Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?

Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?

Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?

Does your relationship feel like a roller-coaster of euphoria, pain, frustration, and bliss? Do you crave connection with your beloved, only to be disappointed, rejected or hurt, over and over? 

If so, you may be addicted to a toxic relationship. I want you to know: you are not alone, and there is a path out. As a divorce and breakup recovery expert, I’ve sat with many heartbroken people in breakup therapy or divorce counseling as they work through the pain of leaving a toxic relationship. I share this story with you (both in this post, and in the accompanying podcast episode) in hopes that you won’t wait as long as Tom did to find your way back to true love.

Toxic Relationship Addiction: A Case Study

A year before he died, I sat with Tom in my therapy office as he continued to obsess over Sarah. He’d developed a crush on her while married to a woman who adored him, and left his wife and children for Sarah several years previously. Their affair had sparked a passion deep inside him, like nothing he’d ever known. They had fun together. They laughed. They had off-the-charts chemistry and their sexual connection was intense (which can actually be a red flag). As destructive and crushing as the relationship had been for him, he was still addicted to the way she made him feel.

Sarah was pretty, but mercurial. She would get upset and break up with him frequently, for reasons that mystified him. Even during the good times, he disapproved of her manipulative parenting, and he hated her free-spending ways. His friends disliked her. His daughters hated her. But he stayed by her side, even after she was convicted of shoplifting. At least, until another fight left him alone in a restaurant after she walked out on him… again. Tom’s face got red as he talked about his frustrations, but his brown eyes welled up with tears at the thought of detaching from the woman he loved.

During the break-ups he and I weathered together, Tom couldn’t bear to erase her number, delete her from Facebook, or block her email. The idea of being Capital-D Done and cutting the electronic cords filled him with fear. If he cut Sarah off completely, he wouldn’t get the inevitable “thinking of you” text that would flood him with the hope of getting back with his ex-lover for another few more months of bliss. Little did Tom know, theses are common trauma bond withdrawal symptoms, and they were keeping him stuck.

But the actual experience of being with Sarah was much more difficult than his idealized daydreams of her. While Tom lived for their intoxicating “peak moments,” you can only spend so much time riding a motorcycle, cresting waves of sexual ecstasy, or dancing at a concert. Sooner or later someone has to pay the tab, take out the trash, and decide what to cook the kids for dinner. That’s when the inevitable friction would start. Harsh sparks of judgment from a clash of values would quickly flare into anger and incinerate the good feelings that were the basis of the toxic relationship. When things got hard, Sarah would again reject Tom and refuse his calls, leaving him slumped miserably on my couch, pining for her. During these times he couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. He started smoking again.

We talked about the addictive nature of this relationship, and Tom could understand it intellectually when I said things like, “Doing cocaine is lots of fun too, but just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you.” He could see the parallels. But he was simply hooked. He felt euphoric when they were together. He felt a craving for her when they were apart. The fact that this relationship was the relational equivalent to eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner didn’t matter. He just wanted to feel it again. And so it is with all addictions.

Can You Be Addicted to a Person?

Here is the definition of an addiction:

1) [Insert name of vice here] changes your mood.

2) Engaging in __________  stimulates your reward system.

3) __________ causes negative consequences for your life.

4) Despite being aware of the negative consequences, you can’t stop.

The alcoholic drinks to change his mood: to celebrate, to console, to unwind, and to feel free and loose. The gambler pulls the handle to feel the surge of excitement, and the intermittent thrill of victory. The lover desires to be with their irreplaceable other for the bliss of connection with their beloved. All these pleasures powerfully stimulate a neurological reward center deep in your brain that floods you with feelings of euphoria. This part of your brain, evolutionarily speaking, precedes the development of parts responsible for executive functions, language, and thought. It seems that we descended from animals who were built to crave pleasure.

This physiological engine of addiction drives our compulsions for “more,” whether it’s more heroin, or more shopping sprees, or more contact with our person. This compulsion overrides pain, fear, and values. It can motivate pigeons to peck for reward-laden pellets until they drop from exhaustion, and shivering skeletal addicts to exchange the last remnant of their human dignity to experience it again. And it can motivate an infatuated lover to abandon his loving family for an unhealthy relationship.

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Becoming Addicted to a Person

In groundbreaking research, evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher identified subjects who reported being in love and collected MRI data of their brains. Sure enough, she found that when people were exposed to images of their beloved their reward centers lit up with pleasure. Her research suggests that romantic relationships stimulate the same addictive neurological pathway as opiates and amphetamines. We crave love.

When you consider that above all else (from an evolutionary perspective) the survival of our species has required us to pair-bond, reproduce, and remain committed enough to successfully raise babies together, having physiological brain structures that support “addiction” to intense feelings of love make perfect sense. Taking pleasure in proximity, and having an irrational devotion to an irreplaceable other that overrides pain, fear, and logical thought is necessary if we view the power of love in the context of survival.

Think of an exhausted man carrying a limp deer home through thigh-high snow to feed the vulnerable woman and children waiting for him. Without the invisible bonds that connect them to each other, what else would motivate him to keep going through so much danger and pain? Without the original craving for one specific person, people wouldn’t stick together long enough to form those attachments — the deeper bond that remains after romantic love fades.

One interesting theory is that this pair-bonding process was the original function of the brain’s reward system. More modern addictive substances and diversions may actually be hijacking the ancient highway of pleasure-craving that romantic love has ridden on since the beginning of time. While our pleasure system can be recruited for the pursuit of dark obsessions, its true purpose may be to drive us towards the pleasure we experience when we’re with our irreplaceable other. It’s there to drive us toward the attachment that sustains marriages, families, and enduring partnerships that create an ideal society. It’s there to push us towards true love: the most powerful, most positive, and most noble of all human experiences.

The Science of Toxic Relationships

Unless, of course, you fall in love with the wrong person: someone who rejects you, who is not compatible with you, or whose personality / values / judgment you’d find off-putting were it not for the surge of endorphins you feel in their presence. Even if you know in your head that the relationship is wrong, when you’re separated from your beloved, your reward center still craves closeness with them. 

When you’re cut off from your irreplaceable other, the obsessions start and the compulsion to connect with them can be overpowering. That’s why so many heartbroken people talk themselves into having sex with their Ex, or trying to be friends with their Ex, despite wanting desperately to heal and move forward. It’s also why most of us can’t stop thinking about an Ex in the months following a breakup or divorce — a deep, ancient part of the brain is holding onto the attachment and doesn’t want to let go.

Sadly, this is what happened to Tom. Of all the “love addicts” I’ve worked with, his preoccupation with Sarah was probably the most toxic. Certainly the most tragic. We circled the cycle together many times: Rejection, Obsession and Craving, Reunion, Honeymoon, Frustration, Rejection. And each time, through our work together, the threads binding him to her stretched thinner as his awareness of his unhealthy dependence grew. But for Tom, clarity about their relationship and freedom from his addiction came late.

He started losing weight and complaining of odd pains in his stomach and by the time he finally went to the doctor he had late-stage pancreatic cancer, with a dismal chance of survival. Sarah accompanied him to one doctor’s appointment and then bailed for good, saying that “she just couldn’t stand to see him like this.” Clearly, the thrill was gone. She abandoned him to face the procedures, the chemo, the surgery, and the recovery alone.

The Difference Between Toxic Love Addiction and True Love

Only then did Tom really understand the truth of his addiction for the hollow reality it was: the pursuit of fleeting feelings. He’d left his marriage to dance in a mirage of excitement that crumbled to dust in his hands when he reached out for real support. Like Coleridge waking from his fever-dream about a pleasure-dome, Tom finally came to his senses only to find that he was alone in a desert without the True Love of attachment and commitment — from Sarah, at least.

And so he went home.

Because thankfully for him, the true love of his ex-wife and children had endured the years of his obsessive intoxication. Their true love, the unbreakable bond of a merciful family, was the nourishing, stable connection of support that was there for Tom at the end of his life.

In his final days, Tom was finally healed of his addiction. He found forgiveness and redemption when he came to understand and appreciate what true love really is: the quiet, unselfish service to the wellbeing of another that endures long after the sparkles of romantic love fade.

True love is not always fun or exciting. It’s not terribly addictive. But it is there at 3am to mop up vomit and to shelter you when you have nowhere else to go. It’s the kind of love that has the courage to walk beside you into death and maybe even meet you again on the other side.

True love is never an addiction because it’s not actually a feeling at all — but a choice.

Getting Help for Toxic Relationship Addiction

If you’re addicted to a toxic relationship, I hope Tom’s story helps you see some of the dynamics that may be at play from a new perspective. If it helps you to choose real, healthy love (including love for yourself and a deep commitment to your own emotional health) over toxic infatuation, then I think that’s a wonderful legacy.

Cutting the cords to a toxic relationship can be incredibly difficult. If you’d like a breakup recovery expert by your side to guide you with empathy through the healing process, we’re here for you. I invite you to schedule a free consultation

xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?

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Music

Music in this episode is by Frankie and the Witch Fingers with their song “In Your Head.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: frankieandthewitchfingers.bandcamp.com. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: Hi, this is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Have you ever been in a relationship that you knew fundamentally was not healthy for you, and you couldn’t seem to end it? Maybe you’re in one of those relationships right now. Today, we’re talking about why toxic relationships are so addictive, and the things that you can do to create emotional freedom and finally, break free. 

Friends, we have gathered here today to talk about the sad reality of getting addicted to a toxic relationship, how it happens, why it happens. To set the tone for the experience that you and I will be having together today is Frankie and the Witch Fingers, love this band. This is the song “In Your Head”. I’m sure you’re quickly understanding why the song is so relevant and appropriate for our conversation today. 

If you have not heard of Frankie and the Witch Fingers before, you need to have more of them in your life. So go to their Bandcamp page, FrankieandtheWitchFingers.bandcamp.com. You can check out their albums, merch and also tour dates at the time of this recording. They appear to be bouncing around on the West Coast, and hopefully, you can catch up with Frankie and the Witch Fingers. 

I hope that this musical selection helps us all get into the mood and kind of energetically enter the space of the experience of being addicted to a toxic relationship. We’re going to talk about why toxic relationships are actually much more addictive than regular healthy relationships. Also some of the strategies that you can use, the mindsets you can employ, the shifts that you can make that will help you just recover yourself and break free from the situation that you and I both know is not ideal for you. 

If you are currently not in a toxic relationship, but maybe have been in the past, my hope is that this episode will help you gain some perspective and understanding and clarity and hopefully empathy for yourself about like, what the heck happened, and how do I put myself back together again, and how do I not let that happen to me in the future. Also, you may be listening to this show, as a friend, as a family member, as a loved one of somebody who is in this experience right now. 

If that’s the case, I hope that you find some ideas in here that will be helpful for you to maintain your empathy and loyalty and compassion for them as you’re watching them go through this difficult thing. Also, please do share this episode with them, so that they can also just increase their understanding of what’s going on in these situations, why they’re so hard to get out of. But hopefully, we’ll also get some insight onto the things that will help them move forward

Thank you to all of you who have gotten in touch with me over the recent weeks and months to let me know that you are struggling in this situation or care about somebody who is struggling in this situation. Because hearing from you and getting your feedback and your ideas about the topics and the things that we should be discussing on the show is fundamentally important to my process, that is how we come up with topics and things that we’re discussing because we really want to make these shows valuable for you. 

So I do appreciate you getting in touch through our website growingself.com, through the comments on the blog, through social media, and everything. I have to tell you, as I was reading through some of your comments and questions, what always comes out to me when I hear your questions is just this like, sense of confusion, the helplessness. I mean, if I could distill every question down into one, it is why is this happening? 

I know this person is a horror show for all these 27 reasons. I know this isn’t good for me, but I can’t leave, I can’t get out of it or I keep going back or even if we do break up, I’m so like, obsessing with them and that all I can think about what is wrong with me. It’s that last part that I think I take the most issue with. I am here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you specifically, because you’re having this life experience. 

This is really common, and there are reasons for it. So we’re going to be talking a lot about why that is and what to do but I also just want you to know that there is no reason to feel ashamed aimed, or like, most people don’t feel this way in this situation or that there’s something uniquely wrong with you because you’re having this experience. I hope that if nothing else, today’s episode will really help you feel just a lot more compassion for yourself. 

Because one of the things that toxic relationship will do with intention and skill is just smash your self esteem to bits. It will ruin your self confidence. Then once it has smashed your self esteem and ruined your confidence, it comes out with a steamroller and kind of drives over it about 97 more times, and then stumps up and down on it sets it on fire. I mean, it really does damage to the way we feel about ourselves because of being in the situation. 

Also, I think, because of the helplessness, the hopelessness, the lack of control, right? I think that at the end of the day, one of the most damaging experiences of a toxic relationship is not what your partner or your ex did to you, because that is damaging enough in itself, but the really damaging part is feeling like you couldn’t count on yourself to get out of the situation. You knew it was bad, and you let yourself be hurt over and over again. 

It’s the self betrayal that really messes people up. I just want to say that right off the bat, because if you’re listening to this podcast, either for your own growth, or if you’re listening to it on behalf of someone else, you should know that this is the experience, and that’s also one of the reasons why it’s so hard to leave. 

If you don’t feel good about yourself, if your self esteem is in the gutter, if you are almost feeling emotionally dependent on this person, to make you feel better in these fleeting moments, when that actually does happen, it’s that much harder to get out of. It’s like a downward spiral. There’s a lot of systemic factors that are happening outside of you, inside of you, pushing you down, keeping in the situation. I just want to say that out loud. 

