You’re My Obsession: How to Recover from an Addictive Relationship

Close-up photo of young adult leaning over journal while sitting outdoors and writing Are you in an addictive relationship with someone? Would you like to break free from your bondage and feel inner peace? Do you want to stop the obsessions, break the cycle of seeming insanity, and take back your life?

Then read on.

Addictions come in many forms. An addiction to a person involves obsessive thoughts about the relationship, feelings of hope, anticipation, waiting, confusion, and desperation. Addictive relationships are toxic and very powerful.

Healthy relationships do not involve constant drama and continual feelings of longing. Healthy relationships just are. When in a nonaddictive relationship, you simply know your loved one is available to you. You do not have to wonder, wait, or live in turmoil over your last or next encounter.

The first step in recovery is to face the truth. Identify your toxic person as the “drug” of sorts you are addicted to. Before you can break any addiction, you need to own the reality you have one. Acknowledgment is the beginning of your journey toward recovery.

To help you face the truth, get out your writing pad and begin the process. Start by writing the following:

  • Identify your feelings regarding your addictive relationship.
  • Identify the relationship “crazy cycle.” For instance: anticipation – encounter – momentary bliss – confusion – departure – longing – despair. This is just an example; identify the cycle within your own relationship.
  • Write down what is being fulfilled in your addictive relationship (a sense of belonging, feeling wanted, etc.). Notice the temporary “fix” you encounter when you are with your person; identify the “promise” or “hope” temporarily being fulfilled.
  • Write down the common obsessive thoughts you have regarding your person.

Once you have faced the truth, commit to yourself to live in the truth—to live in reality, no matter the cost. Recovery requires living in truth over living in fantasy. Addictive relationships are fantasies. You are in love with what you wish the person was, not what they are.

You are addicted to the brain chemistry attached to the anticipation and traumatic bonding surrounding the relationship. Because the relationship is so utterly unfulfilling, you are left with a constant state of emptiness, which is temporarily assuaged with each encounter with your object of obsession (the person).

It is a vicious cycle.

Once you have identified your thoughts, feelings, and patterns in your relationship, it is time begin abstention (if you haven’t already done so). You must abstain from your addiction. You can abstain in one of two ways:

  1. Abstain from the relationship completely (no contact); this includes texts and social media.
  2. Abstain from and emotional entanglements; this requires detachment.

This will be a very difficult part of your journey. The brain chemicals released when trying to detach are vastly different from the neurotransmitters and hormones released when you are with your loved one. The main chemical released during times of stress (including emotional stress) is cortisol. Any trigger (such as the loss of a loved one) releases chemicals from the noradrenergic system (which includes the release of cortisol and norepinephrine).

As you face another emotionally dysregulating departure from your loved one, your stress system goes into high gear, releasing stress chemicals in your body, which motivates you to “do something about this!” As you anticipate the relief from the stress, your brain releases chemicals such as dopamine, which offer that positive feeling of anticipation. You have entered the craving part of your addiction.

In order to break an addiction, you need to realize you are fighting these chemical responses. This means you will not feel good for a while. But rest assured, if you can abstain from responding to your brain chemistry, you can get through these tough times and your neurotransmitter system will eventually come to rest at a state of equilibrium.

Some suggestions for what to do while you are in this “craving cycle”:

  • Find a positive diversion or distraction—gardening, walking, meditating, or any other healthy activity.
  • Do something nonaggressively physical, such as hiking, biking, jogging, weight lifting, etc.
  • Connect with someone healthy. Talk to a close friend and let them know how you really feel.
  • Write in your journal. Journaling is effective for releasing uncomfortable emotions. Write how you feel and what you want. Encourage yourself in your journal.
  • Create positive mantras to help you get through the craving cycle. Encourage yourself and don’t allow yourself to obsess on self-defeating thoughts.
  • Write a list of all the reasons your addictive relationship/person is bad for you. It is easy to focus on what you miss when you are experiencing feelings of emptiness, but if you can focus on the negative aspects of your relationship, you can gird yourself up with reality.

Understand you cannot change anyone but yourself. Stop focusing on how the other person needs to change. You have no power over other people, and wishing others would change only serves to keep you hooked into a destructive pattern of waiting.

Understand you cannot change anyone but yourself. Stop focusing on how the other person needs to change. You have no power over other people, and wishing others would change only serves to keep you hooked into a destructive pattern of waiting.

The best thing you can do to help yourself on your journey of healing is to be proactive and set up a plan of emotional health “bottom-line behaviors” for yourself.

