Confessions of a Relationship Addict: When Loving Hurts More Than Helps
Hi, I am a Relationship Addict.
"Hi, my name is Skylar Wong and I am a Relationship Addict."
Maybe you have heard from movies like The Sex Addict (2017) or Thanks For Sharing (2012) that there is such a thing as a Sex Addict, namely individuals who constantly think of having sex and can't seem to stop craving it. In fact, Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous (see link here) is a real group that allows sufferers to find support, following a similar structure as Alcoholics Anonymous does.
A lesser known, related mental struggle to that of the Sex Addict is that of the Love Addict, or what I rather call the "Relationship Addict". I choose the term "Relationship Addict" rather than "Love Addict" because I personally think everyone needs love, but not everyone needs a romantic relationship to survive.
There is a difference between wanting love in general, versus wasting one's life chasing after unhealthy relationships. There is also a difference between simply wanting a stable, loving relationship, versus hurting oneself just to experience a "high" off of romantic relationships.
What is a Relationship Addict?
I have attended a "Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous" group but have felt a bit out of place there because I was outnumbered by sex addicts. I don't have an addiction to sex and don't feel the need to have sex constantly, but I do feel the desire to always be in a romantic relationship, even when my brain tells me it's time to rest and heal up from the previous one.
How do you know you are a Relationship Addict? The Augustine Fellowship's list of characteristics (1990) on the Love Addicts Anonymous website paints us a very clear picture of the symptoms surrounding Relationship Addiction (see link here). One major characteristic is that Relationship Addicts are constantly "moving on" to the next relationship quickly after each breakup and cannot stand being single.
Whereas the typical person tries to heal after a relationship, the Relationship Addict quickly tries to find someone else to fill the gap, claiming that they are "over" the previous romantic relationship when all his or her friends are absolutely sure that they are definitely not over it.
Relationship Addicts seek attention and crave romantic feelings more than they even crave a long-term relationship. This draws them to idealize almost any person that gives them the attention that they so deeply desire, and the Relationship Addict may tend to choose either abusive or unhealthy relationships as a result.
There is danger for people who date Relationship Addicts too, because they are being used as rebounds for the Addict, providing them a comfortable "way out" of their previous relationship. Their relationship may be extremely rocky as the Relationship Addict craves attention first and foremost, and not necessarily healthy intimacy.
This may end up causing dramatic fights within the relationship, and may trigger suicidal thoughts or self-harming tendencies if the Addict feels that they are not getting enough attention or care from their partner.
Also, due to the highly emotional nature of the Addict's relationships, dating is often short-lived and breakups happen very quickly. The vicious relationship cycle continues after each breakup as the Addict seeks attention from a new person, hoping to find "the one", when really they are feeding off a "high" that comes from being in every new relationship.
Like a never-ending swing, the Relationship Addicts feed off the euphoric highs of being in a newfound relationship, but swing back to being low and desperate every time the relationship breaks up. They then push themselves to try a new relationship to find that "high" again, only to perpetuate the back-and-forth swinging of highs and lows.
The Never-Ending Relationship Swing
What Causes the Relationship Addiction?
Why are Relationship Addicts the way they are?
From my personal experience, there are various reasons. They may have grown up, as I did, very shy and not having a stable parental relationship. Mom and Dad were always fighting when I was growing up and threatening divorce or other types of horrible things.
After being a timid child in my early childhood, in high school I also had trouble finding a stable group of friends. Every year of high school, my friendship group changed. My friends either moved away, graduated before me, or ditched me for other friends. My loneliness and desperation may have had its roots there.
If it's not due to the Addict's childhood or adolescent experiences, being a Relationship Addict could also be simply part of the person's personality. They may have trouble managing their anger, have unrealistic expectations for themselves or for others, have drug or alcohol problems, come from a history of abuse, and/or may not have developed healthy problem-solving or coping behaviors in general.