I hope all will make it, maybe not all, but a lot will make more sense by the time we get to the end of this episode together. But I just wanted to begin by saying that I get it and that I’m sorry that this is going on, and that you are not alone. I’ve worked with a lot of people who have been in this experience. I went through one myself. I wrote a book on the subject and learned a lot. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity today to share this information with you, because I feel like we’re not talking about this enough in our culture. 

In fact, when I first began my career, so I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I am also a licensed psychologist. I am a board certified coach, and I founded a counseling and coaching practice called Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. In the beginning of my career, even though I myself had had that experience of feeling addicted to a toxic relationship that I wasn’t able to end or break free from and it was very damaging to me personally, this happened when I was a teenager, and it took a long time to recover. 

So even after having lived through that myself, still, as a licensed mental health professional, I was now being routinely confronted with people who were coming to me for help, and they like this is happening, what’s going on, what do I do. Honestly, as much as I wanted to, I did not feel equipped to be of assistance to them with what I learned in graduate school or even through clinical experience so far. 

So through a master’s program, through a doctoral program, there was zero in my education or training that prepared me to understand, yeah, what is this about, what the heck is going on. So I wound up having to do a lot of independent research, because I am a card carrying nerd. Before I was a counselor, I was actually a biology major. That was my undergraduate. 

I had the great fortune of stumbling across the work of a phenomenal researcher, Dr. Helen Fisher, who is an evolutionary biologist, and she, I’m sorry, evolutionary anthropologist, I think is her title. Nevertheless, she conducted some really interesting research where she put people who were having feelings of love, attachment, heartbreak, despair over a relationship through a functional MRI machine to take brain scans. 

She was able to identify the areas of the brain that are getting stimulated when people fall in love, and also the areas of the brain that are implicated when people are being essentially emotionally tortured from the inside out, either through a breakup or relationship loss or a toxic relationship. 

So through reading her research and really kind of understanding that and putting that together with things like attachment theory, and what I did know about relationships, and about the way human systems work, and about the way people work, right, the way we think, the way we feel, the way we behave, and what we need to do in order to be able to grow and move into healthy spaces, particularly in our relationships, that turned into a book called Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love. 

In that book, I’m really talking a lot about breakup recovery, like why we feel so bad when relationships end, what we can do on the path of recovery. I discuss a little bit in that book about the toxic relationship experience as being uniquely terrible, even compared to a regular breakup, but didn’t honestly have the opportunity to go into that as fully as I would have liked, and so just thrilled to be able to have a chance to do this with you on the podcast and for your benefit. 

So to dive in, and really go here, I mean, we all know, intellectually, that toxic relationships are bad news. There are different definitions of toxic relationships, but I think a quick and accurate definition is a relationship that makes you feel bad, where damaging things are happening to you. You are not getting your needs met. You are being hurt or disappointed over and over again, and where you know that there isn’t the opportunity for growth and improvement. 

All relationships have ups and downs. All people are not kind to their partners at certain points, right? I mean, so it’s possible to have some of these experiences in the context of a healthy relationship. But the difference with a toxic relationship is that it’s pretty consistently showing you that it’s not good for you, and it’s also not going to change. There isn’t a path forward, and you know that to be true, but you still cannot break free. 

There are as few life experiences that will make you as thoroughly miserable as being in the situation. The interesting thing is that toxic relationships, relationships that are disappointing, hurtful, and also keep you connected with that person are really hard to end. In my experience, those kinds of unhealthy relationships are actually often much harder to end than relationships that are fundamentally healthy, which surprises the heck out of a lot of people to hear. 

But if you’ve ever lived through this life experience, you will understand because there’s an experiential quality to these kinds of relationships, because they are unhealthy, that makes them very different than healthy, safe, calm, secure relationships. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know what I mean. You’ve lived it. You may be fully aware that this person isn’t good for you, right? 

This isn’t going to end well, and still crave being around with them. Like you’ve never craved anything else in your life. You want to be with them. It’s like the only thing, right? It can genuinely feel like you don’t have the power to let go of this relationship. You can’t set boundaries, healthy boundaries, even though time and time again, you’re like, what am I doing, right? 

This can also be very isolating and damaging to other relationships that we have, because this is baffling from the outside, right? I mean, like when we are observing somebody that we love and care about going around this weird roller coaster, rodeo thing, I’m like, what are you doing? They know that the relationship isn’t good for you. They see your pain. They’re talking to you time and time again, when you’re like, oh my gosh, this awful thing happened and they’re like, “Huh, really? Who would have guessed?” 

It feels isolating, because after a while, people who care about you can start to pull away too, right? You sense that they’re getting impatient with you. They are saying things like, yeah, this isn’t good for you. You should leave. It’s like, nobody understands you. They don’t get it. They don’t understand what you’re going through. You know they’re right, and you’re like, yeah, if it was only that easy I could. 

But that it starts to change those relationships too. It changes their relationship with you, but then it starts to change your relationship with yourself, because you too are wondering why someone that you know is smart and capable and wonderful would put up with so much crappiness and angst and heartache. That’s what starts to damage your own self esteem. The self destructive streak that’s happening in you that doesn’t make any sense, that feels out of control, and damages your relationship with yourself. 

So lots of dire consequences in these situations, but it’s also just so important to know that toxic relationships are addictive, just like other addictive substances. Heroin is addictive, alcohol, other drugs, and they work a little bit differently than toxic relationships. But toxic relationships have a very forceful and powerful impact on the way that we feel on our brain chemistry, on our hormones, and on our attachment systems. 

So we all have these structures inside of ourselves that are there for the purpose of bonding to other humans. Fascinatingly, what Dr. Fisher also discovered in her work is that these brain structures that allow for human bonding and attachment are the very same ones that are implicated, that are taken over when we do become attached to substances. So the same parts of your brain that light up when you ingest cocaine are the same parts of your brain that light up when you’re falling in love with someone. 

It’s thought that the reason why addictive substances are so addictive is because they are artificially stimulating these very powerful parts of our systems that nature created for the purpose of bonding with other humans. Same with opiates, opiates are recruiting kind of, hijacking parts of our brains that are there for the purpose of forming attachment bonds to other people, which is different than the experience of falling in love. 

But then, there’s some really interesting new research coming out from psychologists and researchers in the field of addictions and recovery, which is pointing out that in many times the cure of substance abuse recovery is in fact, not just stopping using a substance, it’s developing very strong, insecure attachment bonds with other humans, because it’s like, you’re moving something positive into that place. 

So just some interesting food for thought about the nature of addiction itself, and I hope some understanding around why certain kinds of relationships are as addictive as they are, because they’re sort of ground zero. They are addictive in the way that nature intended for you to get addicted, which is to fall in love with people and develop attachment bonds. But toxic relationships are much more powerful in some ways than healthy relationships, because of the highs and the lows, the high highs, the low lows, the euphoria, the elation, the despair, the anxiety, the anger. 

There’s a reason that that pattern, that kind of up and down the intensity of it does a number on our brains, making it really hard to walk away from them. So I want you to understand why these are so addictive, what’s going on. As I was thinking about how to prepare this podcast and make it be as meaningful as possible for you, I thought that I would tell you a story about this. If you will indulge me and for a couple of reasons, like I want you to. 

I think that sometimes when we see things happening to other people, we’re able to get perspective and understanding that can be harder to come by when it’s us. Because this experience is so isolating, I think it can also be really helpful and healing to understand the path that other people have walked through too. This is one of the really powerful things of group therapy. 

I just thought that telling you a story about somebody else would be a better vehicle and more helpful for you, then just focusing on your experience, on our experience. So the setting of the story is my therapy office. So if you can imagine there’s a couch, there are end tables. There are chairs. There are tea cups. There’s me in my work clothes. When I go to the office, I wear appropriate attire. I’m currently wearing yoga pants, but I clean up real nice. So we’re in my counseling office, and I am having a session with Tom. 

Tom is not his real name, and many of these other details are de-identified, but we’re gonna call him Tom. It was a year before he died. I imagined this very clearly. I remember just sitting across. I was in my little therapy chair, and he’s on the couch, and he’s just obsessing over Sarah. He cannot stop thinking about her. He is in terrible pain. He wants to be with her. Everything is in his life, if he’s at work, or if he’s at home, or if he’s going here, going there thinking about future plans or past pet plans. 

I mean, it’s like, Sarah, it’s all there is, right? You should know about Tom, that he had actually left his wife and children for Sarah, some years previously. As is often the case with affairs, this relationship for Tom had sparked a passion just deep inside of him like nothing he’d ever known. Tom’s experience was not unusual in this, I mean, the context of an affair, the secrecy, the excitement, the adventure, the forbiddenness, the cloak and dagger kind of secrecy, all the things make affairs feel much more emotionally intense than regular relationships. 

Tom could have met Sarah on a dating app, and they could both have been single and gone on a date and liked each other. The relationship, I think, actually could evolved in a very different way if it had not begun as an affair. If you’re interested to hear more on this topic, I’ll refer you back to a podcast that I did around if you’re married with a crush on someone else, because we’ve also talked about affair recovery on other podcasts, how you can mend a relationship with your primary partner in the aftermath of an affair. 

But the experience of having an affair changes the way that the relationship itself feels to people who enter in the context of an affair will be having a much different experience with each other and with themselves if those same two people were to meet each other in different circumstances. So I think that that’s an important detail. But with Tom, he had been previously married for decades. 

They had kids, was probably kind of boring and humdrum, and boring but boring, I mean, calm, secure, you know each other well. My relationship is like right now, right? But when he met Sarah, all of a sudden, there’s all this newness. They’re having fun together. They’re laughing. The sexual connection was super intense. Sarah was a very sexual person. As destructive and crushing as the relationship had ultimately bend for him at the end, he was still very much addicted to the way that she made him feel. 

Those early days of the affair and of their relationship were like, I have heard it said that the first time that people use certain really powerful addictive drugs like opiates or stimulants, there’s this overwhelmingly euphoric experience that they refer to as chasing the dragon after the fact. Like a lot of their subsequent drug use is in some ways in efforts to feel as good as they did when they first started. 

There was very much that quality to Tom when he talked about it, it was really a lot around how amazing it was in the beginning, that was the hook that went through the gills, right? You should also know just more details about the relationship itself. I mean, I actually wound up meeting Sarah, briefly. At one point, this was like an on again, off again relationship. While certainly like any ethical therapist, if I am working with an individual client, I cannot shift gears and turn into that person’s couples therapist to now be serving the relationship as opposed to that individual. 

An experienced marriage and family therapist who knows what they are doing would never do that. If you are with a therapist who offers to do that, or think it’s okay to do that, just some big big sisterly and unsolicited advice here, would encourage you to get a second opinion or at least understand that you are not working with a marriage and family therapist who is well versed in best practices, so just as a little aside there. But so I did meet Sarah because, as is his right. 

I mean, with individual clients, they can bring anybody that they want into their work. At an on again, off again relationship, at one point, Tom felt that maybe if he and Sarah were able to talk through some things, he was able to have support and saying some of the things that he wanted to say, and the emotional safety that I think me and our relationship provided that that might have a different outcome. It didn’t, but I wasn’t there to do couples therapy. 

I was just here to help Tom talk about his feelings with Sarah. Sarah was very pretty. She was very charming. She was fun. She had a great smile. I did not get to know her. Well, I only met her that one time, but in hearing stories from Tom came to understand that she was mercurial. Big emotions, intense emotions, she would get really upset about different things. When she got upset, she would break up with him, and this happened fairly frequently, even towards the beginning of their relationship. 

She would get mad, and then she would cut things off. Tom wouldn’t have access to her for a couple of days, which is also a very common thing in toxic relationships and is also, I think, part of this addictive process, right? Because Tom is euphoric, and now, he is in despair. Now, he wants to be with Sarah more than anything, and he’s torturing himself if only I didn’t say that thing. 

Then maybe we can reconnect, and then he reconnects with Sarah and oh my gosh, I’m so happy and just like that big intense roller coaster, roller coaster. It was that feeling himself of euphoria, that despair. The only way to feel good again was to reconnect with Sarah. Because these emotional experiences were so intense, Tom was not able to do the kind of thinking around, maybe it’s unreasonable that Sarah is getting mad at me for these things. 

When I really think about it, I didn’t do anything wrong. Sarah is not a great communicator. If Sarah is upset about something, there are many other ways that she could let me know that. These are solvable problems. I care about the relationship. I’m willing to make changes. But Sarah and I are not talking about those things. She’s actually kind of behaving fairly abusively towards me by punishing me, yelling at me, breaking up with me. 

This is not an emotionally safe person for me. At that time, in that place, Tom was not able to think about it in that way, because he was so caught up in this emotional intensity, and he didn’t understand Sarah. It was like, that’s just the way she is, right? But even during the good times of their relationship, because in toxic relationships, it’s not all bad. We wouldn’t stick around for that. 

So there were calmer periods, times when they weren’t fighting, but even then, I think, it was easier for him to get some more distance and perspective on who and what she was when they were going through simpler times. But even then, he would see the way she parented her children, which he told me he thought was pretty manipulative. According to him, she spent too much money. She was impulsive. 

He saw her creating kind of problems for herself, questioning some of her judgment. There was more to this story. His friends actively disliked her. His adult daughters hated her with a fire of a thousand suns. But because I think he was so caught up in these feelings, I mean, he stayed by her side and over the course of Tom and I’s relationship, this continued to evolve in some pretty interesting ways. She was convicted of shoplifting. 

There was an embezzlement situation, I mean. But he was very devoted to her. Really, I think the reality of who she was quite obscured, because of the intensity of his feelings, and he was really stuck in this place. So during all this time, during the breakups and the getting back together, I would, I thought sensibly, but I think, because my understanding of what was going on was still developing, my advice is like, okay, let’s be done, and here’s how to be done, here’s how to block her from her phone, so she can’t text you in a week asking you if you want to get together. 

