Relationship Addiction as a Serious and Destructive Disease
Written By: Mark Smith
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Our culture is bathed in addiction. The vast majority of the new couples in our practice suffer either from Sexual Addiction or Relationship Addiction. The stories change, but the under lying addictive process remains the same. You know you are in an addictive relationship if you no longer have enough time to take care of yourself, if your whole life revolves around contact with your new ‘person drug’, if you have a sense of being high when you are with them, if you seem powerless to walk away from the relationship, if your spirituality suffers, if your new addictive relationship hurts or even destroys other valued relationships that you have and if, ironically, after all the effort and intensity you still aren’t actually getting your needs met. Relationship addiction is marked by obsession, a loss of control, relationship problems, secrecy and shame.
Relationships can easily be as addictive as cocaine. If you have a huge hole in your soul due to some abandonment from a parent or parents when you were little then if someone comes along who fits your profile you can fall head over heels into a life altering addiction. It can look like love at first sight, but it is pure unadulterated relationship addiction.
#1 Obsession - relationship addicts use relationships to medicate feelings and to alter their moods. When an alcoholic gets depressed, he drinks. When a relationship addict gets depressed she flirts, e-mails or talks on the phone for hours. It isn’t a relationship with a real person of depth; it is a substance to be ingested. What begins as a curious interest in what types of other people are available eventually turns into an obsession that takes the addict away from his feelings and away from an intimate, loving, accountable relationship with his spouse. It happens so slowly that he doesn’t even notice, but his wife notices. His main relationship is with his drug of choice – selfish isolated obsession for a new person who gets treated as if they are God.
#2 Loss of control –eventually a relationship addiction gets out of control – he spends too much time on it, he spends too much money on it, he betrays his wife, he degrades himself, he loses sleep to it, he hurts his children because he can’t truly be there for them in this addictive state, and yet he many times still contends that it is not a problem. He thinks about his new person drug all day long. It is the most dominant, exciting, and stimulating thing in his lonely life.
#3 Relationship problems - relationship addiction tears people away from people. People need love, and intimacy, and a sense of family and community. However, for many relationship addicts, they have been taught to bury their neediness, their emotions, and their humanity extremely deeply. They aren’t mere weak humans – they are competitive, driven, strong, money making machines whose goal it is to feel in control at all times. With such men or women, many times healthy neediness gets replaced with a counterfeit form of neediness – relationship and or sexual addiction. Healthy neediness includes needing emotional support, encouragement, empathy, as well as sexual intimacy. Addicts don’t notice the lack of emotional intimacy in their marriage as long as they are having sex frequently. The problem for them is that eventually their partners shut down sexually due to the lack of closeness and intimacy. That is how God made women to operate, unless they have their own sexual addiction, or if they are too powerless to stand up to their sexual addict. These addicts then blame their partners for the sexual distance, and then develop a sense of entitlement to further indulge in their sexual addiction. Divorce, isolation, depression and loneliness are the ultimate consequences of such a self-centered non-intimate lifestyle.
#4 Secrecy - relationship addiction lives, breeds, and grows best in the darkness of secrecy. I frequently hear from my clients about their experiencing double lives – being very upright and moral on the outside while being completely given over to relationship and or sexual addiction in their inner lives. Recovery from addiction begins when the addict opens up and shares his secrets. Many times, in order to have the humility and brokenness to finally open up, the sexual addict must ‘hit bottom’ by experiencing painful consequences. Secrets have a way of eventually ‘coming out in the wash’ anyway. There is great healing and forgiveness once a relationship addict begins to open up, tell the truth, and be accountable.
#5 Shame - the final and some would say the defining characteristic of relationship and sexual addiction is shame. Shame is an overpoweringly toxic and destructive energy that tells the relationship addict in powerful, emotional ways that he has to hide his addiction because he is bad, dirty, and even evil. Shame has its roots in childhood – placed there by critical, abusive, un-accepting, non-nurturing, or perfectionistic parents. There is tremendous powerlessness in shame. That is it for this week.
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