Updated 16 July 2013

Are you a relationship junkie?

Would you rather be in an unhappy relationship than be single? Do you compromise your own values to ensure acceptance by others?


Would you rather be in an unhappy relationship than be single? Do you compromise your own values to ensure acceptance by others? Do you have a history of traumatic and disastrous relationships? You might very well be a relationship addict.

The lives of most women portrayed on television appear to be empty without a man and they spend all their time and energy to hunt one down, to obsess about the one they have or to mourn one that has absconded.

Their whole lives, and indeed their sanity, seem to be dependent on this one elusive magical creature, who by his mere appearance can wave the magic wand and somehow make their lives right and make all their pain disappear.

Symptoms of relationship addiction
Low self-worth, denial or disregard of own feelings, an overpowering desire to please and also to help others are all symptoms women who tend towards relationship addiction, according to the US-based organisation Adult Children Anonymous (ACA).

Low self-worth
This usually manifests in being oversensitive to criticism, being unable to accept compliments, being constantly plagued by a sense of worthlessness or being unlovable, feeling lonely even when surrounded by others, feeling empty inside and not asking other people to help fulfill your needs. Women who are relationship addicts, often accept sex when what they are looking for is love.

Women who have low self-esteem often also feel that they have to deserve to be loved as a result of their actions and the selfless things they do for other people, rather than for who and what they are. How they feel about themselves, is determined by the approval they earn from others. Their self-worth is also enhanced by attempting to change someone else's life - usually someone with serious problems, such as a drug dependency, a spending problem or a gambling addiction, according to the ACA.

"They want to pit the power of their love against an almost insurmountable problem that someone else has and so enhance their self-worth", according to Robin Norwood, author of Women who love too much. "The problem is that they choose impossible men, who have no intention of changing".

"Women who are relationship addicts often have a feeling of being a bottomless pit of misery, from which they want to escape by burying themselves in someone else's chaotic life", says Norwood.

Their own feelings, needs and desires become completely sublimated by their desire for someone else's wellbeing. They do not know what they want, but have an uncanny knack of sensing their partner's needs, according to the Adult Children Anonymous Manual on Codependency.

"Identifying exactly what they are feeling is very difficult and they often perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the wellbeing of others," according to the Big Book of Codependents Anonymous.(CA)

Pleasing and helping others - a selfish act?
Very often it is, since people who are relationship addicts buy acceptance by doing things for other people they should be doing for themselves. They compromise their values to avoid rejection or someone else's anger or displeasure and constantly put other people's needs before their own, according to the ACA Manual.

"Help is the sunny side of control", says Norwood. "The pay-off is as follows - I help you to make your life better, and then you must love me. Unfortunately most people resent interference, so the helper is experienced as interfering and controlling. This often becomes apparent when the one being 'helped', does not do what he is supposed to and the helper is devastated and becomes angry and resentful and feels hurt and powerless."

Relationship addicts often give up their own lives and put their own development on hold and become overly involved in the wellbeing of another person. They remain in harmful situations for too long, losing touch with reality. As a case in point, think of the wife who is always 'the last to find out' that her husband is having an affair. All the signs were there, but she chose not to see them, more often than not.

Are you a relationship addict? Do the following statements describe you and how you behave in relationships?

  • I minimise, alter or deny how I truly feel
  • I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires
  • I value others' approval of my thinking, feelings and behaviour over my own
  • My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you
  • My mental attention is focused on you, protecting you, and manipulating you to do it my way
  • My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems
  • I am more aware of how you feel than I am of my own feelings
  • My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
  • Being needed makes me feel worthy
  • I cannot let people know I am angry
  • I feel responsible for other peoples' feelings and happiness
  • I in actual fact have difficulty getting close to or trusting people
  • I freely offer advice without being asked for it
  • I lavish extravagant gifts on those I care about
  • I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • I feel uncomfortable around people who don't need me to 'fix' them
  • I never say no and I never ask for help
  • I stay in relationships that damage me, out of a sense of duty
  • I ignore my own needs and spiritual growth and submerge my energies into someone else's chaotic life
  • I always seem to get involved with the wrong men who drink, do drugs and are abusive

(Statements taken from CA and ACA)

If you recognise yourself in the above statements, you may be a relationship addict. Your life may have started to spin out of control as you move from one disastrous nightmarish relationship to another, often with people who are addicts themselves, whether their addiction is to alcohol, drugs, spending, gambling or sex.

Is recovery possible?
Yes, it is, says Norwood, but only if it is approached with the same desperation and dedication one should approach rehabilitation from alcohol or drugs.

The 12 promises of South Africa’s Codependents Anonymous largely spells out the road to recovery and the rediscovery of a sense of self, of worth and the letting go of fear.

  1. I know a new sense of belonging. The feeling of emptiness and loneliness will disappear.
  2. I am no longer controlled by my fears. I overcome my fears and act with courage, integrity and dignity.
  3. I know a new freedom.
  4. I release myself from worry, guilt and regret about my past and present. I am aware enough not to repeat it.
  5. I know a new love and acceptance of myself and others. I feel genuinely lovable, loving and loved.
  6. I learn to see myself as equal to others. My new and and renewed relationships are all with equal partners.
  7. I am capable of developing and maintaining healthy and loving relationships. The need to control and manipulate others will disappear as I learn to trust those who are trustworthy.
  8. I learn that it is possible to mend - to become more loving, intimate and supportive. I have the choice of communicating with my family in a way which is safe for me and respectful of them.
  9. I acknowledge that I am a unique and precious creation.
  10. I no longer need to rely solely on others to provide my sense of self-worth.
  11. I trust the guidance I receive from my higher power and come to believe in my own capabilities.
  12. I gradually experience serenity, strength and spiritual growth in my daily life.

Useful contacts

Codependents Anonymous website

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2012)

(Picture: woman staring at phone from Shutterstock)



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