You know how this is going to end. We had been around the cycle like 20 times. We need to end, and he would get so emotional. He was like, the idea of being capital D, done and preventing her ability to access and to think that this is over, over. I mean, he would cry when he thought about it, right? I mean, because he knew that if he cut her off, he wouldn’t get that inevitable, hi, what you doing text that would just flood him with this hope and euphoria, and maybe this time, it’ll be different, and being back together again for another few weeks, possibly months of bliss, because they had fun together.

Tom lived for that. I mean, they had peak experiences, right? They did fun things together. But at the end of the day, in a healthy relationship, there needs to be more substance. We can only spend so much time riding motorcycles, having sex together, going dancing at concerts. Sooner or later, somebody has to pay the tab, take out the trash, decide what to cook the kids, right? So it was actually in those moments that more like day to day life stuff that that’s when the real friction would start. 

Because as things evolved over the years, Tom would explain, like, hey, we need to do this, or no, I don’t think we should do that. But it was like that, because the relationship was so emotionally unsafe for him. If he stood up and talked about how he felt or wanted to create change, it would just totally flare up into this very angry situation and just incinerate the moment, like Sarah couldn’t tolerate it. 

She would punish him and kind of back in your place, Tom. When things got that kind of hot, Sarah would reject Tom. I think that’s how she maintained control in the relationship. She would break up with him. She would refuse his calls, and he would just be heartbroken again and on my couch talking about how great Sarah was. It really impacted him. He couldn’t eat. 

He couldn’t sleep. He was a former smoker, and remember, he started smoking cigarettes again at one point. I mean, it was awful. And even then, we would talk about the addictive nature of this relationship. And Tom could understand it like, intellectually, when I said things from what I understand, doing cocaine is a lot of fun, too. But because it feels good, sometimes doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. 

He could see the parallels because I could say, here are the consequences, here are the ways that cocaine might harm someone. And here’s the harm that’s being done to you through your experiences in this relationship. He was not a stupid man. I mean, he could totally see it intellectually. But he was really hooked. And like this biological, elemental, limbic brain kind of level. He felt euphoric, when they were together. He felt this craving for her when they were apart. 

And the fact that this relationship was the relational equivalent to eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then getting six year stomach. It didn’t matter, he wanted to feel it again. He wished for it. And so it is with all addictions. I mean, we talked a little bit about the nature of addiction when we first started. But I think an easy definition of any addiction, be it a substance, be it sex, be it gambling, spending too much money, any of the behaviors, whatever it is, is something that changes your mood in the way you want it to go. So it changes your mood in a positive direction, at least momentarily. 

When you do cocaine, you feel whatever it feels like to do cocaine. I have not had that life experience myself, but I understand it’s fun. But you know, I was addicted to cigarettes at one point in my life, which is embarrassing. But true, when I smoked a cigarette, I very predictably felt like “Haaahh” kind of experience. This dopamine kind of surge, this calm, I felt more relaxed, right? I could focus better. 

So whatever people are doing that they get addicted to, it has a component of it, where it changes the way you feel. And that by engaging in whatever it is. It is also stimulating the reward system in your brain. You have reward systems and gravitate towards connection, sugar, fat, comfort, stimulation, like again, going back to this evolutionary biology, those are part of survival drives that keep you alive. 

There are more calories and food with a lot of fat or sugar. So your brain has adapted to crave those, to prioritize that. And to give you a little zing of dopamine or reward when you eat those kinds of foods. Because 100,000 years ago, to eat something that was high in fat, or high in sugar content, gave you an evolutionary advantage and like living another day. So there’s a reason for that. And everything that we crave has that component. And part of that survival system is also very much around forming attachments. So there’s a lot of rewards for that as well. 

And certainly, you know, sexuality, euphoria, those kinds of peak experiences are very rewarding. But the other definition of an addiction is that, you’re changing your mood, it’s stimulating your reward system, and it is creating negative consequences for your life. And despite really being aware of and understanding those negative consequences, you can’t stop. 

So there are all kinds of things that we can do that change our mood in positive ways that stimulate our reward system, and do not create consequences for us. Maybe they create positive consequences for us, like green light, go do that. But if you’re experiencing negative consequences, and you’re like, “Oh, these are negative consequences, I should stop doing that” and then you try, and then you can’t. You know now, officially, that you have a problem. That’s cool. You know, we all can get into these situations and knowing that it’s a problem is the first step in making that be different. But it can sneak up on you.

I mean, the alcoholic drinks to change their mood, to celebrate, to console, to unwind, to feel free and loose, right? I mean, somebody with a gambling problem will pull that handle to feel the excitement, the hope, the thrill of victory. And their reward systems are “Ting! Ding!” every time they do. The lover desires to be with their irreplaceable other, for the joy of connection with our beloved for how good it feels. And all of these pleasures, powerfully stimulate this neurological reward center that is deep in all of our brains and just floods us with these feelings of euphoria. 

These are the structures that exist naturally, that artificial substances like cocaine or heroin stimulate. So they existed a long time before cocaine and heroin came around. You know, cocaine and heroin are just very efficient at making us feel big things quickly. So it is part of your brain. Evolutionarily speaking, it precedes the development of the other parts of our brain that are responsible for things like executive functioning, language, logical thought, right? 

Animals run on survival drives, gravitating towards certain things and getting rewarded for that and then doing it again, without being fully conscious of why. Right? And those are the parts of our brains that developed much longer than the parts of our brains that are like, maybe that’s not such a good idea, like, that’s new. And the thinking part of our brain is much less powerful than the older emotional parts of our brain and the survival traps that we’re talking about. 

It’s like shouting into a hurricane. I’ve heard it described very nicely as being like a writer who’s sitting on top of an elephant. The writer is your conscious brain, it is a little pipsqueak of a person who feels very self important to know with all these ideas and thinks logically. And, yes, we should do this. And sometimes not even aware that they are sitting on an elephant. That is about 200 times their size, immensely more powerful. And that if the elephant wants to go in a different direction, it will. And it will take that rider with them. That’s a lot of the human process. And we’re oftentimes not conscious that it’s occurring at all. But that’s the kind of really powerful stuff that’s going on with any addictive process, and especially with addictive relationships.

I just really want you to know that. I think understanding that is one of the things that starts to heal people’s self esteem. Because if you’ve been sitting here thinking, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with Tom? Why does this happen?” but you know, it’s not your fault. I mean, there are a lot of very powerful things at work here that are much larger and older than anything that we’re thinking about or trying to do. 

And so, the physiological engine of addiction, it drives these compulsions for more, right? It overrides pain, fear, values even. This kind of survival drive can motivate pigeons to peck up for reward laden pellets until they drop from exhaustion. You know, it’s the same thing like shivering skeletal addicts exchanging the last remnant of their dignity to get the drug that they feel that they need. I mean, these are very powerful forces. And it is because we’re all descended from animals who were built to crave and seek pleasure. And that those systems are very much at work and all of us every day. 

To be addicted to love. I mean, we also talked a little bit about why this is. But you know, going back to the work of Dr. Helen Fisher, who really explored this and took a deeper look at where in people’s brains love is happening. Why are people having these experiences, in coming back with this hard evidence that romantic love and attachment is stimulating the same addictive neurological pathway the same reward centers as opiates as amphetamines. I mean, we crave love and connection and with very good reason. Because when you consider that from above all else from a high level evolutionary perspective. 

The survival of our species has required us to pair bond, to reproduce, to remain committed enough to successfully raise babies together, to stay connected to a tribe, to a collective, that is literally the only advantage that we have in the natural world. Our ability to think, our ability to envision but also that humans are a collective species, right?

Those are primary survival drives. And that’s why we have these structures in our brains that support the air quote addiction to intense feelings of love. And why does this make sense? 

Taking pleasure in the proximity to the person you love having this irrational devotion, to this irreplaceable other that overrides pain, overrides fear, overrides logical thought even, is necessary. If we view the power of love and attachment in the context of survival. And this makes a lot of sense, when we talk about what it does in survival terms. I mean, if you could go into a visualization of an exhausted half frozen guy who is now struggling to carry/drag a limp deer home through thigh high snow, right? And he’s been doing this for miles. Because there is a woman and their children waiting in the dirt hut or whatever it is, for him and he knows that if he doesn’t make it back with that deer, they’re all going to die. 

And that’s the bond. That is the only thing that is keeping that woman and those children alive at that moment. Without those bonds that are connecting them to each other, like, what else would motivate him to keep going through so much danger and so much pain. You know the things that parents do in service of their children do not make any logical sense. It would be much easier to not do any of that. But because we love them, we do the very hard things, we are making choices that are prioritizing their needs, and their well being sometimes over ours. 

Throwing them over the wall so that they can go on, feels more important than the day to day pleasure for a lot of parents. And so without this ability to attach, to develop this devotion, this attachment, this craving for one specific person, people don’t stick together. And those bonds endure, and they defy logic, they defy reason. And they don’t turn off. Because we decide they’re not a good idea anymore. 

Or even because our relationship is over. You know, that’s what a lot of what’s going on when people are really struggling in the aftermath of a relationship loss and feeling heartbroken. If, you know, the relationship has ended, but their attachment bond hasn’t. Right? So this is just to kind of set up and help you understand what’s going on with toxic relationships. 

And so when you think about this falling in love process, this pair bonding process, these things are healthy and good. If humans didn’t do this, we would all be in trouble. I mean, civilization would fall apart. We wouldn’t have made it this far as a species if we didn’t have this. So you know, this is true love, right? This is attachment. It sustains marriages, families, children, adults, these enduring partnerships that are just the foundation of our society.

These things exist to push us towards true love and help us create true love, which some may argue, I think I would. The most powerful and the most positive, the most important meaningful and noble of all human experiences. So these things are fundamentally good. But if you fall in love with or “get addicted” to the wrong person, someone who rejects you, who is not nice to you, who is not an emotionally safe person, or even someone who isn’t fundamentally compatible with you in terms of their personality values, judgments. It is very possible, easy even, to become attached to someone who is not going to be a good long term life partner for you. 

And in the context of a toxic relationship, many times, people who are not emotionally safe are very charming. Even to the point where like, for psychiatric conditions, like antisocial personality disorder, which is associated with sociopathy. One of the defining features of that is glib and superficial charm. People with narcissistic personality disorder can be quite charming. And so, just because you’re feeling attracted to someone who is fun and witty and bantery and fun to hang out with, you know, that can sometimes actually be a warning sign rather than a green light. 

Anyway, I don’t want to go too deeply into this. I’ve discussed this in other podcasts. But I really do want to drive home the point that it can be very, very easy to be attracted to, and then eventually attached to someone who isn’t going to be a good partner for you. And so that when you’re easing into relationships, or getting to know people, it’s so important that in addition to thinking about how you feel, and are you attracted to them, we’re also thinking about, is this a good person? Is this person a good friend? Would this person be a good partner for me? 

And also very aware that the experience of early stage romantic love, that infatuation experience is nature designed it to be in some ways. It softens the edges of all things. It makes it very difficult sometimes to see people for who and what they really are. It’s like wearing these soft glasses where everything is kind of fuzzy and rose colored. It’s very easy to idealize people and make excuses only to later find out that that was misguided. 

So I just mentioned all of this so that you have empathy for yourself and don’t beat yourself up and judge yourself for having this experience. I mean, we’re only human, and there’s a lot of biology at work in these situations that we’re all vulnerable to. So thank you for going on my little nerd tour with me. But I wanted you to understand the background. 

And I will also tell you how Tom’s story ended. And I do so in the hopes that it is genuinely helpful for you. Because Tom, Tom got hooked through the gills. And of all the “love addicts” I have ever worked with, his preoccupation and inability to detach from Sarah was very profound and ultimately, the most tragic. We worked together for a long time. Circled that cycle together, you know, rejection, obsession, craving, reunion, honeymoon, frustration, rejection, and each time through our work together, in the threads kind of binding him to her stretched thinner and thinner. He was gaining awareness of what was really going on. 

But for Tom, the true clarity really came too late. Still makes me so sad to think about it, but it was when we were working together. He again, you know, having symptoms and complaining about different things, like health wise. Like, “You actually go to the doctor.” But the time he finally went to the doctor, he discovered that he had late stage pancreatic cancer. Which is a dismal sense of survival. And shortly after that, we heard from Sarah who was like, “I just can’t stand to see you like this”. And he never saw her again. 

She abandoned him to face the procedures, the chemo surgery, all the things alone. And only then did Tom really understand the truth of his addiction for the hollow reality that it really was. He understood then that he was pursuing these fleeting feelings. He had left his marriage and his family to dance in this mirage of excitement. But at the end, it all crumbled to dust in his hands when he reached out for real support. 

Like, he just woke up, and he came to his senses, only to find out that he was alone. I mean, really alone, without true love, without attachment, without commitment, from Sarah, at least. So he went home. Because thankfully for him, the true love of his ex wife and his children had endured through the years of his obsessive intoxication. 

Their true love, which, in my definition, is the unbreakable bond of a merciful family. People who care about your needs, and rights and feelings. Those things are just as important to them as their own are, right? His family was still this nourishing, stable connection of support, that was still there for him at the end of his life, they’d need to come back. And so in his final days, Tom was finally healed of this addiction. He found forgiveness, and redemption. 

He had a lot of forgiving to do with himself. But he came to understand and appreciate what true love really is, which is this just quiet, unselfish service to the well being of another that endures long after the sparkles of romantic love fade, right? And true love is not always fun or exciting, and it’s not terribly addictive. But it is there at 3am, to mop up vomit and to shelter you when you have nowhere else to go. It is the kind of love that has the courage to walk beside you into death, and maybe even meet you again on the other side. 

