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 Sharie Stines, PsyD, therapist in La Habra, 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.

  • 48 comments
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  • Raven

    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

    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

    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.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    June 12th, 2018 at 10:47 AM

    Very much agree!

  • Steve

    Steve

    August 23rd, 2018 at 7:58 AM

    Thank you, Jackie. I am one the guys suffering terribly and reading this article for healthy ways to let go. NOT tips on how to stalk … nothing in the article even suggests that.

  • Jeb

    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?

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    June 12th, 2018 at 10:50 AM

    Typically all the issues we have in our current relationships somehow relate back to childhood and how you didn’t get something you needed from your parents or one of your parents. I didn’t get enough validation from my mom. The best thing to do would be to explore this with a therapist who is trained in picking up on where our relationship issues come from.

  • Tobias

    Tobias

    April 24th, 2017 at 9:47 AM

    hoping that everyone can make it out of these relationships safely

  • Olivia

    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

    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 https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/stalking and additional information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html.

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Whitney

    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

    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.

  • Mike

    Mike

    November 7th, 2019 at 10:35 AM

    This article really hits home. I am married and met another woman. We never had sex but we were emotionally attached to each other. She has continued to break it off and disappear for a time over the six years we have known each other. She just did it again two days ago after she “came back” two weeks ago. I honestly can’t count the number of times she has done this. Each time it is a different reason but usually because she feels it is immoral, which it is. Each time she goes it destroys me just a little worse than the last time but I keep taking her back and chasing after her begging to come back. I make no excuses for emotionally cheating on my wife but this other woman gives me something I just don’t get from her. My wife is not the warmest person and a person that really likes to talk much. I feel so lonely all the time. I know all of these issues are my problem and I wish I could figure out how to get over them but I have tried for so long and have had very little success. At times lately I just wish I would die in my sleep so I didn’t have to feel the pain I feel anymore. I know this is more that what the article talked about but I do get the point of it. I am in a vicious cycle that NEEDS to stop. Sorry for going on for so long.

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    November 13th, 2019 at 9:34 AM

    Mike do you mind if I ask – have you considered leaving your wife for this other woman ? I’m not saying that as advice – just trying to get an idea of your state of mind. Would there be a possibility of a future relationship with this other woman ? or is she too in a long term relationship?

  • Mike

    Mike

    November 13th, 2019 at 3:22 PM

    Hi Sabrina,
    To answer your question we both considered, at least she said she did, leaving our spouses to be together. At this point though I have zero intention of doing so. The more I have gotten to know her the less I would do that or even like her anymore. At this point, frankly, I like my wife more than her. That is why I hot my head against the wall as to why I keep chasing after her. The problem is that this other woman does offer things, not sexual, that I so wish I had in my wife. My wife shares very few interests in common with me which is hard to deal with at this point. Other than sex and watching some TV together there is very little that we like to do together. At times I wish I just had someone else to hang with, go to football games with and just generally enjoy their company. I have guy friends to do that with but it just isn’t the same. I know that may make very little sense but it is how I feel. I guess I just want the whole package.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    December 27th, 2019 at 3:29 PM

    I am in exactly the same situation. Married and love my husband but emotionally attached to someone who had kept coming back after telling me that he shouldn’t and can’t message me. He finally broke it off last week and I just can’t stop thinking about him.

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    December 28th, 2019 at 4:39 PM

    Cindy are you ok ? Heartbreak is one of the most painful human emotions. I wonder if Good Therapy would allow us to exchange email addresses ?