Relationship Addicts all have one thing in common: they all possess very low self-esteem. That is why they cling to an endless cycle of romantic partners in order to make themselves feel good. Relationship Addicts feel empty and incomplete without a person to fill the void in their hearts. They rely on praise, compliments, or gifts from their partner to uplift them.
There is little research being done on whether Relationship Addiction as a disposition is related to genetics. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual version 5, there is an officially diagnosed mental disorder that psychiatrists call Borderline Personality Disorder. It is listed in the "Cluster B" category of personality disorders (see here for more on personality disorders).
Not all Relationship Addicts are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Conversely, not all people with Borderline Personality Disorder have an issue with Relationship Addiction although some do suffer from both. Having Borderline Personality Disorder is simply a potential contributing factor to Relationship Addiction.
Unfortunately, I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by an official psychiatrist last year. The psychiatrist said I had both Bipolar Disorder (diagnosed in 2008) as well as Borderline Personality Disorder (diagnosed in 2016). When I heard the diagnoses, I felt it made sense. Having both bipolar and borderline could have contributed to me becoming a Relationship Addict.
First of all, what is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental disorder that is characterized by unstable relationships, where the person experiences feelings of extreme hopelessness and depression. The person with Borderline Personality Disorder has feelings of being lost and empty.
The individual suffering from Borderline may have impulsive mood swings, thoughts of self-harm, and exhibit risky behavior such as use and abuse of alcohol or drugs. A possible symptom could also be feelings of dissociation, where the person "zones out" from reality for a period of time and dissociates from their immediate surroundings in a catatonic state. (Click here for a full description on Wikipedia.)
How about Bipolar Disorder? Is it pretty much the same as Borderline?
Bipolar Disorder may have similar symptoms as Borderline, but it is a totally different mental disorder altogether. It is not a personality disorder like Borderline. It is a mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings. Moods swing back and forth from the manic phase and the depressive phase.
The manic phase of Bipolar includes symptoms of euphoria, hyperactivity, insomnia, over-confidence, having quick and nonstop speech, irritability, and in extreme cases, experiencing hallucinations or delusions. On the other hand, the depressive phase includes symptoms of hopelessness, loss of appetite or overeating, retreating from friends and enjoyable activities, crying spells, thoughts of suicide, and trouble sleeping or oversleeping.
Bipolar moods can swing up and down to extremes over a matter of days, months, or years and are uncontrollable. However, Bipolar Disorder is manageable with medication. (Click here for a full description of Bipolar Disorder on Wikipedia.)
Bipolar Disorder can potentially be a genetic disorder, whereas Borderline Personality Disorder is more of a personality disposition. Unfortunately, I am stuck with both diagnoses.
These diagnoses do not define me but most of the time, they describe me. As a result of having both Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, in addition to my negative experiences growing up, I ended up developing a disposition for Relationship Addiction.
Craving Love and Attention
Word of Warning: Do Not Self-Diagnose!
It is dangerous to try to diagnose oneself with Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, or any type of mental disorder for that matter. Most people have experienced some sort of hopelessness, depression, or mood swings in the course of their lives. But trying to diagnose yourself with a mental disorder without a licensed doctor's assessment is only going to make you feel worse.
I was officially diagnosed with both of these aforementioned mental disorders in the office of a licensed psychiatrist. With the doctor's help, I was able to identify my mental disorders and was able to get counseling and medication from there.
Relationship Addiction, however, is not officially a mental disorder like Bipolar or Borderline are. Relationship Addiction can be described as a way that certain individuals deal with their pain, by going through a reckless cycle of breakups and impulsive relationships. It is more of a behaviour pattern rather than a mental illness.
What Happened with John: the Start of My Relationship Addiction
It all started with John*.
John was a Korean Christian that I really admired. I was automatically attracted when I came to his rap performance one night on campus in my freshman year of university. He was charismatic on stage, and his rap song had deep Christian meaning too! Being a Christian myself, I fell for his suave words and cool attitude. But this feeling was destined to lead nowhere.