And in my opinion, true love is never an addiction. Because it’s not actually a feeling at all. Love is not a feeling, it is a choice. It is a value system, it is character, it is doing the right thing. And we can all decide to do that. So I hope that hearing Tom’s story and getting a picture of the choices of the different kinds of paths in front of you and the outcomes so you know that sooner or later we are all going to face. I don’t mention any of this to be scary or a downer, but really to help you think about, what you’re doing? And what is motivating you? And to empower you to be thinking about how you would like to live to be. What you would like to choose. 

And that it is absolutely possible for anyone dealing with any kind of addiction. To understand what these feelings really are, the craving feelings. And learn how to manage them differently. You do not have to be a slave to these impulses. You can decide to do something different in those moments. And I’m not gonna say it’s easy, and that it doesn’t require support. But at the end of the day, understanding what those compulsive and crazy feelings are. You know, they’re not healthy, they’re not good for you, they are certainly not love. And making a choice to start loving yourself, which means doing the right thing for yourself, for your life, for the people that care about you. Whether or not it is fun or pleasurable, that is love. And you deserve to experience that in your life. And it does start with you. 

So I hope that this conversation was helpful for you. And I hope you are experiencing the love that I have for you in this moment. And a genuine desire to help nudge you in the right direction. And so, if it’s helpful for you, because I do care. And I’ve created a lot. I’ve written a book, I have done all kinds of podcasts, written articles that are all available for you. Because this is a hard situation and I want to help you. 

You can access all kinds of things on my website growingself.com. There is a section in our blog and podcasts, we go growingself.com/blog-podcast, and you’ll want to go to the “Heartbreak Recovery” content collection. And there’s a Spotify playlist of other podcasts that I’ve done on related topics about healing after heartbreak, but also like toxic relationship addiction because they are related. As well as a number of written articles, links to the Exaholics book if you’re interested in checking it out.

And of course for many people, it is helpful to have a judgment-free, non biased person, a counselor or a coach who really understands the biological nature of what is going on with some of these toxic relationships or difficult breakups. And so if you would certainly like to talk with me or somebody on my team about what’s going on with you, you’re welcome to do that. You can schedule a free consultation.

But who also knows the story of Tom? We’d have been together for a long time. And at the end of the day, it wasn’t necessarily therapy, it wasn’t coaching, it certainly wasn’t anything that I said. It was Tom gaining a new understanding of what was really happening. And again, just like waking up from this dream. And so I certainly wish that I had been able to help him at an earlier stage so that he had more time with the people who really loved him. And I didn’t, and I still regret that to this day but I hope that you know, hearing this and taking advantage, some of the resources will potentially even make the ending different for you. 

Okay. Thanks for spending this time with me today. And I will be back in touch next week with another episode. In the meantime, here’s another Frankie and the Witch Fingers and I’ll talk to you soon.

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119 Comments

  1. how do I stop wanting to go back to a man who only ends up putting me down
    He blames me now for the break up saying we are not a couple

    1. Hi Judy,
      This is such a hard situation when you’re emotionally attached to someone who is not treating you well. That’s the common theme for many Exaholics — knowing intellectually that they need to move on but really not being able to. Relationships are addictive. By treating this attachment to a person the way you’d treat any other unwanted “attachment” (i.e., “addiction”) you will finally be able to recover and move on. You may consider checking out my book: “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love” for more tips and insight. In the meantime, please be gentle and compassionate with yourself during this exquisitely painful process. All the best, Lisa

      1. It´s an addiction, just like alkohol or other things that make you sick.

        throw the bottle away! Close the door, and keep it closed.
        Don´t look at his number in whatsap to see if he´s online, don´t look at his facebook-profil.

        We don´t need drama, there is plenty in the world, we don´t need any more.
        But for sure, we don´t need someone, who doesn´t make us feel good.
        Love should lift us up, anything else is toxic.

  2. how do i stop loving someone who doesn’t love me the same way back they say im special to them and their best friend. but being her friend is killing me in the inside. i cry at times. but she always tells me its not gnna happen but i dont wanna lose her, i have cut her off to try and just leave that part of my life in the past but i end up worse mentally. and now im scared to talk to any one …

    1. Angel — I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. It’s so hard to stay in contact with someone you love, but who can’t love you the way you want them too. It sounds like you are in the “purgatory” phase of healing I describe in my book, “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love.” I hope that you work through the healing process and are able to find closure. To help you I’m taking the liberty of adding you to get my “Heal Your Heart” bonus white paper. I’m also hard at work on an online program to help walk you through the steps of healing. I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the meantime, please practice the self care strategies I describe in chapter 10 of my book. You need to take care of yourself right now! Best, Lisa

  3. So I was in a toxic relationship like this. The guy went back to his ex twice and cheated on me during our time together. This last time, I tried to just back of to friends, but he wouldn’t accept it. His solution was a polyamorous relationship which I didn’t agree with. He claims we have a strong bond together and I admit there is a pull towards him. However, I had to think of myself. I blocked him or unfriended him on social media and on my phone. He keeps finding ways to contact me even now and its been 5 months, which stirs up those feelings all over again. I’m continuing the no contact, but how can I get him to stop. He has already admitted to not being able to stop thinking about me. I’m just worried that he will start showing up to my house. and even worse falling back into this toxic relationship.

    1. Hi Jennifer, I’m sorry to hear about this situation. It’s something that many of my clients have to cope with: recognizing that a relationship is toxic, and then having their boundaries repeatedly violated when they try to set limits and heal. Unfortunately these violations are a common characteristic of deeply unhealthy relationships. It’s so hard, because while YOU can abstain from initiating contact you have no control over someone else’s behaviors. The good news is that you have legal rights to not be harassed, if you are brave enough to use them. The definition of “stalking” is having someone continue to contact you after you have asked them not to. It can be very difficult to consider obtaining a legal restraining order against someone you still have some feelings for, but unfortunately in the most extreme cases that can be required in order to stop the insanity for once and for all. Good luck with things. — L

  4. My son is a recovering addict. He and his “girl” Partied till they lost their home, almost the kids and the drama, deception, cheating and lies left him here at home batteling anxiety induced seizures , mental and mood disorders and yes a longing to reconnect with her. We (his family) know the toxicity of the relationship and are helpless. He is seeking professional help but it’s just not a quick fix. He is impatient and we just can’t take it anymore.

    1. Hi there. I’m so sorry to hear about everything your son has gone through. I am glad that he is seeking the support of a professional. If he’s open to it, I hope that you share this article and some of the podcasts I’ve done about breakups and recovery. I hope that it helps him find his way to peace and freedom.

  5. My significant other isn’t good for me. He’s an addict he has problems with drinking and using crystal meth. I’m always helping him financially and give him attention whenever he commands it even.neglecting our son at times. The fear of him changing once I leave him is debilitating and I feel like a bad person breaking up my family

    1. Angela, thank you so much for reaching out to me and allowing me the opportunity to support you with this. It is so hard when someone you love is not okay. I hear through your words how much you want him to be healthy and the partner you know he can be, and that it feels scary to leave and possibly miss out on the amazing relationship you hope you could have. However, your number one job is for YOU to be healthy and strong for your son. I would strongly encourage you to get some support for yourself so that you can maintain your boundaries, set healthy limits, and create a stable and healthy home for your child. You might consider calling “2-1-1” from any phone to be connected to the United Way system in your area. They can provide you with referrals to supportive services and affordable therapists in your community. Here’s the website if that is easier for you: https://www.unitedway.org/local/united-states. You might also consider attending an Al-Anon support group in your community. Connecting with others going through the same thing can be enormously helpful and empowering. https://www.al-anon.alateen.org/find-a-meeting Lastly, you might also consider reaching out to your local department of social services for support in making a plan to keep you and your child healthy and safe, and to help get your partner in a recovery program (and motivate him to complete it). I wish you all the best Angela. Good luck with things… LMB

  6. Wow Article so touching and real. I was in a marriage where we both would act out and cheated each other obsessively in the last year’s .. now we are separated I don’t need to drink of be with any women besides emotional support.

  7. Dear Marie,

    I feel terrible because I am guilty of getting addicted to my ex. We had a difficult relationship and when we finally broke up I couldn’t stop obsessing about it and really wanted her back. I sent a lot of messages and emails and when she said stop I did but after a few months or so I couldn’t resist the urges and apologised to her for my actions which I feel just made it worse and reminded her of my previous behaviour. I feel crazy now and terrible for doing it. I know there is no way to go back and change the past. Am I able to forgive myself for this? I just feel so bad.

    1. Hi Cressida,

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I think that you’re having such a common (though terrible) experience that many people in this situation share: Feeling like you’re not really in control of yourself because your feelings are so strong. That’s the nature of a ruptured attachment. Humans are really hard-wired in this way, so I hope that you’re not too hard on yourself.

      If it’s helpful I recently did a podcast that touches on just this subject, and how to heal: https://www.growingself.com/how-to-repair-your-self-esteem-after-a-breakup/

      If you’d like some extra support, you might also consider joining my new (totally free) online breakup support group on Facebook. It’s not a “therapy” group or anything, but rather a secret breakup / divorce recovery Facebook group for people going through just this thing to support each other. It’s a great community. If you’d like to join (because it’s a secret group) you have to send me a message through FB so I can add you: https://www.facebook.com/drlisabobby/ Hope you get in touch! LMB

      1. Hi Lisa Marie, thank you so much for your help and for taking the time to reply. So getting addicted to an ex happens do a lot of people? Its weird because I seem to only feel attracted to people that don’t treat me that well and the minute someone does its like I lose that attraction to them. I let the wrong type of people get a hold on me and its a habit I need to break.

  8. I’m in absolute agony at the moment. Yesterday my girlfriend told me to F off so I blocked her on Facebook, but not on my mobile phone and she still has my landline. But, usually she phones me and gets back in contact, within a day. I don’t think she is going to this time.

    I keep looking at her photos on Facebook. I miss her so much and every part of me aches for her. But, when we were together, she would make me so jealous by flirting with other women. She’d say things like the other woman who was friends with her got turned on in her company. I told her, I don’t want to hear things like this, but she said it is just part of who she is. I don’t know if it was me or her that was the problem.

    In the first month of going out with her she told me a sob story about her ex who apparently abused her. To get out of the house she needed a considerate amount of money to leave and me being the kind person I am, lent it to her. I feel ridiculous now and it’s been several months since I lent it her and I fear I may not get it back even though she promised beyond a doubt that she would have paid it back.

    I have mental health problems and she is a trained psychiatric nurse so I wonder if it was my insecurities that put her off and she saw me as inferior to her. I wanted it to work so badly. Right from the start she told me that she loved me and then she went more distant and didn’t message me as often as she did at first. She said she had so many hopes and plans for me and my life with her. I don’t know what went wrong, but it hurts like hell right now.

    1. Melissa, thanks for sharing your story with our community here. Wow – what an agonizing situation! What you shared makes this sound like there were emotionally abusive (possibly financially predatory) qualities to this relationship. I hear that it hurts so much, and also that you’re saying that this was not a healthy situation for you, and that it’s probably good it ended. For extra support you might consider joining our free online breakup support Facebook group. (It’s a secret “hidden” group, so you have to message me directly on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/drlisabobby) to be added. I have numerous podcasts on the subject of breakups and recovery that might help you on the blog / podcast page. In particular one of the most recent, “Healing Your Self Esteem After a Breakup” may resonate with you. My book Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love or online breakup recovery program Heal Your Broken Heart may also be helpful to you as you take steps towards healing.

      I know I just threw about a zillion resources at you, and I hope that’s not overwhelming. I just hear how much you’re hurting, and want you to know that support and guidance is available. Wishing you all the best… LMB

  9. Unfortunately planting the seeds of doubt as to the healthiness of a relationship is itself going to be a trigger. When ‘work through issues’ gets trumped by ‘don’t bother having issues’, and when someone waivers back and forth between these, that is where relationships between 2 honestly loving people fail. (this doesn’t apply to couples where one person is in it for money or non-emotional benefits)

    Articles like this tend to feed doubt. Which is really sad and scary because it comes from such a helpful, nice, supportive idea. But sooner or later every relationship has ups and downs and the minute there’s a down and one person thinks ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’, there’s the doubt, there’s the trigger, that’s the thing that ends the relationship. Changing one’s mind later, deciding to try the relationship again, is what continues the relationship. And yeah, relationships have ups and downs and so the cycle will also continue until the person who doubts when things get tough decides to not run.

    It’s really not any different than the individual cycles we experience within ourselves, happy, sad, neutral, something happens get sad, something happens get happy. Cycles of stress are natural, normal, not things that can be gotten rid of. And this is true for relationships too. What can change from the past is your -individual perception of stress- and your -individual reaction to it-

    If you have a roller coaster relationship, you have to decide whether that’s what you want. If you -COMMIT- to a relationship with high highs and low lows, you’ll still be fulfilled because, as you said, it’s your own choice.

    Because of the natural cycles of stress that exist, a relationship without commitment is doomed to fail because someone’s going to leave when the stress gets too high. This isn’t any different than an individual who mentally checks out or commits suicide when life gets too hard; they look for an escape and take it.

    1. Hi Veronica! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and perspective about this article. I think you bring up so many excellent points about how ALL relationships have ups and downs, and that part of being in a healthy, committed, long term relationship is understanding that sometimes things do feel hard. I could not agree more that successful relationships require tolerance, acceptance, patience, and frankly hard work — particularly during the inevitable “rough patches” that all couples face. Furthermore, what we emphasize in our approach to marriage counseling and couples therapy is that couples who do successfully whether hard times together often create even deeper connection and a more satisfying relationship than ever before. Also these couples tend to have stronger, more secure relationships than “untested” couples who have not (yet!) gone through hard times together. I wish more people shared your perspective, and commitment to, well, commitment!

