This is part seven of a series of articles on relationships specifically written for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. You can view the entire list of articles here: Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma
When I was 26 years old, I fell madly in ‘love’ with the man I will name Sam. This is not his real name. I have never dated anyone named Sam.
At the time, I thought him to be the great love of my life. I romanticized about him constantly. Addictive in nature, I indulged in that gooey type of fantasy as I mentally built our future. I wished, hoped and dreamed of us. It seemed like I breathed in his essence.
I felt lots of emotional torment. I wanted to see him and be with him constantly. Even when there was no outward upset, inside me there was lots of drama and excitement. It felt like being with Sam would make me whole and complete…fill me up emotionally and fix me somehow.
That’s addiction. It is not real. Nor is it an authentic relationship. It does not involve genuine intimacy.
When we `broke up’, I was heartbroken. I mourned and grieved and felt totally devastated for a long time. This was so absolutely painful; it became a springboard to personal growth. The pattern of my lifetime emotional growth began at that time. I didn’t think this at that time, but the motivation to grow was Sam’s priceless gift to me.
Finally, I began to date others and learn from each experience. Then I met David, the real first love of my life. We were together for 27 years until he passed away. While this was a better relationship in that David loved me back, I made sacrifices to keep him happy that were not healthy for me. We were married for 10 years when he fell off a cliff. He was severely and dramatically physically injured.
That relationship started out healthy for us but became addictive to me over time. In the caretaker role, I resorted to old behaviors to cope. It took me years to find my footing after the died.
Here’s how you tell if your relationship is an addiction.
One: The Fantasy
An addictive fantasy has roses, music, and starry skies sweeping you off your feet. Most addictive relationships begin with a view of romance more like the movies than real life. You will never argue, disagree, or have the human failings of normal people. People do not fart, belch, need showers or have bad breath. They don’t cheat on you, spend too much money or have emotional problems. You see one another as an ideal. This is the person of your secret dreams.
It was a rude shock when I realized many months later that I did not even know what `Sam’ actually looked like. On the other hand, I was always aware of David’s failings. He was definitely aware of mine! An authentic relationship knows your partner for the person they are.
Obsession means that the relationship is like a narcotic. In the beginning, it makes you feel fantastic. High, even. The world glows, the sun shines, and rainbows are everywhere. To some extent, all new relationships begin like that. The new relationship glow that says all will forever be well. For relationship addicts, that glow fills some inner deep hole inside themselves. And the relationship changes to a drug that “fixes” you rather than authentic intimacy.
With Sam, I was constantly mentally thinking about him, imagining our time together, reviewing past times we enjoyed together and planning new interactions with him. I had difficulty thinking of anything else. At work and with other people, he was the center of my mind.
Three: Lack of Self-Control
In all addictions, there is the compulsion that requires you act on your addictive needs to get your analgesic. In an addictive relationship, you find yourself compelled to take actions you might sense will harm you. Make embarrassing phone calls or cancel important plans just to be with them.
With Sam, I stayed up extremely late in order to spend time with him. Because of my early morning employment, I regularly operated on about 3 hours of sleep. When we broke up, I drove by his living space, called him, called his sister’s house and totally embarrassed myself. I couldn’t stop myself without great effort.
Four: Giving That Harms You
In an addictive relationship, the person has become a drug to you instead of a person. Because of this, most people will do just about anything to keep their opiate partner near them, healthy, and paying the necessary attention. Some people call this co-dependency and that is an accurate label. So are the labels relationship addiction and love addiction.
While our relationship didn’t start out that way, I became relationship addicted again in the actions of taking care of my late husband, David. He was severely injured and in excruciating pain. I bought him anything he wanted. I spent money I didn’t have just to make him smile. When he took actions that justified leaving him, I stayed and took care of him anyway. I gave him time and energy I needed for myself. By the time he died, I was an exhausted shell of a person.
Five: Inability to End the Relationship
Just like a person who is addicted to a substance, giving up your relationship seems totally out of the question. It feels like it might be similar to cutting off your own arm…without anesthesia. Most people need extra help to do so.
In my case, Bob left me and David passed away. Could I have found the strength to do so on my own? I’ll never know. I will know that the fantasies and obsessions remained with me for a long time while I worked to move on and heal myself.
In addictive relationships, you often have mad, passionate sex. Exciting and enticing, the sex makes it seem there is a great amount of intimacy. However, this is only sex. Unfortunately, sex in this real world can only, at best, take up a small portion of your life.
Genuine intimacy occurs when two people stand slightly apart from one another and connect. True intimacy involves communication. This doesn’t happen in your hearts and flowers fantasy. You need a valid knowledge of your partner’s being to dialogue.
There is more than one type of honesty in relationships: literal honesty and emotional honesty. With addictive relationships, you often have lots of drama with the obvious lack of literal honesty.
More importantly, emotional honesty is absent. You both want so badly to fulfill your fantasies that you lie to one another. You tell each other whatever you think the object of your desires wants to hear. You both say anything and everything to hold on to the fantasy.
This leaves out the total possibility of ever knowing who your partner is, how they feel, what they want and their genuine needs. In this way, real intimacy is impossible.
When I met `Sam’, I didn’t hear him when he said to me, “I love you as much as I am capable of loving anyone.” A few breaths later, he confided, “I am not capable being in a relationship.” I only heard that second sentence in retrospect. All the drama and excitement that followed started with my unwillingness to realize he didn’t match my fantasies one iota! That’s addiction.
Eight: Realistic Expectations
In an addictive relationship, you have unrealistic expectations. Many of these are not conscious. People think that the object of their obsession can solve all their emotional problems and fix what is wrong in his or her life. It seems as though they can fill you up and make up for all your life’s disappointments and injuries.
This is not the case. Real love is deep and satisfying. It provides a respite from life’s woes and a safe place to cocoon. Real love is rich and worthwhile, but it doesn’t fix everything in your life. You both still have all your problems.
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