporary “fix” you encounter when you are with your person; identify the “promise” or “hope” temporarily being fulfilled.
- Write down the common obsessive thoughts you have regarding your person.
2- Get Help
Once you have realized and accepted that you are in an addictive relationship the second thing that almost all mental health sites, professionals, and institutions strongly suggest is that you get help from a professional.
Addiction can be a hard thing to overcome, so having a professional by your side to guide you and encourage you can be of huge help.
3- Abstention from the relationship
According to GoodTherapy, after recognizing your situation it is time to abstain from the relationship:
- Abstain from the relationship completely (no contact); this includes texts and social media.
- Abstain from and emotional entanglements; this requires detachment.
4- Focus on things that you like or discover something new
Abstaining can give you strong cravings for that person and can tempt you into contacting them again. This is why it is suggested that you focus your attention and time on yourself, your needs, your responsibilities, your hobbies, or discover new things to do to fill your time and mind.
The Student Counseling Center of UT Dallas also suggests developing your spiritual side and engaging in daily activities that increase your sense of peace and tranquility.
5- Get Support
Return to your friends and family, or people that you trust the most for support at this time. Although mental health professionals are helpful, people with addictions need an entire web of love and support to help them, care for them, tell them when they are relapsing, and love them.
Over time the cravings and feelings will die down as the chemicals in your brain become balanced again. You can and will learn how to live without that person, and you will be able to move on completely.
Did you identify with anything on this list or know someone whose relationship fits these descriptions? Let us know in the comments. Follow our YouTube channel for more about psychology. Thank you for reading.
Jacobson, S. (2016, February 9). Addictive relationships – 15 signs you might be in one. Harley Therapy™ Blog. Retrieved from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/addictive-relationships.htm.
Murray, K. (2021, November 11). Relationship addiction. Addiction Center. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/relationship-addiction/.
Snipes, D. E. (2021, September 28). Addictive relationships: What Are They and What Can You Do? AIICEUs Counseling Education. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A12J5B8R8Iw.
Stines, S. (2017, August 21). You’re my obsession: How to recover from an addictive relationship. GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/youre-my-obsession-how-to-recover-from-addictive-relationship-0420174.
Student Counseling Center. (n.d.). Student counseling center. UT Dallas. Retrieved from https://counseling.utdallas.edu/addictiverelationships/.