      And, at the same time, it is also true that sometimes people get trapped in extremely unhealthy situations. Unfortunately things like domestic violence and abusive relationships (verbally abusive, emotionally abusive, and physically / sexually abusive relationships) are real. I have also worked with a number of people who became attached to sociopaths, narcissists, addicts, or people who were so emotionally unwell themselves that they were literally not able to love… which was, sadly, the case with Tom. In many other situations, one person is committed to and attached to someone who is not as committed or attached to them (and never will be). In these tragic situations, the most healthy option is to acknowledge that reality, and move on. Which can be so, so hard to do — as evidenced by the data around how many times women go back to physically abusive partners, for example.

      Because it can be so challenging for people to know whether they are in a fundamentally healthy, good, “keeper” relationship that’s just going through a rough patch, OR a genuinely troubled, toxic relationship that is unlikely to get better, I have actually written and podcasted (is that a word?) on the subject just for that reason. You might consider listening to “How Healthy is Your Relationship” (and the companion quiz) for more information about how to realistically assess a relationship, and know whether it’s time to deepen your commitment and work to improve things…. or liberate yourself and find a healthier situation.

      Thank you again for your thoughtful commentary Veronica. I’m so glad to have readers like you who are willing to participate in such an authentic way, and open the door to a real dialogue about the complexities of relationships. All the best, Lisa

  10. Hey Lisa, great article and some very good comments 🙂

    I’m just out a 4 year relationship with with what I believe to be a narcisist.

    She abused me physically, emotionally, mentally , cut off my friends and family by declaring them oxygen thieves and in the end whenever I stepped out of line or disobeyed her rules I was punished by silence or threats of her going out to sleep with men. I never know if this really happened tho.

    We split , reconnected, honeymoon , argued , split many of times. Recently it became daily so I left.

    I’m moving into my own property next week and will have my son according to agreements she made, which I’m happy with.

    Half of me just feels like I’m only doing all this to show her I can live without her but really the other half of me is hoping she maybe takes time to reflect and hopefully one day , 6 months later maybe , she wants to try again.

    Surreal, stupid, desperate?

    I know she’s broken and I know id sacrifice my life to make hers a happy one…. But I’m not naive, I know she’s thinking she’s the victim and everything I got I ‘deserved’ … I know nobody deserves violence or abuse.

    I just wish she would grow out if it one day but alas she doesn’t.. she’s 34 , I’m 35.

    I thought love could cure everything but meh sometimes I guess you end up wasting love on somebody who will never appreciate it?

    1. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m really, really glad that you are taking steps to get yourself out of this situation and create a healthier environment for yourself and your son. On that note, something to consider: Is your son safe when he is with her? Like, mentally and emotionally safe? If things were that bad for you, a grown man, I am troubled by what your young child’s experience might be like. If you are worried about him, it may be worth enlisting the support of the courts to help you protect him. Just a thought.

      But as for your experience about half of you feeling good and excited about your “liberation” there’s still another part of you that is hoping that she will grow into someone who can be a healthy partner for you…. it’s totally normal. It’s hope that sustains these types of relationships: Hope that they can be different, or the hope that if you said or did the right thing they would be kind and loving towards you, finally. This is exactly the emotional dynamic that keeps (primarily) women coming back to patently abusive relationships.

      It’s really hard when to know if you should cut your losses and just be done done done. Many people, when the add up the evidence intellectually, know that it’s not fix-able. But when they’re still attached to someone, they have feelings of hope, sadness, longing, that can whisper to them, and make them think, “….maybe….” My client certainly did that for a long time, before he ran out of time. I hope you don’t waste too much more of your time here on earth doing the same.

      So, basically two choices here: You can decide for yourself that she sucks and you deserve better, and shake the dust off your feet and move on to find a healthy relationship… or you can wait, and hope, until the choice is made for you, one way or another.

      It honestly sounds like you are doing a great job of supporting yourself towards health: Moving out, understanding what she is, reminding yourself that these feelings you’re having are probably not ones to listen to, finding articles like this one that encourage you to keep going, and writing to me / us for confirmation that what you are doing is right.

      You’re right Mark. Don’t look back.

      xoxo, LMB

  11. Hi lisa,

    I feel like I’m crazy. I met a man about 5 months ago. He started out ‘normal’ but after a little while I figured out that he is a very heavy drinker (gets blackout drunk) at least once a week. He orders food galore and leaves his car at the bar overnight without remembering. He also smokes pot. This is just not my lifestyle. I have kids from a previous relationship and I don’t want him.around them like that. Also, he is extremely jealous and always accuses me of cheating if I don’t respond to a text within minutes. He gets mad at me if I can’t stay over at his house to sleep. One night he threw his lit cigarette at my fave because I said I had to go, and called me awful names including bi**h, c**t, sl*t ect. But I keep going back when he apologizes. What’s wrong with me?? He even sent a private picture of me to all of his friends. I was humiliated.

    1. What?? Jen. You are describing domestic violence. This is not a toxic relationship, this is an abusive relationship. This is not going to get better, only worse. Staying in contact with this person could literally kill you. Everything that you have described here is horrifying.

      For the love of God (and your children) stop this immediately. Do whatever you need to do to block him from your life. However given what you described you may need to get professional help — this sounds like a person who may come after you if you try to break things off. Please visit this website, https://www.thehotline.org/ and call this number: 1-800-799-7233. This is a national domestic violence crisis center. You can get on the phone immediately with a DV counselor who can help you make a plan for your safety and for your children’s safety. Tell them everything that is going on, and they’ll connect you with resources and even a place to go.

      Please do this Jen. This is not a relationship issue, this is a safety issue. There is nothing here for you but danger. It is not your fault, nor can you fix this. Call them right now!!

      Will be thinking of you,
      Lisa

  12. Hi Dr. Bobby

    I have a question around being in the constant cycle of toxic relationships (intimate, friends, life). A few weeks ago I broke it off with someone who showed me he was not emotionally supportive when I needed him to be. He showed me that I could not depend upon him and trust he would be present in a time of need. This is just one of many issues I have had in relationships. I give 110% of myself- mind, body, spirit- to my relationships, and they give about 50% (more or less). I have been in abusive (mental, physical, emotional, sexual) relationships since I was 15 (I am in my late 40s). It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I am becoming clearer about what I want, what I need, what will work for me. But, I keep finding myself in the cycle of toxic relationships. Seems no matter how much I learn, how much work I do to find my own self-strength, I can’t seem to get out of this cycle.
    Since this article is comparing it to being addicted to substances, I am wondering, how does someone get out of their toxic relationship addiction cycle? Being addicted to cigarettes means stopping smoking, and never smoking again. How does this equate to relationships? Does this mean to stop relationships and never be in a relationship again?
    I know I am doing better with my addiction as I have saved more of myself this time around than I usually do. I walked away a lot sooner than I normally would. And, I am not responding to his attempts to get me to talk to him (this never goes well, he gaslights me and turns the issues around on me and says I am causing problems, he uses the vulnerable information I shared with him in faith and trust as tools to manipulate me or shame me…toxic).
    I want out of the cycle of toxic relationships, with others and myself. Hope you have suggestions on how to break the cycle, heal, and then find the path to healthier relationships.

    Thank you
    T

    1. Tami, I appreciate your heartfelt question. I just might devote a podcast episode to this one, so please stay tuned to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. (Or follow me on Instagram – I always post when I publish a new podcast or answer a listener question).

      The very, short, simple answer Tami, is that in order to change this long-standing pattern you need to do some personal growth work. If I was your therapist or life coach, I’d want to start by diving in to where this is coming from, and then help you get self awareness about how you get involved in these situations. We’d also be doing some work that would help you change your “relationship thermostat” to begin experiencing emotionally healthy people as more attractive, and romantic-disasters-waiting-to-happen as less attractive.

      This is not something that you can accomplish by reading a book or a blog post or listening to a podcast. This is transformational personal growth work with a therapist or coach who is able to ask you powerful questions, shine a light on things you may not currently be aware of, and who can help you have the healing experiences you need to grow on a foundational level.

      This is not an “answer” but rather an invitation for you to embark on a journey. I do hope you consider taking it Tami. You sound like a very nice person who has been through a lot and who wants more for herself. I believe that you deserve the chance to heal and grow, and I hope you do too. YOU are worth investing in.

      Respectfully,
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  13. As a parent of a twenty year old son who lives with me and is in a toxic relationship how can I help him? My husband wants tough love and to throw him out because this relationship is an addiction. I am concerned about his mental health struggles. He needs a safe place and our support.

    1. Amy, I completely agree. It’s so hard to see adult children struggle. Is he open to getting involved in counseling or coaching? Though you haven’t shared a lot of information my sense is that he is feeling really stuck. You are very welcome to share breakup recovery articles, breakup podcasts, etc from the GrowingSelf.com site. That might be a starting point. You might also leave the Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love book laying around. I have had people purchase our online breakup recovery class for their teens and twenty-somethings. Lastly, would you son be open to talking to someone? Getting him connected with a breakup recovery coach or counselor could help him make progress. I don’t know if he’d consider even meeting with someone for a free consultation to see how it feels, but if he started working with a professional it could make a big difference. But clearly, you care so much about him — he’s lucky to have a mom like you in his corner! Lisa

    2. Wow… great article. My 17 year long marriage with my wife has completely to hell. I love her so much it hurts I want to be physical with her I want intimacy and affection from her and she wants no part of it. All she wants to do is go out with her friends especially one in particular all the time. She tells me that affection is stupid and has basically completely emotionally deattached from me. we fight every day. She tells me that she loves me but that she’s not head-over-heels in love with me. The problem is after 17 years on still head-over-heels in love with her. That combined with the fact that we have 8 kids… 4 together and 4 adopted complicates me just leaving her.

      She went through a bought of depression and ran up about $95000 worth of credit card debt a couple years ago and we’re facing bankruptcy from it now. I can forgive this and I have I can deal with bankruptcy what I can’t deal with is the feeling that I’m not loved. Wanting physical intimacy from someone who has almost no interest in it. I crave her and the physical intimacy daily. It is like an addiction, when we are intimate together, maybe once a month, it brings me to a new high. But it quickly wears off when i get reminded the next day that others seem more important than me or my feelings.

      I want to divorce her and leave her that she is my 1st love my 1st marriage then my person I’ve ever been intimate with and I love very deeply and I’m having a difficult time walking away. I also worry about her financially be unable to support herself and the kids even with me paying child support or whatever. Im stuck. Both financially and emotionally. Sadly, I have given serious thought into cheating on her to get my emotional needs met, but i never have… I’m just not that type of a person and she’s still the only woman I want. I feel that she is content to live with me, but not interested in being lovers.

      We have started seeing a therapist but i don’t know that it’s going to help. I told her the other day that it was like trying to piece back together something that had been ran through a shredder it seems impossible. I am addicted to being physically intimate with her… Which may be in her husband always thought was a good thing but I guess it’s not whenever the other person is not the same way.

  14. Hi Dr.
    I was in a relationship with someone that I met in a 12 step program. I had just a year after a painful relapse which was preceded by a decade of recovery. He (apparently) had 2 years. We got along great and I felt like I was getting the ‘ Promises’ . However, he still lived in his mom’s basement ( at 50 years old) , where I was a professional supporting myself. he drank heavily in my presence but felt it was OK because it was not his ( or mine) drug of choice. However he attended meetings and lied about who he was. Here comes the tough part; all of a sudden I suspected that he was using again because of his behaviors. He never offered to pay for anything and even borrowed money from me. Anyway, it all came to head one night when I woke up and realized that he was up all night, sitting on my couch watching TV. A few days later a friend of his, who I know is still using, called me up and told me horrible, intimate things that he said about me. The friend said that he told me ” just so that I would know the truth” ?? They were both living double lives and saw me as a threat because I knew the truth. I was devastated . However, I am still struggling with what is the truth, why did this happen and did I ” make it all up” as they are saying about me to all of our mutual sober friends. The term they use for me is ” psycho b#$%^h” . I am still wrestling with this whole bizarre scenario. He treated me like the most special person in the world around his kids and family, but apparently thought differently about me to his friends. I spoke with him recently and all he could say was ‘ You DID this to me !!” I said how would you have felt if this happened to one of your daughters? his reply’ I would kill the person. I said then why did you let it happen to me?? And he said ” It’s always about you !!’ And I wound up apologizing. Please help !!

    1. Fran, I hope that you hear this with the love and respect with which it is intended: I have no idea what’s going on with this guy and I don’t care. What is so much more important here is that it’s time for YOU to do some growth work around your relationships.

      I am hearing in your story that you may have patterns around missing red flags, you have trouble distinguishing emotionally safe people from unsafe people, you get attached to taxic people, and that you continue to try to get love and validation from people who mistreat you.

      I will not even attempt to speculate about why that is so, but I think it would be a really, really good idea for you to get involved with a really good, evidence-based therapist in your area who has experience around trauma and attachment theory. (It would be in your best interest for you to work with someone who could meet with you in person, not online).

      It sounds like you have done really important and effective work around your sobriety, and that is wonderful — all of that was likely hard won, and it’s yours to keep. And, as I’m sure you know, the work of recovery in some ways only begins once the substance use is managed. Then the true, deep work of healing can begin. You deserve that Fran. I wish you all the best on your continued journey of growth and healing. Lisa Marie Bobby

  15. I feel a strong urge to reach out to my toxic person. I don’t understand them, & I have so many questions, but I feel like it would just be a waste of time. They’re so evasive… should I just save these questions for my therapist?