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    December 7th, 2019 at 8:10 AM

    Hi Mike – I understand and I can totally relate. You are not alone in thinking this way. How many spouses – including ourselves – could be EVERYthing to another person – sexually and otherwise – that would be impossible – we are only human after all. I respect monogamy I’m just not sure if it ever should have become the ‘norm’ since so many humans are not able to stick with that level of commitment for an entire lifetime. The other woman may be breaking it off and making herself scarce often …… because she loves you chasing after her ……. it’s the scarcity principle ….. we often want what we think we can’t have. As I mentioned – you’re not alone – many people feel the way you do – you’re just brave enough to discuss it. Good luck my friend – stay strong. 😊

  • Mike

    Mike

    December 9th, 2019 at 8:37 AM

    Thank you Sabrina I think you are totally right. I try and stay strong, I really do. I can’t begin to tell you how much I would love just a normal person in my life that I feel safe with. I assume you are in the same situation or have been due to your understanding. If so, I am sorry.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 5th, 2020 at 2:19 PM

    I hope you’re doing ok Mike and that you’re staying strong?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    December 29th, 2019 at 3:04 PM

    Hi Sabrina

    I’m ok – just really struggling to get him out of my head. As I said, I love my husband very much but this guy was like a drug. It’s so hard to break the habit of checking his social media etc

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    January 12th, 2020 at 10:55 AM

    Hi Cindy – glad to hear you’re ok. Is this something you’ve been able to discuss with your husband – does he know ? Sending strength.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 14th, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    Hi, no he’s not aware. I’m just trying to get through it. Keep telling myself – this too shall pass.

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 13th, 2020 at 9:05 AM

    Hi Cindy and thank you for the well wishes, I wish you the same. The woman is still here but funny enough I find myself losing interest over time. I guess the big reason is it seems our relationship has stalled at a certain level and has never moved on. The life I have with my wife is so lonely and in truth I desire the “real” thing and so much more than I have with this other woman. But I do understand how you describe him like a drug. It has felt like that for so long and I have just reached a state of bitterness and despair. If it were not for my kids I would be gone so fast you would hear the sonic boom across the country! I hope you are doing better and I wish I had good advice for you but I keep running back too. :( If you ever need to talk let me know.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 18th, 2020 at 11:03 AM

    Hi Mike
    Good to hear from you. Do you mind me asking – are you and the other woman are still together? Just with you saying that’ she’s still around.
    I haven’t heard anything from the other guy since just after Christmas. I messaged him yesterday (I was drunk!) but he’s not replied. I feel so foolish. I want to lose interest as you describe but it’s not getting any easier. How did it happen for you?
    Stay strong
    C

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 21st, 2020 at 9:17 AM

    Hi Cindy,
    I can’t really say we are still “together” but we do still talk. I am not really sure how I got over her but I will say I am not interested at all in being with her anymore. I can’t really say it was something I did more than just time took away my interest. How are things with your husband? I had a friend tell me that if it were not for the fact I were married and could find someone else this girl would have been out of my life a long time ago. In truth she just became less and less the person I wanted or thought she was as the years went on. If you ever want to chat let me know. I can definitely feel where you are coming from and can be a friend. :)

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 27th, 2020 at 1:51 PM

    I totally get that Cindy. Let me ask you, if you had the opportunity to have a physical affair with this man yet stay with your husband, would you?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 27th, 2020 at 2:04 PM

    Hi Mike
    Honestly? Yes I think I would. I think the only reason we haven’t is because we don’t live in the same city and he has a partner too. He messages me – it goes down a really sexually explicit route – he then feels guilty and tells me he can’t do it because he loves his girlfriend – then a few weeks later it happens again… as I say – vicious circle.

    Part of me wonders if I should just have sex with him to ‘get it out of my system’ but know that is not the answer.

    Just can’t walk away. I’m so weak!

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    January 29th, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    Hi Cindy I was in the same situation as you almost exactly and thought the same regarding ‘get it out of my system’ …… well that backfired and I fell in love. Now I’m going thru the process of breaking up since there’s no future there and I’m completely heartbroken. Just warning you that this could happen and it’s extremely emotionally painful.

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 29th, 2020 at 1:24 PM

    That is rough Sabrina, I am sorry. I guess that have become kind of jaded and just feel that love is a lie, at least romantic love. I see so many people in so much pain these days due to their relationships or lack thereof.

