The Greeks had five words to describe the different levels of love: eros, passionate love, essential desire and longing, romantic love; philia, friendship, loyalty; storge, natural affection; agape, selfless giving; and thelema, desire or will to do something. In the English language we have many states of feeling that describe different elements of love: idolization, affection, devotion, worship, infatuation, lust, passion and rapture. None of which are synonyms for love, as we only have the one word for that; love itself. My husband and I, who have spent an inordinate amount of time mulling over the finer points of love’s various meanings, have come up with our own adaptation that was part of our sacred marriage vows: I want what you want for yourself.
Then there is another subcategory of love we Westerners recognize as being “in love.” It’s a kind of “objective” love: the state in which we project our affection onto another person and vice versa, which evolves into a more mature version, characterized as an act of giving without expectation, i.e. respect, affection, adoration, etc.
And then (I could go on and on down that rabbit hole, but won’t) there’s the growing phenomenon of addiction. According to the current DSM manual, relationship addiction falls under the category of process addiction, which means it’s behavior-related. Webster’s defines it as the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice, or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that its sensation causes trauma (an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to a person’s psychological development, often leading to neurosis). As opposed to the etymological definition, addictio, meaning to surrender to, or a giving over of. No matter how you slice it, addictive relationship or love is in a class all by itself, and when unattended can lead us into some real dark and potentially dangerous places for everyone involved!
I believe what the brilliant author and spiritual leader Thomas Moore asserts: that most addictive behavior is a misinterpretation or distortion of our soul’s longing. And have come to notice over the years that when we don’t really know who we are, what we want and what we feel, we don’t know what we need. We are far more likely to succumb to those potentially destructive, unconscious, programmed behaviors we learned as kids to temporarily alleviate or quench those longings. Behaviors we adopted as a means to comfort ourselves, in particular the ones closely associated with being externally referenced that fall into the “object love” category—which many times sets us up for addictive relationships when unchecked.
Repetitious behavior in and of itself is not inherently bad; we count on some of our repetitive behaviors to create success. It’s when repetitious behavior is deleterious or destructive that we need to be concerned. At which point, if we can catch it, we have an invitation for self-inquiry and deeper examination. We can take an investigative look at what we really long for or need. Then we can choose conscious, healthy ways of giving ourselves just that, so we can avoid harming ourselves and anyone else any further.
I know, how boring! Bring me the drama, I like the bad boys and the tortured souls, it’s so much more interesting and fun. Maybe…temporarily. I would argue that in the long run it’s depleting and soul-sucking, and often proves to be dangerous. If you think you might be one of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by relationship addiction each year, here’s a quiz that may help you tell:
Do you feel a kind of high when this person calls or makes contact with you? Does your attraction seem somehow bigger than you? Do you feel agitated or restless when you don’t know where they are? Is there a sense of the forbidden in the relationship? Do you find yourself doing (or not doing) things you normally would (or would not) with this person? Have you found yourself increasingly rationalizing their actions or behavior? Do you feel more insecure or suspicious than usual, in this relationship? Do you find yourself trying to be sexier, more accommodating or agreeable, in hopes of holding this person’s interest? Does this person display behaviors and values that you find dissimilar to your own? Do you know deep inside that this person isn’t right for you, but something keeps you there? Do you feel empty or ultimately unfulfilled by this person and the relationship as time has gone by? Has the relationship negatively affected any of your other relationships with children, family or friends? Do you, despite knowing the relationship is unhealthy or even a dangerous relationship addiction, keep finding reasons to stay?
Admitting some of these things to ourselves can be very uncomfortable, never mind make you feel incredibly vulnerable. There is usually a great degree of silent shame felt by many of us who are in or have had an addictive kind of relationship experience. The flip side is, sometimes admitting that can be a relief.
Awareness is key, and a good first step if you suspect you are in a addictive relationship. And I applaud you for having the courage to look.To you, I would say: keep your eyes open and maybe start a journal. More will be revealed. Denial is the real threat, so watch for your tendency to start rationalizing unacceptable behavior. Depression is another sign that we might be in an addictive relationship. The highs and lows start to wear on you, and you’re just not yourself these days. Now the good in the relationship is starting to be outweighed by the bad. Whatever the case, beating yourself up or heading for the Haagen Dasz isn’t going to help. If you suspect your dependent relationship might be heading towards an addictive one, there are a great many people and organizations dedicated to helping men and women deal with addictive relationships and patterns that can support you in getting you and your love life back on track! You can try your local chapter of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous for starters.