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Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes

Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer

Healthy relationships require balance, particularly when it comes to autonomy and connection.  Too much self-absorption in a relationship weakens the connection to the point where it hardly feels like there is hardly any a bond between partners.  Too little sense of self-regard and the relationship can feel smothering.  But what about relationships that seem to cycle between the two?  Where a partner may feel abandoned at some times and unable to separate at other times?

All relationships go through ups and downs.  But what if the cycling becomes so intense that you lose your equilibrium and your sense of well-being suffers?  Maybe you find yourself wanting to end the relationship, but thinking about it (or trying to do it) brings up so much worry or sadness that you can’t stay away.  The reconnection can feel really intense, you’re sure it is going to be different this time….and then it all happens again.  And again.

This pattern isn’t about intense romantic attraction.  Robert Palmer almost had it right:  You might as well face it, you’re addicted to…the relationship.  It isn’t love when a relationship starts to feel like a hostage situation.

As with so many other love issues, the origins of addictive relationships often start with the families in which we grew up.  When a child grows up struggling for the attention of parents and having unmet needs for attachment , the seeds of unhealthy relationship patterns have been sewn.  The desire to be loved is intense, but may be interrupted by the child feeling abandoned.  This pattern becomes familiar.  It is what we expect love to look like.  And it also creates an intense need to connect to the other, and to stay connected at all costs.

Unhealthy relationships often start with great intensity – a feeling described as love at first sight.  The passion of connection outpaces the slower work of getting to know someone, and knowing whether you are safe giving your heart to the other.  It isn’t unusual for addictive relationships to begin with the couple living together within a couple of months of meeting.

What are some indications that you may be in an addictive relationship?

  • There is a power imbalance in the relationship.  You find yourself feeling controlled by the other in ways that cause you to feel dependent.  You need the other person in order to feel complete.
  • Intimacy is mostly about sex, not about feeling open and safe lowering your guard.
  • You find yourself thinking about the other person’s needs more than your own.  Not in the healthy sense, but in a way that causes your own needs to be neglected.
  • Fights don’t get resolved, except maybe by makeup sex.  Things are better for a while, then the pattern repeats.
  • You know he’s bad for you, but you can come up with multiple reasons why you should hang in there.
  • Leaving makes you feel almost unbearably anxious.  You think about ending it, but you keep getting pulled back in.

If you find yourself in an addictive relationship, understand that healthy love requires balance and work.  Realize also that you can have drama or happiness, but not both.  Professional help is often needed to change these long-standing patterns.

A good place to start is to acknowledge your feelings of anxiety in the relationship.  So many problems in life become worse when we get in the habit of thinking we cannot tolerate them and we’ll do anything to avoid the pain.  Developing an ability to work through these often-miserable feelings helps us to get through to a happier and more fulfilling future, whether that future involves making changes in the relationship or finding the courage to end it.

If you are single but understand that you have a pattern of relationships with addictive qualities, learn to start relationships more slowly and thoughtfully.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  It takes time to get to know someone and to find out how they do intimacy, so don’t confuse feelings of attraction with commitment.