Relationship Addiction 101
Relationship addiction – does it really exist? If you believe in the concept of process addictions, the answer is yes. And while it is true that the components of an addiction to substances vs. a process (behavioral) are vastly different, the primary characteristics of compulsive behaviors remain the same.
While the exact causes of relationship addiction are unknown, my own personal research suggests that the root causes are multi-factorial in nature, commonly including:
1) Feelings of low self-esteem;
2) Inconsistent nurturing during childhood;
3) Unhealthy emotional role models;
4) Misguided beliefs on what relationships should look like, largely influenced by the popular media and;
5) Growing up in an alcoholic family.
Relationship Addiction – A Primer
This article will explore everything you ever wanted to know about relationship addiction. We will examine its key signs, characteristics and traits as part of our exploration. Along the way, we will also look at several relationship addict myths.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!
What is Relationship Addiction?
What is Relationship Addiction?
One of the most popular questions I get from people who seek out my services for counseling, therapy and coaching in Chicago is: What is relationship addiction?
First, it is important to recognize that “relationship addiction” per se’ is not a listed form of addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This point however, does not mean an addiction to relationships does not exist. It simply means a scientific consensus has yet to be collaboratively reached for inclusion.
What’s interesting to note is that in DSM-5, Gambling Disorder was included as an official, diagnosable condition. Does this mean “Relationship Addiction” will someday be included? Time will tell.
Relationship Addiction Defined
Relationship addiction can be defined a chronic, compulsive, unhealthy pattern of attachment to another person in pursuit of romantic love in order to validate feelings of self-worth and medicate insecurity. It is gender neutral, meaning it impacts men and woman equally – straight, gay or bi.
Obsessive Love Wheel
Obsessive Love Wheel: Obsessive Relational Attraction
Relationship addiction almost always follows a cyclical pattern as illustrated in the Obsessive Love Wheel below.
Some refer to “Relationship Addiction” as a form of “Love Addiction”. If you want to use these terms interchangeably, that is OK.
What’s important to remember is the cyclical, distinct behavioral pattern mentioned earlier. What follows is the Obsessive Love Wheel that I designed as part of love addiction to represent relational dependency in my book, Confusing Love with Obsession.
1. Attraction Phase
- Instantly becoming “hooked” on a person’s looks
- Often drawn to emotionally unavailable people
- Magically assigning traits to the person they do not possess
- Mistaking sex for intimacy and romantic love
2. Anxious Phase
- Overwhelming fear of abandonment
- Need to constantly be “in touch” with the other person
- Constant worry over “losing” the relationship
- Strong feelings of mistrust start to emerge; often including unfounded thoughts of infidelity and cheating
3. Obsessive Phase
- Can’t stop thinking about the love interest; thoughts occupy most of the day.
- Neurotic, compulsive behaviors, including rapid phone calls to the love interest’s home or work, “drive-bys” to see if person’s car is parked at a given location and cyber-monitoring.
- Control tactics that are used to “guilt” the other person into spending more time together.
- Withdrawal from social activities and relationships (friends, family, circle of support).
4. Destructive Phase
- Controlling behaviors begin to drive the love interest away.
- Onset of depression, anxiety and loneliness.
- Feelings of guilt and shame over toxic behaviors
- Promises to change behavior in order to “win” the person back.
- Potential abuse of alcohol and/or drugs to medicate emotional pain.
Relationship Addiction - Obessive Love Song
Signs of Relationship Addiction
Relationship Addiction: 40 Key Signs and Traits
What follows are 40 key signs and traits of individuals who may live with some form of relationship addiction. Before going much further, I want to state here that behaviors can be caused by a number of other factors, including psychiatric issues, medical problems and even medications.
That’s why it is always important to be examined by a physician to rule out medical causes for anything unusual.
With that shared, I encourage you to read these signs for the purposes of self-reflection and not to “diagnose”. The traits listed do not appear in any particular order.
In any event, read them all so that you are better able to comprehend their collective message. If you are noticing a 10 or more of these behaviors in the context of your relationships, it may suggest a problem.