  16. Hello,
    I have been in a relationship with my now ex for 8 years. We have a cycle of behavior. I break up with him, he goes on dating sites and has sexual relations with many women, I reach out because I miss him, I compete with his dating site women to win him back, we get back together for about a year, I break up again and the cycle starts all over again. I am always the one to take the blame for the failure of the relationship although I know it is both of us that cause the break-up. He has a drinking problem and I don’t feel like he has any value on the relationship and that he takes me for granted. If I ever have any type of emotion about anything, he says that I am making him feel bad and he gets mad at me. He is the only one that is allowed to be upset or angry about anything. I am identifying my issues and working on them. I have even told my ex that I know what I do and I am working on it, but he states he does not want to be in a relationship with anyone at the moment.

    1. Jeri, this sounds like an extremely toxic situation. I sincerely hope that you reach out for the help and support for YOU, in order to release your attachment to this person and create the healthy, happy, reciprocal relationship that you deserve. All the best, Lisa Marie Bobby

  17. Toms story hits soo close to home. Doesn’t start the same nor hoping it ends the same either but I’m there. Iv found a mirrored relationship that I can’t shake. I walk on egg shells. I have to apologize for everything. And I’m always getting dumped left desperate to be back with her. Going on 3 years now. I love her. She seduces me. But always leaves me insecure and with anxiety. Her recent issue with my 11 year old , calling him a lying monster who needs therapy, then ending us and blocking me. I’m a single dad 2 kids full time. I know I should be feeling totally offended but I obsess over being Back together. I can’t shake it. Please share whatever advice you gave Tom.

    1. David, I am glad that you found this cautionary tale. But I’m afraid that the path ahead of you goes way beyond “advice.” The process of breaking your addiction to a toxic relationship requires active work with a therapist or coach who can help you break this unhealthy attachment so that you can not just protect your children, but yourself.

      What Tom was dealing with was an addiction to an unhealthy relationship, and the process of healing is one that is very much like recovering from any other addiction. It is not an event and there is no “advice” that will help — it is a process that requires time and energy, tools, and a guide.

      The clock ran out on Tom before he was able to break his addiction fully. Since he died, and partly because of it, I wrote the book, “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love.” There were times during my work with Tom that I felt helpless to help him break free, because I didn’t fully understand the power that being addicted to a toxic relationship can have over people. After he passed I committed to finding out more about what was happening so that I was able to more effectively help others in the future. I really, really hope that the work and the research that I did (that Tom and I did not have when we worked together) helps you: If it does, it will give meaning to Tom’s tragedy. (No pressure, haha).

      Anyway, David, I sincerely hope that you have the determination and courage to do this important work so that you can not just break free, but go on to create the happy, healthy relationship you deserve. I hope you read the book and that it helps you. For most people, reading a book is not enough though. (Like if you were an alcoholic, reading a self-help book about alcoholism is only one small part of the recovery process).

      Many people need the support of a good coach or therapist who understands the science behind relationship addiction and who can help you, step by step, through the recovery process. If you would like to do that with someone at Growing Self, you are welcome to schedule a free consultation to get the ball rolling.

      Wishing you all the best David on your journey of recovery David. I believe that Tom is out there somewhere rooting for you too! 🙂

      Lisa

  18. My wife is verbally, mentally and has been in other ways abusive to me at times. She’s been having an affair for almost a year now too. I know I need to get out but the kids will suffer and she won’t be able to do it all on her own. How am I supposed to get out of this or around and through this. It’s not just cut and dried, get out and don’t look back. I don’t think there’s a shred of hope to fix it, because she doesn’t want to except to not be alone.

    1. This sounds like a terrible situation. I am so sorry that you’re going through this. I respect the fact that you are thinking about the needs of your children and what would be best for them. They are lucky to have you. This sounds like a very complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and the best advice I can give you is to get involved in your OWN therapy or coaching so that YOU have some support right now. I’d imaging that the work ahead will involve your getting clear about what is best for you and your children, and making a solid plan to take action when the time is right. At some point, I’m guessing that it will involve working through a lot of big feelings like grief and anger too. It’s going to be a journey, and one that will be measured in months at least, and probably years. Get connected with a good therapist who can walk by your side through all the ups, downs, twists, and turns in your future. It sounds like you’re taking care of a lot of people, and you deserve to have care and support too.

      Wishing you all the best on your journey to healing,
      Lisa

  19. Hello,

    This is a great article. I guess I am wondering if I am in a toxic addicted relationship. I have been living with a man for 3 months now and in the beginning it was great, then the fits of rage and fighting began. One fit went on for 5 hours as he tore the house apart looking for his tape measure that he was sure I put somewhere or someone had stolen it. Quite scary… he found it a couple weeks later (no apology). There are a lots of theses incidents, and he with holds sex like it’s a reward for good behavior. I am not an unattractive woman by any means and he never gives me compliments and if I take extra time to look pretty he just asks where I’m going. I’m in my early 50s and I had a complete hysterectomy when I was 39 and I go into emotional ups and downs and so I have been blaming the ups and downs on my hormones. I actually think they come from his being standoffish and elusive and my feeling unwanted. He is an active addict and drinks a lot and the last time we went out he totally lost it in front of my friends and co workers. Yelled and screamed at me all the way home which is a 45 minute drive. I’m leaving a lot out, however I had to be away for a couple of days and he ignores my texts (like always) and I am trying to just be and be happy without him. Why is this so hard? I just need to know if I am in a bad situation..,

  20. Hi Dr,

    I am addicted to a person I can’t let go of, a best friend. I was addicted to her nurturing and mothering feeling she gave me after my ex husband left. Long story short, I was adopted and had sexual abuse in my past. So I am the unhealthy one. I have tried for years and we go through the cycle again and again. She made me feel whole and I’m lost without her. I’ve done years of counseling, can you recommend the best books that i can read as I still want to become healthy and able to break free. She is in no contact mode and does this quite often for months at a time and I go crazy. And advice would be welcomed.

  21. I’m addicted to this dude and I know our relationship is toxic. And I act like it’s fine. Reality I’m not fine. I just don’t want him with anyone else. He controls everything of what I can or can’t say. I can’t post him. And he wants a child with me. And he says I can’t post him with the child. It’s too much. I can’t handle it.

  22. I was on and off with my ex for 9 months. I kept trying to leave him because he was an alcoholic (an angry drunk), manipulative, gaslighting and really really mean. He’d constantly accuse me of cheating or seeing other men and I’ve had to repeat myself over and over again, telling him I have never done any of those things. He’s done so many things to me that have traumatized me significantly i.e put me into a chokehold because I had slapped him for slut shaming me and then telling his friends later on that I was punching him and that he could take it, coercing me into having sex with him when I was crying, etc. I broke things off, blocked him on social media and changed my number in November, but I ended up contacting him again a month in a half later. At first, I had just wanted to talk to him to relinquish any unsettled feelings, but we hooked up, I was convinced we were gonna get back together, but he didn’t initiate any calls or messages. I noticed he wasn’t interested and then after a couple weeks he had told me he had feelings for and hooked up with someone else. So I was thinking, okay he’s officially moved on, I’ve already determined that he’s a jerk, so I’ll move on. I told him to stop calling me and he stopped for a while. But then he texted me again a couple weeks ago saying he needed to talk to me, we talked, I tried setting boundaries, he crossed those boundaries and we ended up hooking up twice. I recently found out that he got into a relationship with the girl he has feelings for and he basically cheated…I asked him what our relationship was and he had said, he doesn’t know and that I was on trial, which means he’s still trying to choI’m sorry if this is too much detail, but to sum things up, he is the hugest jerk I’ve ever met and unfortunately he’s been my very first boyfriend or “love” or lack thereof.. He’s got me wrapped around his finger and for some odd reason, I can’t let him go. It’s hard for me to ignore his calls..

  23. What about the wife’s side in this? My now ex husband has become addicted to toxic relationships and cheated twice now. I am the wife sitting at home in this scenario. How do I get past all those feeings of insecurity, betrayal, not enough, etc when he keeps making promises and then going back to the addiction. He cheated on the new girl too… so really he’s kind of like the example on the podcast.

  24. I have been in a relationship for 1.5 years under false pretenses that I had filed for divorce. Which I had not but was madly in love with this partner. She found out through a message to me which was, from the way written, an attempt to get back together. Caught in a web of lies and only because I did not want to lose my new love I continued to try to lie to get out of it only making it worse. Now I cannot let my new partner go but she is done with the lies and inability to trust me. While my wife wants to forgive me and get back together. I truly want my new partner to be with me but she is beyond reluctant as I lied to her about my previous relationship and multiple other items to continue the facade.,

    1. Jim, given what you’re describing, I wonder if the best course of action may be for you to not be in any relationship with anyone until you get yourself figured out and get to a place where you can be a reliable, trustworthy partner. Wishing you all the best….. Lisa

  25. I have been in a relationship with someone for about a year who has some serious emotional baggage, which he seems unable to even start to deal with. I’ve been dumped several times over that year, and kept being drawn back in because I believed the way he was treating me was in some way forgivable, a result of him not being able to cope with the emotional turmoil he was experiencing. I was kept a secret from his family due to some of this baggage, with my stuff I left at his house packed up when they were coming over. So I’d be dumped but as soon as I put some distance between us he’d appear again with a phone call or text, asking me to come over and we’d start again, only for him to disappear again shortly after. I just feel like I’ve been kept on a piece of elastic. I was increasingly being blamed, I was “making things impossible” and stressing him out, if I even dared to discuss how the problems he was experiencing could be overcome. True you shouldn’t try to fix people but I was doing it for me too, as it was effecting my life. Now I find myself being sent a text from him saying “we are over, i’m not going back’, as if I am the only one that has been pursuing this relationship.

  26. What a terrible situation for you to have been in. You know, I think it’s really common for people trapped in a toxic relationship to go around and around a few times until they can begin to see the toxic relationship patterns they’ve been dealing with. I can understand how it’s enraging to now be manipulated and made out to be the pursuer, but I would encourage you to not take the bait and argue back. In genuinely toxic relationships, that type of emotional game-playing and the need to “defend yourself” is actually part of what can keep you trapped in this dynamic. Better to just block this person and remove their ability to communicate with you at all, ever again. That will keep you from being baited and tormented, so that you can get far, far away from all this. Did you check out the “Leaving a Toxic Relationship” podcast yet? I hope you listen to it! Wishing you all the best, Dr. Lisa

  27. how do I stop wanting to go back to a man who only ends up putting me down
    He blames me now for the break up saying we are not a couple

  28. Hi Judy,
    This is such a hard situation when you’re emotionally attached to someone who is not treating you well. That’s the common theme for many Exaholics — knowing intellectually that they need to move on but really not being able to. Relationships are addictive. By treating this attachment to a person the way you’d treat any other unwanted “attachment” (i.e., “addiction”) you will finally be able to recover and move on. You may consider checking out my book: “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love” for more tips and insight. In the meantime, please be gentle and compassionate with yourself during this exquisitely painful process. All the best, Lisa

  29. It´s an addiction, just like alkohol or other things that make you sick.

    throw the bottle away! Close the door, and keep it closed.
    Don´t look at his number in whatsap to see if he´s online, don´t look at his facebook-profil.

    We don´t need drama, there is plenty in the world, we don´t need any more.
    But for sure, we don´t need someone, who doesn´t make us feel good.
    Love should lift us up, anything else is toxic.

  30. Great advice Silke, I agree that staying away is best… if you can. It’s hard to sometimes though! That’s why recovery is a process. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. — Lisa

  31. how do i stop loving someone who doesn’t love me the same way back they say im special to them and their best friend. but being her friend is killing me in the inside. i cry at times. but she always tells me its not gnna happen but i dont wanna lose her, i have cut her off to try and just leave that part of my life in the past but i end up worse mentally. and now im scared to talk to any one …

  32. Angel — I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. It’s so hard to stay in contact with someone you love, but who can’t love you the way you want them too. It sounds like you are in the “purgatory” phase of healing I describe in my book, “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love.” I hope that you work through the healing process and are able to find closure. To help you I’m taking the liberty of adding you to get my “Heal Your Heart” bonus white paper. I’m also hard at work on an online program to help walk you through the steps of healing. I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the meantime, please practice the self care strategies I describe in chapter 10 of my book. You need to take care of yourself right now! Best, Lisa

  33. So I was in a toxic relationship like this. The guy went back to his ex twice and cheated on me during our time together. This last time, I tried to just back of to friends, but he wouldn’t accept it. His solution was a polyamorous relationship which I didn’t agree with. He claims we have a strong bond together and I admit there is a pull towards him. However, I had to think of myself. I blocked him or unfriended him on social media and on my phone. He keeps finding ways to contact me even now and its been 5 months, which stirs up those feelings all over again. I’m continuing the no contact, but how can I get him to stop. He has already admitted to not being able to stop thinking about me. I’m just worried that he will start showing up to my house. and even worse falling back into this toxic relationship.

  34. Hi Jennifer, I’m sorry to hear about this situation. It’s something that many of my clients have to cope with: recognizing that a relationship is toxic, and then having their boundaries repeatedly violated when they try to set limits and heal. Unfortunately these violations are a common characteristic of deeply unhealthy relationships. It’s so hard, because while YOU can abstain from initiating contact you have no control over someone else’s behaviors. The good news is that you have legal rights to not be harassed, if you are brave enough to use them. The definition of “stalking” is having someone continue to contact you after you have asked them not to. It can be very difficult to consider obtaining a legal restraining order against someone you still have some feelings for, but unfortunately in the most extreme cases that can be required in order to stop the insanity for once and for all. Good luck with things. — L

  35. My son is a recovering addict. He and his “girl” Partied till they lost their home, almost the kids and the drama, deception, cheating and lies left him here at home batteling anxiety induced seizures , mental and mood disorders and yes a longing to reconnect with her. We (his family) know the toxicity of the relationship and are helpless. He is seeking professional help but it’s just not a quick fix. He is impatient and we just can’t take it anymore.

