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Understanding relationship addiction

Relationship addiction

When the word addiction is mentioned, most people think of drug addiction, alcoholism, or one of the more well-known behavioral addictions such as gambling, workaholism, or shopping. But also falling under the category of behavioral addiction is one that’s not so well known – relationship addiction. 

Any addiction can be defined as doing something that is detrimental to you and usually those around you too – but not seeming able to stop and stay stopped from doing it.

Relationship addiction is when someone has what seems like uncontrollable cravings and powerlessness when it comes to being in a relationship with a particular person. Strongly connected to love addiction, someone who has relationship addiction can be addicted to the feelings of euphoria and the energy boost that comes with a new relationship.

Chemical reactions

Love chemical reactions

There are actually noticeable changes when a relationship starts. This is because various chemicals such as dopamine, which is sometimes known as our “pleasure chemical”, are released.

Then such as cuddling releases the “love hormone” called oxytocin. It’s a hormone that’s involved in childbirth and breastfeeding but is also linked to trust, empathy and sex.

But a relationship addict, usually unbeknown to them, is seeking these “love highs”. They cannot really be on their own – and consequently are often in and out of different relationships, even if this has an overall negative impact on them as it most likely will.

An on-off relationship means that it is often, in a manner, at the start again – with another new love high. The drama when it is ending (with arguments and temporary break-ups) or when it has completely ended also acts as a distraction from the relationship addict’s deep-down issues.

All the drama enables them to avoid looking at what they really need to look at in order to deal with their unresolved histories that are clearly still affecting them in the present day. In looking at it with someone who has expertise in these matters, such as a therapist, they will finally be able to heal from it.

What are the signs of relationship addiction?

Signs of relationship addiction

Relationship addiction means someone thinks they need a relationship to be happy and feel full inside. It’s why someone addicted to relationships is often obsessed with a particular partner – yet is uncomfortable with the sense that they are emotionally out of control.

Some major signs of relationship addiction are:

  • Falling for someone too quickly, almost instantly – such as living together within weeks or even days.
  • A need to keep “falling in love”.
  • Continuing to compulsively and obsessively crave relationships, including towards someone who doesn’t feel the same way.
  • Not really caring who they date, so long as they are in a relationship. So such as staying in an unhealthy, perhaps even abusive, relationship rather than being on their own.
  • Changing who they are and doing things they don’t want to just to keep a relationship.
  • Feeling anxious or depressed because of a relationship, but never leaving or talking about it.
  • Drinking excessively, using drugs or indulging in other addictive behaviors such as binge eating, gambling or shopping beyond their means in an attempt to cope with the relationship.
  • Feeling emotionally worn out and confused by the many ups and downs in the relationship, but never feeling capable of doing anything about it or leaving.
  • Not being able to think of anything else except the relationship.
  • Feeling unloved in the relationship, but staying in it.
  • Justifying abuse (emotional, sexual or physical).
  • Not seeming able to quit a relationship despite knowing there are warning signs of major problems, often right from the beginning.
  • Showing signs of codependency.
  • Not knowing the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.
  • Frequently breaking up and making up, and often dating other people in-between.
  • Thinking that having sex will always fix the unhealthy relationship – so frequently craving sex.
  • Having no other interests outside of the relationship. So, quitting time spent with friends, family or doing hobbies to be in the relationship as much time as possible or all the time.
  • Dependence on a relationship for a sense of self and security, and feeling devastated – even terrified – when not in a relationship.
  • Being needy all the time.
  • Blaming themselves for their partner’s unhealthy behaviors.
  • Returning to the relationship or letting the partner return after poor behavior, including abuse and fights.


Why does someone become a relationship addict?

Why does someone become a relationship addict

It’s unlikely that somebody will become a relationship addict if they have seen a healthy relationship between their parents. But, generally, we are all taught about relationships from our parents – so if their relationship is unhealthy, we are learning how to have unhealthy relationships.

Then we do not even know where to begin spotting if we are in an unhealthy relationship. In fact, an unhealthy relationship can feel deeply uncomfortable, but familiar.

Trauma, toxic shame, and a “failure of love” – of having our needs unmet as children – can often be behind relationship addiction. Then a relationship is an attempt at seeking external validation.

A relationship addict is using their relationships to feel that they are approved and loved. They are desperately looking for external validation that they are actually lovable.

Some relationship addictions come from a fear of being alone or abandoned. As with all addictions, the reasons behind it are complex, but many people find that looking back at their childhood with a therapist will allow them to heal.

Taking part in therapy lets them understand why they are behaving in such a way. Then they can gain self-love and self-esteem and move forwards into a healthy relationship.

Our experienced professional team has helped people with all mental health disorders and emotional issues. Call us to find out what we can offer to help you or someone you care about.

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David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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