Flash back to high school. Before John, I had only dated one person in my grade 9 year of high school roughly three and a half years prior. It was Freddy*, my high school sweetheart. Freddy and I didn't last longer than a year and a half.
My parents told me I was too young for a relationship and only wanted me to date after university. You heard that right, my strict traditional Chinese parents pressured me to break up because I had to focus on my studies. To be brief, my breakup with Freddy was the worst. It was the worst because I chose to follow my parents' wishes and ended up losing not only a boyfriend, but my best friend (Freddy) in this process.
Fast forward, now I was in my freshman year of university and hoping to date John. By this time, I thought I had pretty much healed from the emptiness of losing Freddy. This time around, I was three and a half years older and hoping for something more long-lasting. True, I had not finished university yet, but I had hoped that my parents would have changed their minds about the "no dating until after university" rule.
If you have strict traditional Chinese parents, you would understand. In the Chinese culture, family and honoring parents is highly important, even after the age of majority. The Chinese value community life and making decisions as a collective group rather than independence and individuality.
Traditional Chinese parents are more concerned about what others think of them, rather than their child's own dreams or desires. There is an element of individuality and being unique, but it is not emphasized. Rather, honoring family members, especially elders, is always placed as the top priority.
I do not blame my parents for my Relationship Addiction. They wanted the best for my studies and once again, they told me to wait until after university to date. However, this time with John they took it to another extreme.
Because John was Korean and I was Chinese, they forbid me to even talk to him or be friends with him! This blatant racism really got to me, and the pressure my parents were putting upon me boiled up to such a point that even John himself told me to stop talking to him. John's Korean mother was the same, not wanting him to marry a Chinese! And here I was, thinking that Koreans and Chinese were absolutely fine together!
Though I no longer blame my parents for my mental disorders, I do blame the situation involving John for my Relationship Addiction.
At that time, I not only saw John on campus, but I worked alongside him too. We both had Saturday School Teacher jobs at Mary Lake Education Center, teaching English to young children. That made ignoring him practically impossible.
Once again, by trying to please my parents, I lost a dear friend, not just a potential mate. It ripped my heart to shreds.
As time passed, I tried to ignore John and pretend that he was no longer part of my life. I developed a deep depression. Ignoring my own desires and following my parents' desires while living in the independent and individualistic Canadian culture was tearing my heart apart. I was living in both a traditional Chinese mindset as well as trying to live in a free country, and my two cultures clashed heads.
The biggest shocker was when one day John came up to a bunch of us Christian friends on campus and told us that he was no longer a believer. He said his mother forced him to kneel down in front of her, and made him choose either God or her. She would kick him out of the house if he continued to choose God. Extreme, but true story.
We knew John's mother was strict but we didn't think she would force him to stop church just because his studies were suffering. We weren't sure what to say, because John told us he picked his mother and his studies over his faith. When I heard this, my heart stopped. I felt even worse about my situation, because it seemed that the parents always had their way.
How does all this relate to me becoming a Relationship Addict? Simple. The broken relationship with John was the driving force of my rebellion against my parents. Because of the depression I felt after losing John, I started wanting any and all kinds of romantic relationships.
I said to myself, if a good Korean boy like John and a wonderful sweet boy like Freddy couldn't satisfy my parents, no one would! So I might as well go for anyone, disregarding my parents' opinions! Right? Wrong.
Euphoric Highs of Love
The Vicious Cycle Spiraling Out of Control
Oh, the horrors of Relationship Addiction!
Over the course of the following years, after losing John, I dated people from all walks of life that were never good for me. For one, I dated Randy* who was fresh out of jail, convicted of pedophilia. Honest to God, I didn't know what I was really doing to myself. My mind and heart had gone haywire.
He gave me care and attention, and I fell for it. He told me he didn't molest that boy, that it was a false accusation. And I believed him. He even tried to touch me inappropriately, and sadly, I let him. My psyche was going nuts and rebelling against my parents like no tomorrow. Fear mixed up with love turned out to be a dangerous combination.