  36. Hi there. I’m so sorry to hear about everything your son has gone through. I am glad that he is seeking the support of a professional. If he’s open to it, I hope that you share this article and some of the podcasts I’ve done about breakups and recovery. I hope that it helps him find his way to peace and freedom.

  37. My significant other isn’t good for me. He’s an addict he has problems with drinking and using crystal meth. I’m always helping him financially and give him attention whenever he commands it even.neglecting our son at times. The fear of him changing once I leave him is debilitating and I feel like a bad person breaking up my family

  38. Angela, thank you so much for reaching out to me and allowing me the opportunity to support you with this. It is so hard when someone you love is not okay. I hear through your words how much you want him to be healthy and the partner you know he can be, and that it feels scary to leave and possibly miss out on the amazing relationship you hope you could have. However, your number one job is for YOU to be healthy and strong for your son. I would strongly encourage you to get some support for yourself so that you can maintain your boundaries, set healthy limits, and create a stable and healthy home for your child. You might consider calling “2-1-1” from any phone to be connected to the United Way system in your area. They can provide you with referrals to supportive services and affordable therapists in your community. Here’s the website if that is easier for you: https://www.unitedway.org/local/united-states. You might also consider attending an Al-Anon support group in your community. Connecting with others going through the same thing can be enormously helpful and empowering. https://www.al-anon.alateen.org/find-a-meeting Lastly, you might also consider reaching out to your local department of social services for support in making a plan to keep you and your child healthy and safe, and to help get your partner in a recovery program (and motivate him to complete it). I wish you all the best Angela. Good luck with things… LMB

  39. […] The article “Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship” was originally posted on Dr. Bobby’s “Love, Happiness and Success” blog at […]

  40. […] disappointed by people. We’ve taken risks, only to fall flat and feel humiliated for our efforts. Maybe toxic relationships have made you feel diminished. Perhaps you didn’t get your needs met at a time that you desperately needed support, and you are […]

  41. […] like the only thing that will stop the hurting. This is true even if they know intellectually that the relationship with their ex is toxic, and any contact will only bring more pain in the end. They still crave the temporary relief it […]

  42. […] like the only thing that will stop the hurting. This is true even if they know intellectually that the relationship with their ex is toxic, and any contact will only bring more pain in the end. They still crave the temporary relief it […]

  43. […] like the only thing that will stop the hurting. This is true even if they know intellectually that the relationship with their Ex is toxic, and any contact will only bring more pain in the end. They still crave the temporary relief it […]

  44. Wow Article so touching and real. I was in a marriage where we both would act out and cheated each other obsessively in the last year’s .. now we are separated I don’t need to drink of be with any women besides emotional support.

  45. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of great growth work Rob. Thanks for sharing your success story! LMB

  46. Dear Marie,

    I feel terrible because I am guilty of getting addicted to my ex. We had a difficult relationship and when we finally broke up I couldn’t stop obsessing about it and really wanted her back. I sent a lot of messages and emails and when she said stop I did but after a few months or so I couldn’t resist the urges and apologised to her for my actions which I feel just made it worse and reminded her of my previous behaviour. I feel crazy now and terrible for doing it. I know there is no way to go back and change the past. Am I able to forgive myself for this? I just feel so bad.

  47. Hi Cressida,

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I think that you’re having such a common (though terrible) experience that many people in this situation share: Feeling like you’re not really in control of yourself because your feelings are so strong. That’s the nature of a ruptured attachment. Humans are really hard-wired in this way, so I hope that you’re not too hard on yourself.

    If it’s helpful I recently did a podcast that touches on just this subject, and how to heal: https://www.growingself.com/how-to-repair-your-self-esteem-after-a-breakup/

    If you’d like some extra support, you might also consider joining my new (totally free) online breakup support group on Facebook. It’s not a “therapy” group or anything, but rather a secret breakup / divorce recovery Facebook group for people going through just this thing to support each other. It’s a great community. If you’d like to join (because it’s a secret group) you have to send me a message through FB so I can add you: https://www.facebook.com/drlisabobby/ Hope you get in touch! LMB

  48. I’m in absolute agony at the moment. Yesterday my girlfriend told me to F off so I blocked her on Facebook, but not on my mobile phone and she still has my landline. But, usually she phones me and gets back in contact, within a day. I don’t think she is going to this time.

    I keep looking at her photos on Facebook. I miss her so much and every part of me aches for her. But, when we were together, she would make me so jealous by flirting with other women. She’d say things like the other woman who was friends with her got turned on in her company. I told her, I don’t want to hear things like this, but she said it is just part of who she is. I don’t know if it was me or her that was the problem.

    In the first month of going out with her she told me a sob story about her ex who apparently abused her. To get out of the house she needed a considerate amount of money to leave and me being the kind person I am, lent it to her. I feel ridiculous now and it’s been several months since I lent it her and I fear I may not get it back even though she promised beyond a doubt that she would have paid it back.

    I have mental health problems and she is a trained psychiatric nurse so I wonder if it was my insecurities that put her off and she saw me as inferior to her. I wanted it to work so badly. Right from the start she told me that she loved me and then she went more distant and didn’t message me as often as she did at first. She said she had so many hopes and plans for me and my life with her. I don’t know what went wrong, but it hurts like hell right now.

  49. Melissa, thanks for sharing your story with our community here. Wow – what an agonizing situation! What you shared makes this sound like there were emotionally abusive (possibly financially predatory) qualities to this relationship. I hear that it hurts so much, and also that you’re saying that this was not a healthy situation for you, and that it’s probably good it ended. For extra support you might consider joining our free online breakup support Facebook group. (It’s a secret “hidden” group, so you have to message me directly on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/drlisabobby) to be added. I have numerous podcasts on the subject of breakups and recovery that might help you on the blog / podcast page. In particular one of the most recent, “Healing Your Self Esteem After a Breakup” may resonate with you. My book Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love or online breakup recovery program Heal Your Broken Heart may also be helpful to you as you take steps towards healing.

    I know I just threw about a zillion resources at you, and I hope that’s not overwhelming. I just hear how much you’re hurting, and want you to know that support and guidance is available. Wishing you all the best… LMB

  50. Hi Lisa Marie, thank you so much for your help and for taking the time to reply. So getting addicted to an ex happens do a lot of people? Its weird because I seem to only feel attracted to people that don’t treat me that well and the minute someone does its like I lose that attraction to them. I let the wrong type of people get a hold on me and its a habit I need to break.

  51. Unfortunately planting the seeds of doubt as to the healthiness of a relationship is itself going to be a trigger. When ‘work through issues’ gets trumped by ‘don’t bother having issues’, and when someone waivers back and forth between these, that is where relationships between 2 honestly loving people fail. (this doesn’t apply to couples where one person is in it for money or non-emotional benefits)

    Articles like this tend to feed doubt. Which is really sad and scary because it comes from such a helpful, nice, supportive idea. But sooner or later every relationship has ups and downs and the minute there’s a down and one person thinks ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’, there’s the doubt, there’s the trigger, that’s the thing that ends the relationship. Changing one’s mind later, deciding to try the relationship again, is what continues the relationship. And yeah, relationships have ups and downs and so the cycle will also continue until the person who doubts when things get tough decides to not run.

    It’s really not any different than the individual cycles we experience within ourselves, happy, sad, neutral, something happens get sad, something happens get happy. Cycles of stress are natural, normal, not things that can be gotten rid of. And this is true for relationships too. What can change from the past is your -individual perception of stress- and your -individual reaction to it-

    If you have a roller coaster relationship, you have to decide whether that’s what you want. If you -COMMIT- to a relationship with high highs and low lows, you’ll still be fulfilled because, as you said, it’s your own choice.

    Because of the natural cycles of stress that exist, a relationship without commitment is doomed to fail because someone’s going to leave when the stress gets too high. This isn’t any different than an individual who mentally checks out or commits suicide when life gets too hard; they look for an escape and take it.

  52. Hi Veronica! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and perspective about this article. I think you bring up so many excellent points about how ALL relationships have ups and downs, and that part of being in a healthy, committed, long term relationship is understanding that sometimes things do feel hard. I could not agree more that successful relationships require tolerance, acceptance, patience, and frankly hard work — particularly during the inevitable “rough patches” that all couples face. Furthermore, what we emphasize in our approach to marriage counseling and couples therapy is that couples who do successfully whether hard times together often create even deeper connection and a more satisfying relationship than ever before. Also these couples tend to have stronger, more secure relationships than “untested” couples who have not (yet!) gone through hard times together. I wish more people shared your perspective, and commitment to, well, commitment!

    And, at the same time, it is also true that sometimes people get trapped in extremely unhealthy situations. Unfortunately things like domestic violence and abusive relationships (verbally abusive, emotionally abusive, and physically / sexually abusive relationships) are real. I have also worked with a number of people who became attached to sociopaths, narcissists, addicts, or people who were so emotionally unwell themselves that they were literally not able to love… which was, sadly, the case with Tom. In many other situations, one person is committed to and attached to someone who is not as committed or attached to them (and never will be). In these tragic situations, the most healthy option is to acknowledge that reality, and move on. Which can be so, so hard to do — as evidenced by the data around how many times women go back to physically abusive partners, for example.

    Because it can be so challenging for people to know whether they are in a fundamentally healthy, good, “keeper” relationship that’s just going through a rough patch, OR a genuinely troubled, toxic relationship that is unlikely to get better, I have actually written and podcasted (is that a word?) on the subject just for that reason. You might consider listening to “How Healthy is Your Relationship” (and the companion quiz) for more information about how to realistically assess a relationship, and know whether it’s time to deepen your commitment and work to improve things…. or liberate yourself and find a healthier situation.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful commentary Veronica. I’m so glad to have readers like you who are willing to participate in such an authentic way, and open the door to a real dialogue about the complexities of relationships. All the best, Lisa

  53. Hey Lisa, great article and some very good comments 🙂

    I’m just out a 4 year relationship with with what I believe to be a narcisist.

    She abused me physically, emotionally, mentally , cut off my friends and family by declaring them oxygen thieves and in the end whenever I stepped out of line or disobeyed her rules I was punished by silence or threats of her going out to sleep with men. I never know if this really happened tho.

    We split , reconnected, honeymoon , argued , split many of times. Recently it became daily so I left.

    I’m moving into my own property next week and will have my son according to agreements she made, which I’m happy with.

    Half of me just feels like I’m only doing all this to show her I can live without her but really the other half of me is hoping she maybe takes time to reflect and hopefully one day , 6 months later maybe , she wants to try again.

    Surreal, stupid, desperate?

    I know she’s broken and I know id sacrifice my life to make hers a happy one…. But I’m not naive, I know she’s thinking she’s the victim and everything I got I ‘deserved’ … I know nobody deserves violence or abuse.

    I just wish she would grow out if it one day but alas she doesn’t.. she’s 34 , I’m 35.

    I thought love could cure everything but meh sometimes I guess you end up wasting love on somebody who will never appreciate it?

  54. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m really, really glad that you are taking steps to get yourself out of this situation and create a healthier environment for yourself and your son. On that note, something to consider: Is your son safe when he is with her? Like, mentally and emotionally safe? If things were that bad for you, a grown man, I am troubled by what your young child’s experience might be like. If you are worried about him, it may be worth enlisting the support of the courts to help you protect him. Just a thought.

    But as for your experience about half of you feeling good and excited about your “liberation” there’s still another part of you that is hoping that she will grow into someone who can be a healthy partner for you…. it’s totally normal. It’s hope that sustains these types of relationships: Hope that they can be different, or the hope that if you said or did the right thing they would be kind and loving towards you, finally. This is exactly the emotional dynamic that keeps (primarily) women coming back to patently abusive relationships.

    It’s really hard when to know if you should cut your losses and just be done done done. Many people, when the add up the evidence intellectually, know that it’s not fix-able. But when they’re still attached to someone, they have feelings of hope, sadness, longing, that can whisper to them, and make them think, “….maybe….” My client certainly did that for a long time, before he ran out of time. I hope you don’t waste too much more of your time here on earth doing the same.

    So, basically two choices here: You can decide for yourself that she sucks and you deserve better, and shake the dust off your feet and move on to find a healthy relationship… or you can wait, and hope, until the choice is made for you, one way or another.

    It honestly sounds like you are doing a great job of supporting yourself towards health: Moving out, understanding what she is, reminding yourself that these feelings you’re having are probably not ones to listen to, finding articles like this one that encourage you to keep going, and writing to me / us for confirmation that what you are doing is right.

    You’re right Mark. Don’t look back.

    xoxo, LMB

  55. Hi lisa,

    I feel like I’m crazy. I met a man about 5 months ago. He started out ‘normal’ but after a little while I figured out that he is a very heavy drinker (gets blackout drunk) at least once a week. He orders food galore and leaves his car at the bar overnight without remembering. He also smokes pot. This is just not my lifestyle. I have kids from a previous relationship and I don’t want him.around them like that. Also, he is extremely jealous and always accuses me of cheating if I don’t respond to a text within minutes. He gets mad at me if I can’t stay over at his house to sleep. One night he threw his lit cigarette at my fave because I said I had to go, and called me awful names including bi**h, c**t, sl*t ect. But I keep going back when he apologizes. What’s wrong with me?? He even sent a private picture of me to all of his friends. I was humiliated.

  56. What?? Jen. You are describing domestic violence. This is not a toxic relationship, this is an abusive relationship. This is not going to get better, only worse. Staying in contact with this person could literally kill you. Everything that you have described here is horrifying.