1. Attraction to emotionally distant people
2. Constantly feeling rejected by the world
3. Strong, ongoing feelings of insecurity
4. Childhood history of emotional neglect and/or abuse
5. Parents or caretakers who were alcoholics
6. Constant need to “fix” other people and their problems
7. Drawn to people who are in emotional chaos
8. Attracted to people are extremely needy
9. Rapid movement from attraction to attachment
10. Willing to keep relationship going at any cost
11. Massive gap in substantive, fulfilling personal relationships
12. Constantly self-policing behaviors; fearful of upsetting love interest.
13. Forgo personal needs/self-care in favor of love interest
14. Unable to recognize personal their own needs
15. Bottled up rage with frequent, angry outbursts
16. Refusal to ask for help due to overwhelming guilt and shame
17. Uncomfortable letting others do things for them
18. Extreme euphoria at the start of a new relationship
19. Constant need for affirmation from love interest
20. Sex is about pleasing other person – not being pleased
21. Need to constantly control dynamics in relationship
22. Frequent bouts of depression and anxiety
23. Other compulsive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, sex or all three)
24. Strong people pleasing personality
25. Engagement in learning helplessness; (“I can’t change”).
26. Master manipulators who must always be in control
27. Often play the “Victim Card”
28. Constant quest for happiness – which remains elusive
29. Feels “unlovable” and “unworthy”
30. May use sex as a tool of control
31. Hides self-perceived imperfections from the world
32. Becomes quickly jealous of love interest
33. Jeopardizes important relationships in pursuit of love interest (work, family friends)
34. Continues to engage in obsessive behaviors in spite of increasingly harmful consequences
35. Operates from a place of insecurity instead of equality in relationships
36 Holds unrealistic fantasies about love interest; assignment of traits they do not possess
37. May hold extreme feelings of self-hatred, particularly after relationship collapses
38. May attempt to medicate pain by jumping into a new relationship
39. Addicted to the “newness” of a relationship and cuts it off when things begin to turn “stale”.
40. Holds distortions about personal appearance – often describing themselves as “ugly”, “fat” or “unattractive”.
Relationship Addict Poll
Given interest in the topic, I thought I would make available a poll that allows you to select how many of the 40 relationship addiction traits apply to you or perhaps someone you know. The poll is not scientific and is not intended to diagnose a condition.
Steps to Healing
5 Steps to Break Free of Relationship Addiction
If any of the information appearing above seems familiar, you are not alone. One of the primary reasons people seek out counseling and therapy is directly related to issues involving romantic love.
What I encourage folks to remember is fairly straight forward – the way we love is learned. There’s real hope in that statement because it implies that we can relearn how to love, which must begin with ourselves (that means you).
What follows are five concrete steps for breaking free from relationship addiction. While these steps may seem simple that does not mean they are easy. If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize nothing is life is easy.
1. Observe your behaviors through the lens of self-honesty
2. Identify themes that regularly pop up (see 40 traits above)
3. Look for historical themes that span the course of your life
4. Educate yourself about relationship addiction and obsessive love. I’ve included my book, Confusing Love with Obsession below as a starting point.
5. Find a therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy and ideally includes aspects of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Psychology Today is a great place to start.
Relationship Addict Myths
Because I believe humor can play an important role in any approach to wellness, I decided to list a few “myths” that I have run across over the years related to relationship addiction.
- All relationship addicts are “borderlines”
- Relationship addiction can be cured through hypnosis
- Relationship addicts always are alcoholics
- Relationship addicts are always drug addicts
- Relationship addicts are “bipolar”
- Relationship addicts can’t change
- Most relationship addicts are Scorpios
- Relationship addicts usually have green eyes
One of the most important things you can do right now is to have compassion for yourself. We are all products of our past, synthesized into this very moment in time.
But if we believe that life, which is a form of energy, is always changing … then we give ourselves permission to change as well.
You are a beautiful person – even the parts of yourself that you may not like. Remember the past is the past – there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. We only have this moment.
Real healing from addiction, regardless of type, happens when we spiritually connect with ourselves and whatever we identity as our higher power – including humanity.
Dr. John D. Moore is author of Confusing Love with Obsession. The information shared in this article is not indented to act as medical or psychiatric advice and has been shared for informational purposes only.