by Andrea Blundell
Are you with someone and it’s an experience unlike any other, for better and for worse? And you are worried you might be in an addictive relationship?
Learn the signs to look for and what to do next.
What is an addictive relationship?
We have long understood that love, by it’s very nature, can feel addictive. Research from as far back as 1999, for example, shows that it sets off chemicals in the brain during its lusty beginnings that are similar to the chemical pathways of OCD, accounting for why we can feel obsessed. But note this feeling was found to level out in healthier couples at around the 12 to 18 month mark.
But a properly addictive relationship that is dangerous for your wellbeing is not just about feeling like you’ve lost your head or a bit obsessed. I
It has the same hallmark as any other serious addiction in that you increasingly lose sight of who you are. You stop taking care of yourself in favour of what you are addicted to.
What are the signs you are in an addictive relationship?
If several items on the below list sounds close to home, you might be in an addictive relationship.
1. Things are difficult more than they are smooth.
It’s healthy for all relationships to at times feel difficult. You might feel anger or frustration towards your partner, and you will experience conflict. These are all a normal part of learning each others boundaries.
But if you are constantly talking about the relationship instead of your lives and interests? And if conflict and drama seems to happen almost every time you are together? There’s a good chance your relationship is an addictive one.
2. Your relationship leaves you on top of the world one day, really low the next.
Addictive relationships can be like drugs in the sense that when the two of you have good moments, it’s so good it’s like nothing else matters. Of course when you fight or you try to leave, there will then be the inevitable crash followed by feeling awful.
You might even feel physically sick if you try to walk away from an addictive relationship, manifesting similar symptoms to someone withdrawing from a drug.
3. Your mind thinks about the relationship non-stop.
You will find that you are constantly running over in your head what is and isn’t working with your relationship. (If not increasingly making your friends listen to this conversation, which in itself can be addictive).
You might start to get behind at work as your mind is not focussed. Or find yourself less interested in being around your friends, because you are preoccupied.
Watch out for a list of excuses you add to and replay to yourself. Excuses like, “It just needs more time”. Or, “Maybe she’s not as bad as I think, and I’m being too picky”.
4. You just never feel your best self in this relationship.
It’s odd, as you are usually so funny/ warm/ kind/ laid back. But in this relationship it’s like you are someone else. You are uptight, sour, nitpicking, you can’t relax… and you don’t know why.
In fact sometimes you might not feel yourself at all. And if you do try to be yourself, you are criticised or teased. So you find yourself instead working to be someone or something else.
5. You have a nervous feeling inside all the time.
The nervousness can be accompanied by ongoing anxiety, or even mild depression.
This starts because the push-pull patterns of addictive relationships trigger childhood issues that can include feeling unloveable, unsafe, or abandoned.
At the worst end of the spectrum, addictive relationships can leave you so low you even consider suicide.
6. You have begun to question who you really are.
A good relationship strengthens your values and helps you move forwards towards your goals. An addictive relationship tends to throw off your inner compass because it does not support who you are.
Another thing that goes in addictive relationships is personal boundaries. This sees you often doing things you used to not even like, always going along with what the other person says, and letting them make all the decisions instead of tapping into what you think and feel.
You might find yourself questioning not just your values, but also your hobbies and interests, the future you want, and even who your friends are.
7. Your self-esteem is not what it was.
Not only do addictive relationships tend to be full of conflict or putdowns that lower your self-esteem, but the inner conflict between the part of you that knows you should leave and the other part that feels helpless can lead to a lot of inner criticism and negative thoughts about yourself that are very damaging.
8. You seem to always be tired or sick lately.
Addictive relationships create an ongoing stress that leaves your cortisol levels raised, which can leave you tired and with a lowered immune system, always catching colds and flu.The anxiety addictive relationships cause can also cause sleep problems.
9. You feel oddly lonely despite being with someone.
Addictive relationships often happen between people who actually have little in common beyond the drama they create between them. You might have different values and world views, not be on the same wavelength, and not really share many hobbies. This leads to feeling misunderstood and alone.
10. You have been turning to other addictive behaviours lately.
The highs and lows of an addictive relationship can also trigger other additive behaviours like overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
11. You talk about your interests and passions less and less, if at all.
Addictive relationships don’t celebrate your strengths and encourage you. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your passions or interests, or are hiding parts of your life for fear of being judged, there is a good chance it is only the addictive element that is keeping you in a situation that is clearly not supporting you.
12. You’ve begun acting out in ways you aren’t proud of.
It’s not uncommon for the conflict and frustration of an addictive relationship leaving you acting out in ways that are not your usual personality. If you are usually a kind person but are constantly being criticised in the relationship, you might find you eventually turn and start being ruthless and mean right back. Or you might find yourself keeping secrets when usually you are an honest and upfront sort.
It’s common in addictive relationships to also resort to power plays. This is where you are secretly doing things in order to get a sense of control, instead of feeling you can safely ask for what you need from your partner. This can include things like being judgemental, insisting on being right, breaking promises, holding out on what you know the other needs from you, or giving advice but never letting them give you any.
13. The rest of your life is neglected or falling apart.
Drama is exhausting. It means that you have maybe put hobbies on hold, stopped seeing friends so much, and dropped some of your self-care routine like exercising or taking time to make healthy meals for yourself. It’s also common for your money situation to be a problem when you are distracted by an addictive relationship.
14. You hide things about the relationship from friends and family.
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. This can manifest in hiding certain situations or facts from friends and family to make things look better than they are.
15. Even though you often want to leave, the truth is, you just can’t.
On the days you panic and do want to leave the relationship, you suddenly feel entirely powerless. The you who can be in charge at work, or make good decisions financially, suddenly can’t be strong enough to tell your partner what you feel.
You might feel very intense panic or even fear at the idea of breaking up. It’s as if your logic mind can’t control waves of strong emotion.
If you do leave, you come right back and have a makeup that makes you feel ‘saved’ and relieved. You might have an ongoing pattern of breaking up and getting back together.
What should I do if I think I am an addictive relationship?
Acknowledgement and self-honesty is a huge step forward. So first of all, congratulate yourself for your strength.
The next step is to seek support. It might first be in the form of educating yourself with books and online forums.
But it is a good idea to see a counsellor or psychotherapist. The truth is that addictions are very hard to change alone.
An addictive relationship almost inevitably stems from the way you were parented as a child. Somehow you learned that you don’t deserve to be loved and supported for all that you are. A therapist can create a supportive and safe place for you to explore how that happened, then make choices that mean your future involves the accepting, loving relationship you deserve.
Can’t break free from a relationship that is bringing you down? We connect you with a team of London’s top relationship and addiction therapists who can help. Or use our sister site to book UK-wide registered talk therapists and online counselling now.
Would you like to share a sign of an addictive relationship that hasn’t made our list? Do so below.
Andrea Blundell is the lead writer of this site. A mental health writer with training coaching and person-centred counselling, she has written thousands of popular articles and loves writing about relationships and trauma.