I wanted love, but I didn't know where to find it. I wanted intimacy, but I was afraid of not having anyone at all. I was fearful of my parents, yet also fearful of not finding freedom in my life. My freedom was ill-placed, because I poured myself into someone who did not deserve my love.
In the midst of my troublesome dating relationship with ex-convict Randy, I almost committed suicide. My parents were obviously on my back telling me I should cut ties with this so-called dangerous criminal, but Randy got me to lie to them about my whereabouts. Every day became a screaming match between me and my parents. I felt desperate.
I was taking medication for anxiety by that time, prescribed by a psychiatrist. One day, after a huge screaming match, I swallowed three pills instead of the regular one dose, hoping to just go to sleep and forget anything happened. I did have feelings of hopelessness and wanted to die, but knowing that God would always have a purpose for me, I refrained from taking the whole bottle of pills.
Instead, I called my pastor friend from church and told him I had overdosed on my Zyprexa medication. He and another lady from church drove to my house and made sure I was alright. They checked with the pharmacy and said that my dose was higher than normal but apparently not lethal. It was just going to make me drowsy and sleep.
I eventually broke up with Randy, but the cycle continued on. I grabbed on to whoever would pay attention to me, and it made me fall for all kinds of guys. Guys that used me, guys that cared for me, and most of all, guys that had nothing in common with me. I went for whoever would give me a chance, and I didn't care whether they were a good match.
These boys may have seen the purity and beauty in me, but they were in for a surprise: I was always up and down, going through extreme emotions, and having trouble within my own mind.
A memorable case in point was Christo*, a proud Greek man with a lively and wild personality. I say "case in point" because it was the perfect example of someone who had nothing in common with me, yet I loved his wildness and longed to be free with him. He was a friend of my close friend Gloria, and the first night I rode in his car he kept me listening to his life story until 3:00am. Obviously once again, I got in trouble with my parents.
If I had been living independently it would have been a whole other story, but all this time I was still under my parents' roof, and in their view, under their jurisdiction as well. Coming home at 3:00am after I had been with a total stranger caused them great alarm. But it was too late. I had already fallen for Christo and shared long, passionate kisses. Not even knowing enough about him, I had agreed to date him.
Christo played loud rock music, had extreme religious and political views, and was always fueled by anger and passion. I invited him to my church and he enjoyed it, although he didn't share the same views. He brought me to movies, and he told me about his work, his past lovers, his family background, and his longing for a beautiful woman to fill his life.
I broke up with Christo a total of three times. Every time I knew I broke his heart but I was constantly in tension of what was the right thing to do. My mind said no, but my heart said yes. It made no sense to be with him, yet I felt good around him. I was attracted by his sweet eyes, his crazy personality, and the false sense of freedom I experienced when I rode in his car, forgetting the world.
He took me back every time I broke up with him, hoping that I would finally choose to be with him. But I ended up letting my mind win over my heart. Christo and I were done. I knew we had nothing in common and that he was not a good fit for me, even though his "wild and free" personality attracted me towards him.
In the case of Christo, you can see how I was definitely a Relationship Addict. Trying to break up yet falling right back into relationship showed that I was constantly fighting against myself. Should I do the right thing or the thing that felt good? That was the question plaguing my mind every day during those horrifying years of addiction.
Though it wasn't seemingly as bad as the relationship with Randy the ex-convict, my out-of-control pattern still continued and I grasped at whoever could help me feel loved. I simply wanted to feel loved.
How I Got Help: Freedom from Relationship Addiction
I won't go through the trouble to tell you about all my broken relationships, but I will tell you this. This type of nonstop dating lifestyle was totally destructive. It hurt myself and it hurt the ones I was with. And I knew it was destroying me, yet I could not stop it.
Relationship Addiction requires professional counseling and help. Friends can say all they want but I would not take their advice no matter how wise they were. I was trapped in a vicious cycle, a roller coaster of emotion that I felt stuck riding on. I was spinning out of control. I tried to get off this roller coaster, but the thrill ride kept me strapped in.
