What is a Relationship Addiction?
By: Leah Hovey
Have you ever met a person who is constantly looking for a relationship? All their focus is on finding a partner? Do they place all their value on whether another person will want to be romantically involved with them? Have you ever met a person who places so much attention on their relationship it is impacting the other parts of their life? What about a person who has stated they have stayed in a relationship because it was better than being alone? I know that I have come across someone like this in my life. It was painfully obvious that their only concern in life was finding a partner. If you have experienced this, or even believe you have done some of the above things, this may be a love/relationship addiction.
What is a relationship addiction?
The vast majority of individuals do not know exactly what it means to have a relationship addiction, as they have never heard it. A relationship addiction is “one person ‘loving’ another person with an obsessive intensity that is not in the best interest of either party” (Gentle Path, 2019). When an individual is obsessively vying for a relationship or develops a dependence on the person they are in a relationship with, this can be seen as a love or relationship addiction.
Why does it happen?
First, there is a neurological component to relationship addiction. Studies have shown us that there is a biochemical reaction when one “falls in love,” which includes the release of dopamine, vasopressin, serotonin, and oxytocin (Earp et al., 2017). These chemicals are all are involved with trust, signaling reward, and feeling pleasure. These reactions are the same components that are triggered with other addictions, such as substance abuse, gambling addiction, etc. There have been many findings that show we have a neurological need for our partner and that feeling of companionship.
There is a second aspect of relationship addiction which is caused by childhood trauma. If a child grew up with a lack of nurture from his/her parents or with severe self-esteem problems, this has been found to correlate with the desire for constant companionship (Gentle Path, 2019). Even when an individual finds a relationship, they may be constantly worried about the possibility of that person leaving, which in turn can cause irrational or controlling behaviour. If this sounds similar, it may be because you have read it in a previous blog regarding attachment styles. Attachment theory explains how the impact of one’s childhood can impact them positively or negatively throughout their adult relationships.
What are the signs?
While love/relationship addiction has not been added to the DSM-5, there is sufficient evidence to support it as an independent disorder. Some various signs of love/relationship addiction are:
→ Mistaking sexual intensity or romantic excitement for genuine love
→ The feeling of being desperate or alone when not in a relationship
→ The craving of or constant searching for a relationship when not in one
→ Neglecting other commitments while searching for or maintaining a relationship
→ Faking interest in activities that you do not enjoy as a way to keep your partner or to meet other individuals
→ Relying on the romantic intensity as a means of escape from stress or emotional problems
→ Feeling desperate to please your partner
→ Having your self-esteem rely on whether you are attracting romantic attention
→ Using sex, seduction, and manipulation (guilt/shame) to hold on to a partner
→ Using sex or romantic intensity to tolerate difficulties with your partner
→ Using sexual intimacy to replace romantic intimacy
→ Staying in a toxic relationship or going back to a toxic partner only to avoid being alone
(Recovery Ranch, 2019).
How do we treat love/relationship addiction?
There are various therapeutic programs available to help those struggling with relationship addiction. Facilities such as Recovery Ranch are places where individuals can discover the underlying problems behind their need for relationships. Therapy sessions with registered relationship or behavioural counsellors are a great way for individuals to get treatment. Group therapy sessions are also a significant way to help those struggling, as “one may also learn through group interaction how to better participate in healthy romantic relationships by viewing what others are experiencing” (p.41, Sussman).
The first step is recognizing you may have a problem when it comes to relationship addiction. Taking a very unbiased look in the mirror and analyzing your past relationships may be needed if you find romantic partnerships challenging. More research must be done in regard to love/relationship addiction, but public awareness can help us move forward in the right direction.
“My fear of abandonment is exceeded only by my terror of intimacy.” - Ethlie Ann Vare
Alex Redcay & Christina Simonetti (2018) Criteria for Love and Relationship Addiction: Distinguishing Love Addiction from Other Substance and Behavioral Addictions. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 25(1), 80-95, DOI: 10.1080/10720162.2017.1403984
Earp, B. D., Wudarczyk, O. A., Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2017). Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated?. Philosophy, psychiatry, & psychology: PPP, 24(1), 77.
Relationship Addiction Treatment. Gentle Path. Retrieved from https://www.gentlepathmeadows.com/conditions-we-treat/sexual-addiction-issues/relationship-addiction/
Sussman, S. (2010). Love addiction: Definition, etiology, treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 17(1), 31-45.
What are the Most Common Indicators of Love Addiction?. Recovery Ranch, 22 April 2019. Retrieved from https://www.recoveryranch.com/articles/what-are-the-most-common-indicators-of-love-addiction