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 27th, 2020 at 2:18 PM

    You aren’t weak you are human and something inside you needs more. If you don’t mind me asking where are both of you?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 27th, 2020 at 4:06 PM

    We are both in the UK. But and hour and half drive from each other. We used to work for the same organisation which is how we met

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 27th, 2020 at 4:36 PM

    We are both in the UK, but 1 and a half hours drive from each other. We worked for the same organisation (just in different offices) which is where we met. He no longer works there

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 28th, 2020 at 5:42 AM

    We are both in the UK but an hour and half drive from each other. We used to work for the same organisation which is how we met. He no longer works there

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 28th, 2020 at 10:13 AM

    Hmmm, I guess I am weird but 1.5 hours isn’t that far but it is probably good that you feel it is. I have been told that Americans are weird that way. LOL I wish I had a good answer for you. If you really want to get rid of him change your number and you have to be strong and not contact him. But I am CERTAINLY no example of that. Do you feel it is strictly sexual or does he meet an emotional need that your husband does not?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 28th, 2020 at 11:44 AM

    Yes I suppose the size of the USA is much different to the UK! 😀

    It’s completely sexual. We are so sexually compatible it’s unreal. Our relationship situations are both very similar too. Both love our partners but missing something that we get from each other.

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 28th, 2020 at 1:12 PM

    Well I can tell you the “right” thing to do but I can also tell you what I know you want to do and what I would want to do in your situation. Please don’t get me wrong, I do feel that adultery is immoral and wrong. With that said I TOTALLY get it and want passion and excitement in my life so desperately. With that said I think our situations are a bit different in that my relationship with my wife sucks and is terribly lonely and wont change.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 28th, 2020 at 3:33 PM

    Do you mind me asking why you know it won’t change?

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 29th, 2020 at 8:16 AM

    I guess after 23 years of the same thing you just know it wont change. She also feels there is nothing wrong with how she does things and it is all my fault.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 29th, 2020 at 3:09 PM

    Do you have anyone to talk to? Happy to be a listening ear.

  • Mike

    Mike

    January 30th, 2020 at 8:03 AM

    Yes to a point. I guess I don’t really have someone that I can be completely honest and open with because I do feel embarrassed about it all. For me right now I so want the “happiness” of having a true partner in life. I have no belief that I will ever have that.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    February 1st, 2020 at 3:07 PM

    Mike
    You shouldn’t feel embarrassed on here. We are all in the same boat. Happy to chat through and you can be as open and honest as you want – no judgement.
    I’ve taken the decision today to cut contact with the other guy and not respond if he messages me. It’s gonna be so so hard but I’ve got to do it. As it’s slowly tearing me apart inside. Day one starts here.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 30th, 2020 at 8:50 AM

    Hi Sabrina
    Sorry I missed your comment earlier. That sounds really tough. How did the other guy respond?

  • Sabrina4

    Sabrina4

    January 30th, 2020 at 7:08 PM

    Hi Cindy –
    Well he doesn’t want to let me go …… and like you say …. he’s like a drug to me and I don’t like to feel like any other human being has that kind of control over my emotions – it’s crazy ! So I’m fighting really hard to keep away ….. only time will tell – we haven’t spoke now in 8 days and I’m trying not to initiate contact. Same as you ….. love our partners but getting something from each other that we must be missing. I’m not a bad person …… I feel like developing feelings for another person is involuntary….. we’re only human. Are you still in touch with the other man ?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    January 31st, 2020 at 3:02 PM

    Well done. 8 days is brilliant. Keep it up.
    I heard from him last Friday/Saturday. We chatted – but we just go round in circles. He says he can’t keep in touch – loves his g/f – feels guilty – shouldn’t message me but can’t help it. Then I don’t hear from him for a few weeks. Then we go through it all again.

  • trevor

    trevor

    February 11th, 2020 at 9:02 AM

    we are both married but are no longer in love with spouses, both have kids. we are 20 years apart (50-30) and are both addicted to each other. the sex is incredible, we share all our thoughts and want to spend every minute possible together. i have read a lot on addictive relationships but not seen anything on what happens when both are addicted. thx and good luck to all!

  • Candy

    Candy

    May 11th, 2020 at 10:19 PM

    Trevor,
    If you don’t mind me asking, is there anything else besides sex that a 20 year gap between man/woman share?

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