I hid my crazy relationship troubles from a lot of my church friends. At the time, I was even a Bible study leader and those close to me knew I was putting up a front. I appeared strong and "Christian-y" to many, but deep inside, I was hopelessly lost.
My close friends knew that though on the outside I was strong and serving at church, deep inside I was cracking underneath a huge amount of pressure. A pressure that originated from my parents' wishes and trying to be perfect for them. A pressure that I put on myself to find "the one". An unbearable pressure between trying to be a "perfect daughter" and yet craving to be "wild and free". Just as a pressure cooker leaks off steam, I had to let it all out somehow. That's how I became an Addict.
It took 10 years of counseling and bad falls before I ended up learning my lessons. I had to learn that certain types of guys were bad for me. Oh yes, I learned it the hard way. I started to recognize who really loved me and were healthy for me. Although I still had trouble being single, my choices of guys slowly got better.
I learned through counseling how to find my identity and re-establish my self-esteem so that I wouldn't have to depend on a guy to do it for me. I could finally start to feel truly free after finding good female therapists to talk to. I grew more mature as I valued my mental sanity and health over my thrill-seeking, attention-craving behaviours.
Faith did its part to help me overcome this addiction. I realized my faith was helping me to forgive myself, find peace within, and feel a love from my Higher Power that I did not feel before. Although I understand not everyone wants to be religious, I personally choose to be depend on my faith to get me through. I got help from my Higher Power to release myself from my cycle of addiction and pain. As well, my Christian community prayed and cared for me without judgment. Their support helped me conquer my addiction.
Now, I am in a healthy relationship with a wonderful Christian man. I didn't choose him to please my parents, nor did I choose him to simply fill a void in my heart. This time, after 10 years of going through a vicious addiction, I was older and wiser. I grew out of my addictive behaviors and started looking for stable relationships with healthy people, whether it be friendships or a romantic relationship. I know better by now to protect my heart and be smart about who to choose as a life partner.
I chose Brian because he is a caring, compassionate, and loving man. I chose him because I felt comfortable being myself around him and experienced for the first time being in a relationship with someone who had a lot in common with me. My parents, by the way, are happy with him too. At the ripe age of 29, I can honestly say that I think this one is for keeps.
Brian and I talk things out calmly, and he is very aware of my mental disorders. He supports me and understands me in every way. We pray together and have fun together. We don't judge and we share similar dreams.
This relationship is different from any other fleeting relationship I had. Brian and I had five years of friendship as a stable foundation before we even started dating, so he knew me through my years of mental illness and still accepts me through it all. He sees my caring heart and doesn't focus on my negative traits.
I am grateful that I am finally out of my relationship addiction cycle, thanks to the help and support of psychological counseling. But not everyone is as lucky as I am. There are still people out there who are stuck in a cycle of breakups and unstable, unhealthy relationships. If this is you, I plead for you to seek help.
When loving hurts you more than it helps you, and when you are chasing after romantic feelings rather than a long-lasting relationship, it is not good for either you or the person you are dating. I am not putting blame, only speaking truth from personal experience. Relationship Addiction can drive you to the point of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, and I wouldn't want anyone to experience that in their lifetime.
There is hope for you if you think you are a Relationship Addict. Help is available and you can find psychotherapists in every major city in North America.
If you feel suicidal from Relationship Addiction or for any other reason, you can call the Suicide Hotline. It only takes a few seconds to Google Search the Suicide Hotline in your area. You can also search on Google for a licensed psychotherapist in your city or town. I urge you to seek the help that you so desperately need.
Relationship Addiction is no fun. Time to put a stop to the thrill ride and start living a stable life. I confess that I was an Addict-- but I refuse to let the addiction rule my life.
Now, I can live free. I'll get off the swing and walk on stable ground. My future is bright and healthy, and I hope yours will be too.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
What is the best way to get help for Relationship Addiction?
Mistakes in Relationships
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Skylar Wong