Here are some personal principles you can internalize to help you do just that:

  • I will trust my intuition.
  • I will no longer participate in no-win conversations.
  • I will no longer participate in impossible situations.
  • If I feel bad around someone, I will remove myself.
  • I will no longer make every decision a crisis.
  • I will live one day at a time.
  • I will learn to reframe negative experiences. In other words, I will look for the “silver lining” in all situations.
  • I will learn how to manage my emotions rather than have them control me.
  • I will take my power back.
  • I resolve to believe in myself.
  • If I feel emotionally unstable, I will connect with a safe person, not the object of my obsession.
  • I will have self-compassion.
  • I will honor and pay attention to my feelings.

Recovery from any addiction, including a relationship addiction, is hard but worthwhile work. You can do this through perseverance, hope, self-discovery, and grace. The best way to accomplish any long-term goal is to do it one step and one day at a time. Don’t scare yourself by thinking beyond today. Live each day as it comes and take the next indicated step on your journey to healthy living.

For compassionate guidance, seek the support of a licensed therapist in your area.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dr. Sharie Stines, MBA, CATC-V, LPCC-I, therapist in La Mirada, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 10 comments
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  • Raven

    April 20th, 2017 at 2:28 PM

    It can totally be scary to be the object of someone’s obsession, and you know that no matter where you are they are probably watching you.
    I had this one guy that the only way to get him to stop was to actually go and get a restraining order out against him, and I think that that is the only thing that saved me from him.
    I know that there are plenty of guys who wouldn’t even have been scared off by that but luckily he was and I hope to never hear from him again.

  • Jackie

    April 22nd, 2017 at 7:08 PM

    Great way to shame people who are struggling with this issue. And way to miss the point. The article isn’t about people who are labeled as “dangerous” stalkers. It’s about people who are trapped in cycles of unhealthy relationship patterns and are ultimately in an unbalanced, unfulfilling relationship. The word “obsession” doesn’t mean that someone is dangerous. So let’s clear that up and have some respect for people who are trying to be happy.

  • Renae

    May 11th, 2017 at 10:42 PM

    Thank you for explaining the article to counter that response. Learning to believe in yourself after being in a Toxic relationship is not easy. Most people have had an emotionally abusive relationship early in their lives which blindly attracts them to the toxic relationship. No, it isn’t easy.

  • Jeb

    April 21st, 2017 at 8:00 AM

    For some reason I have always gotten so enmeshed with the women that I date. I get hooked on them so fast and even when there is no reason to be so in love with them, that’s what it winds up feeling like to me, and quickly. And then when they break it off inevitably it is hard for me to let them go. I don’t want to be this possessive person but that’s how they all tell me that I start acting even though I don’t ever see it that way. What can I do to change this pattern?

  • Tobias

    April 24th, 2017 at 9:47 AM

    hoping that everyone can make it out of these relationships safely

  • Olivia

    April 24th, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    Why can’t we just acknowledge that these relationships are generally very abusive and manipulative and to say otherwise would be wrong. This is not behavior that should be excused, and yes they need help, but don’t let them off the hook quite so lightly.
    In many cases relationships with this kind of addictive edge can become quite dangerous to the other partner, and it isn’t cute and sweet but quite scary actually.

  • Lillian S

    April 27th, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    My ex boyfriend has made me very scared to even leave the house. I am pretty sure that he is stalking me if not in person then at least online. Everywhere I go he tends to either be there or at least he knows that I am there. I have tried talking to him but it is of no use, he denies that he is following me or doing anything wrong. I don’t want to cause a scene but at the same time he is making me a little jittery.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    April 27th, 2017 at 2:46 PM

    Hi Lillian,

    Thank you for your comment. We wanted to provide you with links to some resources that may be helpful to you. We have more information about stalking at http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/stalking and additional information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html.

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Whitney

    July 4th, 2017 at 9:13 AM

    This relationship I am thinking about had its ups and downs but I was never threatened or felt afraid. I was generally very happy. I only became addicted to it once we broke up. The loss of him hurt me really bad so that was the only way I could cope.

  • Louise

    July 16th, 2017 at 3:31 AM

    Thanks for this article – which eloquently describe the problem, then goes on to outline a solution. I believe exploring attachment theory and disruptions can also be helpful to understand the causes and to find compassion for the self if caught in this web of “longing”. The only way out is through but recovery is possible with hard work and willingness.

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