It’s a fact that everyone and everything exists in relationship to everyone and everything else. It is sometimes difficult to identify a relationship addict because humans absolutely require relationships in order to live healthy lives. Relationship addicts (also called co-dependents) engage in relationships for reasons which are not healthy. In addition, many of the relationships do not bring them joy, or enhance their lives; they bring trouble instead. So, how do we tell the difference between “normal” relationships and those which are addictive? While they may appear the same on the surface, they are in fact, very, very different.
Addicts of all kinds “use” to escape feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, etc. Relationship addicts are no different; they focus on relationships to avoid dealing with their own lives. Co-dependents over-focus on the well-being and activities of another person. The more they focus on someone else, the more they lose sight of their own needs, feelings, and lives. Co-dependents do not have healthy boundaries; they often can not differentiate their own needs, wants, desires from those of someone else.
People of all types, who received little-to-no nurturance in their childhoods, often get caught in the trap of codependency. Experts tend to agree the low self-worth developed in children of neglect often leads them to unhealthy/codependent relationships. Many relationship addicts experienced abandonment in their youth, so they cling to relationships (now) with everything they have. They will often suffer through bad (sometimes abusive) relationships rather than risk the chance of being abandoned again – or being alone. It is not alcohol, heroin, prescription painkiller abuse or pot that is the co-dependent’s drug; it’s another person. Many co-dependents may be cross-addicted; that is to say, may also abuse drugs, alcohol, or other substances too.
Following is a list of common traits exhibited by relationship addicts:
- They only feel good about themselves if they feel “liked” by others
- Feeling good relies on getting approval from others
- Mental focus, attention and problem-solving is aimed at easing another’s pain or solving other problems
- Self-esteem is bolstered by “fixing” others
- Hobbies and interests are sacrificed to share the interests/hobbies of others
- The co-dependent is much more in touch with someone else’s feelings; they often cannot identify their own feelings
- Dreams of the future are often not their own, but are linked to another’s instead
- Co-dependents often are not honest in expressing opinions or desires; fears of rejection or anger keep them from discovering or revealing their emotions
- The quality of the relationship addict’s life is closely aligned with the quality of another’s life
Other indications that you (or someone you care about) are a relationship addict:
- You are never alone; jumping from one relationship directly into another.
- You’ve been in a relationship for quite a while that, generally, is unhappy.
- It is nearly impossible to define your own goals or ambitions.
- You feel guilty if you spend time away from your partner.
- You have lost the ability to socialize comfortably without your partner.
Many relationship addicts are involved in more than one relationship at a time; thereby, increasing the chances they won’t be left alone. Very often, these individuals get emotionally attached (or sexually involved) without taking any time to get to know the other party. As is the case in all addictions, there is much to lose as a co-dependent. Despite their best efforts (often up to and including stalking) to keep someone by their side, they are often left alone In an attempt to keep their “beloved”, addicts may spend a great deal of money on them – this financial strain can lead to bankruptcy. Having focused on the object of their desire – to the exclusion of all else – many relationship addicts lose jobs, family, and friends.
Once identified, co-dependency can be treated successfully. Many find relief in the Twelve-Step program C.O.D.A. (Co-dependents Anonymous), through substance abuse treatment centers and through counseling with an addiction specialist.