Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have been in a relationship for several years that I know is not good for me – yet I can’t seem to break it off. I’m fine when I’m not in the relationship – I can concentrate on my studies, not drink too much, have a normal social life with my friends, and feel OK most days. Then I start to miss the excitement of being with my boyfriend, and how I can feel so happy and complete when we are close, and I start to see him again.
The problem is, when I’m dating him, the rest of my life falls apart. It gets to the point where I’m obsessed with being with him, and I don’t feel right when he’s not around. I can’t focus on my work, I no longer see my friends, I’m irritable and anxious unless I’m with him, and I end up arguing with him whenever he has another commitment (that doesn’t involve me), or whenever he does anything that leads me to question his love for me.
In other words, I end up suffocating him. So then we end up breaking up (again), and I’m miserable on my own. I don’t know how to get out of this destructive pattern. I’m at my wit’s end. Do I have to be single forever? Am I unable to be in a relationship and attend to my life at the same time? Help!
Dr. Norquist responds:
It would be helpful for you to familiarize yourself with the literature on the nature of addictive relationships. One good book on this subject is Robin Norwoods’ “Women Who Love Too Much” (1985). Addictive relationships are described as obsessive, over-controlling, and characterized by a repetitive cycle of a short-term high (from a deep sense of gratification) followed by a painful period of anxiety, fear, and eventually depression.
Addictive relationships take over lives, leaving the involved parties bereft of their individual sense of identity. These relationships bring out the worst in its’ participants. Healthy love, in contrast, brings out the best in both partners. Healthy relationships are integrated into the totality of each person’s life. They encourage individual growth and development, and leave both partners feeling supported, understood, and confident.
Similar to recovery from other addictions, successful recovery from a relationship addiction requires a serious commitment, and must become a priority in the individual’s life. It requires a focus on self-development (especially in the area of self-esteem) and on taking responsibility for your own needs, and your own happiness. You must face your fears (of aloneness, and of loss) and experience first-hand that your “sense of self” can survive the experiencing of loneliness and loss.
Part of your recovery entails learning to “fill-up” by developing your spiritual side (rather than “filling-up” through the high of the relationship). Practice recognizing when you are experiencing the world from the perspective of the victim or the rescuer, and learn to move into the empowered, adult experience of taking responsibility for your own well-being. A strong, emotionally healthy support network is essential.
This work takes time, but the benefits are immeasurable. It will allow you to take back your life, and create a future that allows for healthy and intimate relationships, with yourself, with God and with significant others.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services