    For the love of God (and your children) stop this immediately. Do whatever you need to do to block him from your life. However given what you described you may need to get professional help — this sounds like a person who may come after you if you try to break things off. Please visit this website, https://www.thehotline.org/ and call this number: 1-800-799-7233. This is a national domestic violence crisis center. You can get on the phone immediately with a DV counselor who can help you make a plan for your safety and for your children’s safety. Tell them everything that is going on, and they’ll connect you with resources and even a place to go.

    Please do this Jen. This is not a relationship issue, this is a safety issue. There is nothing here for you but danger. It is not your fault, nor can you fix this. Call them right now!!

    Will be thinking of you,
    Lisa

  57. Hi Dr. Bobby

    I have a question around being in the constant cycle of toxic relationships (intimate, friends, life). A few weeks ago I broke it off with someone who showed me he was not emotionally supportive when I needed him to be. He showed me that I could not depend upon him and trust he would be present in a time of need. This is just one of many issues I have had in relationships. I give 110% of myself- mind, body, spirit- to my relationships, and they give about 50% (more or less). I have been in abusive (mental, physical, emotional, sexual) relationships since I was 15 (I am in my late 40s). It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I am becoming clearer about what I want, what I need, what will work for me. But, I keep finding myself in the cycle of toxic relationships. Seems no matter how much I learn, how much work I do to find my own self-strength, I can’t seem to get out of this cycle.
    Since this article is comparing it to being addicted to substances, I am wondering, how does someone get out of their toxic relationship addiction cycle? Being addicted to cigarettes means stopping smoking, and never smoking again. How does this equate to relationships? Does this mean to stop relationships and never be in a relationship again?
    I know I am doing better with my addiction as I have saved more of myself this time around than I usually do. I walked away a lot sooner than I normally would. And, I am not responding to his attempts to get me to talk to him (this never goes well, he gaslights me and turns the issues around on me and says I am causing problems, he uses the vulnerable information I shared with him in faith and trust as tools to manipulate me or shame me…toxic).
    I want out of the cycle of toxic relationships, with others and myself. Hope you have suggestions on how to break the cycle, heal, and then find the path to healthier relationships.

    Thank you
    T

  58. As a parent of a twenty year old son who lives with me and is in a toxic relationship how can I help him? My husband wants tough love and to throw him out because this relationship is an addiction. I am concerned about his mental health struggles. He needs a safe place and our support.

  59. Amy, I completely agree. It’s so hard to see adult children struggle. Is he open to getting involved in counseling or coaching? Though you haven’t shared a lot of information my sense is that he is feeling really stuck. You are very welcome to share breakup recovery articles, breakup podcasts, etc from the GrowingSelf.com site. That might be a starting point. You might also leave the Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love book laying around. I have had people purchase our online breakup recovery class for their teens and twenty-somethings. Lastly, would you son be open to talking to someone? Getting him connected with a breakup recovery coach or counselor could help him make progress. I don’t know if he’d consider even meeting with someone for a free consultation to see how it feels, but if he started working with a professional it could make a big difference. But clearly, you care so much about him — he’s lucky to have a mom like you in his corner! Lisa

  60. Tami, I appreciate your heartfelt question. I just might devote a podcast episode to this one, so please stay tuned to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. (Or follow me on Instagram – I always post when I publish a new podcast or answer a listener question).

    The very, short, simple answer Tami, is that in order to change this long-standing pattern you need to do some personal growth work. If I was your therapist or life coach, I’d want to start by diving in to where this is coming from, and then help you get self awareness about how you get involved in these situations. We’d also be doing some work that would help you change your “relationship thermostat” to begin experiencing emotionally healthy people as more attractive, and romantic-disasters-waiting-to-happen as less attractive.

    This is not something that you can accomplish by reading a book or a blog post or listening to a podcast. This is transformational personal growth work with a therapist or coach who is able to ask you powerful questions, shine a light on things you may not currently be aware of, and who can help you have the healing experiences you need to grow on a foundational level.

    This is not an “answer” but rather an invitation for you to embark on a journey. I do hope you consider taking it Tami. You sound like a very nice person who has been through a lot and who wants more for herself. I believe that you deserve the chance to heal and grow, and I hope you do too. YOU are worth investing in.

    Respectfully,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  61. Wow… great article. My 17 year long marriage with my wife has completely to hell. I love her so much it hurts I want to be physical with her I want intimacy and affection from her and she wants no part of it. All she wants to do is go out with her friends especially one in particular all the time. She tells me that affection is stupid and has basically completely emotionally deattached from me. we fight every day. She tells me that she loves me but that she’s not head-over-heels in love with me. The problem is after 17 years on still head-over-heels in love with her. That combined with the fact that we have 8 kids… 4 together and 4 adopted complicates me just leaving her.

    She went through a bought of depression and ran up about $95000 worth of credit card debt a couple years ago and we’re facing bankruptcy from it now. I can forgive this and I have I can deal with bankruptcy what I can’t deal with is the feeling that I’m not loved. Wanting physical intimacy from someone who has almost no interest in it. I crave her and the physical intimacy daily. It is like an addiction, when we are intimate together, maybe once a month, it brings me to a new high. But it quickly wears off when i get reminded the next day that others seem more important than me or my feelings.

    I want to divorce her and leave her that she is my 1st love my 1st marriage then my person I’ve ever been intimate with and I love very deeply and I’m having a difficult time walking away. I also worry about her financially be unable to support herself and the kids even with me paying child support or whatever. Im stuck. Both financially and emotionally. Sadly, I have given serious thought into cheating on her to get my emotional needs met, but i never have… I’m just not that type of a person and she’s still the only woman I want. I feel that she is content to live with me, but not interested in being lovers.

    We have started seeing a therapist but i don’t know that it’s going to help. I told her the other day that it was like trying to piece back together something that had been ran through a shredder it seems impossible. I am addicted to being physically intimate with her… Which may be in her husband always thought was a good thing but I guess it’s not whenever the other person is not the same way.

  62. Hi Dr.
    I was in a relationship with someone that I met in a 12 step program. I had just a year after a painful relapse which was preceded by a decade of recovery. He (apparently) had 2 years. We got along great and I felt like I was getting the ‘ Promises’ . However, he still lived in his mom’s basement ( at 50 years old) , where I was a professional supporting myself. he drank heavily in my presence but felt it was OK because it was not his ( or mine) drug of choice. However he attended meetings and lied about who he was. Here comes the tough part; all of a sudden I suspected that he was using again because of his behaviors. He never offered to pay for anything and even borrowed money from me. Anyway, it all came to head one night when I woke up and realized that he was up all night, sitting on my couch watching TV. A few days later a friend of his, who I know is still using, called me up and told me horrible, intimate things that he said about me. The friend said that he told me ” just so that I would know the truth” ?? They were both living double lives and saw me as a threat because I knew the truth. I was devastated . However, I am still struggling with what is the truth, why did this happen and did I ” make it all up” as they are saying about me to all of our mutual sober friends. The term they use for me is ” psycho b#$%^h” . I am still wrestling with this whole bizarre scenario. He treated me like the most special person in the world around his kids and family, but apparently thought differently about me to his friends. I spoke with him recently and all he could say was ‘ You DID this to me !!” I said how would you have felt if this happened to one of your daughters? his reply’ I would kill the person. I said then why did you let it happen to me?? And he said ” It’s always about you !!’ And I wound up apologizing. Please help !!

  63. I feel a strong urge to reach out to my toxic person. I don’t understand them, & I have so many questions, but I feel like it would just be a waste of time. They’re so evasive… should I just save these questions for my therapist?

  64. Hello,
    I have been in a relationship with my now ex for 8 years. We have a cycle of behavior. I break up with him, he goes on dating sites and has sexual relations with many women, I reach out because I miss him, I compete with his dating site women to win him back, we get back together for about a year, I break up again and the cycle starts all over again. I am always the one to take the blame for the failure of the relationship although I know it is both of us that cause the break-up. He has a drinking problem and I don’t feel like he has any value on the relationship and that he takes me for granted. If I ever have any type of emotion about anything, he says that I am making him feel bad and he gets mad at me. He is the only one that is allowed to be upset or angry about anything. I am identifying my issues and working on them. I have even told my ex that I know what I do and I am working on it, but he states he does not want to be in a relationship with anyone at the moment.

  65. Jeri, this sounds like an extremely toxic situation. I sincerely hope that you reach out for the help and support for YOU, in order to release your attachment to this person and create the healthy, happy, reciprocal relationship that you deserve. All the best, Lisa Marie Bobby

  66. Toms story hits soo close to home. Doesn’t start the same nor hoping it ends the same either but I’m there. Iv found a mirrored relationship that I can’t shake. I walk on egg shells. I have to apologize for everything. And I’m always getting dumped left desperate to be back with her. Going on 3 years now. I love her. She seduces me. But always leaves me insecure and with anxiety. Her recent issue with my 11 year old , calling him a lying monster who needs therapy, then ending us and blocking me. I’m a single dad 2 kids full time. I know I should be feeling totally offended but I obsess over being Back together. I can’t shake it. Please share whatever advice you gave Tom.

  67. My wife is verbally, mentally and has been in other ways abusive to me at times. She’s been having an affair for almost a year now too. I know I need to get out but the kids will suffer and she won’t be able to do it all on her own. How am I supposed to get out of this or around and through this. It’s not just cut and dried, get out and don’t look back. I don’t think there’s a shred of hope to fix it, because she doesn’t want to except to not be alone.

  68. Hello,

    This is a great article. I guess I am wondering if I am in a toxic addicted relationship. I have been living with a man for 3 months now and in the beginning it was great, then the fits of rage and fighting began. One fit went on for 5 hours as he tore the house apart looking for his tape measure that he was sure I put somewhere or someone had stolen it. Quite scary… he found it a couple weeks later (no apology). There are a lots of theses incidents, and he with holds sex like it’s a reward for good behavior. I am not an unattractive woman by any means and he never gives me compliments and if I take extra time to look pretty he just asks where I’m going. I’m in my early 50s and I had a complete hysterectomy when I was 39 and I go into emotional ups and downs and so I have been blaming the ups and downs on my hormones. I actually think they come from his being standoffish and elusive and my feeling unwanted. He is an active addict and drinks a lot and the last time we went out he totally lost it in front of my friends and co workers. Yelled and screamed at me all the way home which is a 45 minute drive. I’m leaving a lot out, however I had to be away for a couple of days and he ignores my texts (like always) and I am trying to just be and be happy without him. Why is this so hard? I just need to know if I am in a bad situation..,

  69. Hi Dr,

    I am addicted to a person I can’t let go of, a best friend. I was addicted to her nurturing and mothering feeling she gave me after my ex husband left. Long story short, I was adopted and had sexual abuse in my past. So I am the unhealthy one. I have tried for years and we go through the cycle again and again. She made me feel whole and I’m lost without her. I’ve done years of counseling, can you recommend the best books that i can read as I still want to become healthy and able to break free. She is in no contact mode and does this quite often for months at a time and I go crazy. And advice would be welcomed.

  70. Fran, I hope that you hear this with the love and respect with which it is intended: I have no idea what’s going on with this guy and I don’t care. What is so much more important here is that it’s time for YOU to do some growth work around your relationships.

    I am hearing in your story that you may have patterns around missing red flags, you have trouble distinguishing emotionally safe people from unsafe people, you get attached to taxic people, and that you continue to try to get love and validation from people who mistreat you.

    I will not even attempt to speculate about why that is so, but I think it would be a really, really good idea for you to get involved with a really good, evidence-based therapist in your area who has experience around trauma and attachment theory. (It would be in your best interest for you to work with someone who could meet with you in person, not online).

    It sounds like you have done really important and effective work around your sobriety, and that is wonderful — all of that was likely hard won, and it’s yours to keep. And, as I’m sure you know, the work of recovery in some ways only begins once the substance use is managed. Then the true, deep work of healing can begin. You deserve that Fran. I wish you all the best on your continued journey of growth and healing. Lisa Marie Bobby

  71. David, I am glad that you found this cautionary tale. But I’m afraid that the path ahead of you goes way beyond “advice.” The process of breaking your addiction to a toxic relationship requires active work with a therapist or coach who can help you break this unhealthy attachment so that you can not just protect your children, but yourself.

    What Tom was dealing with was an addiction to an unhealthy relationship, and the process of healing is one that is very much like recovering from any other addiction. It is not an event and there is no “advice” that will help — it is a process that requires time and energy, tools, and a guide.

    The clock ran out on Tom before he was able to break his addiction fully. Since he died, and partly because of it, I wrote the book, “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love.” There were times during my work with Tom that I felt helpless to help him break free, because I didn’t fully understand the power that being addicted to a toxic relationship can have over people. After he passed I committed to finding out more about what was happening so that I was able to more effectively help others in the future. I really, really hope that the work and the research that I did (that Tom and I did not have when we worked together) helps you: If it does, it will give meaning to Tom’s tragedy. (No pressure, haha).

    Anyway, David, I sincerely hope that you have the determination and courage to do this important work so that you can not just break free, but go on to create the happy, healthy relationship you deserve. I hope you read the book and that it helps you. For most people, reading a book is not enough though. (Like if you were an alcoholic, reading a self-help book about alcoholism is only one small part of the recovery process).

    Many people need the support of a good coach or therapist who understands the science behind relationship addiction and who can help you, step by step, through the recovery process. If you would like to do that with someone at Growing Self, you are welcome to schedule a free consultation to get the ball rolling.

    Wishing you all the best David on your journey of recovery David. I believe that Tom is out there somewhere rooting for you too! 🙂

    Lisa

  72. This sounds like a terrible situation. I am so sorry that you’re going through this. I respect the fact that you are thinking about the needs of your children and what would be best for them. They are lucky to have you. This sounds like a very complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and the best advice I can give you is to get involved in your OWN therapy or coaching so that YOU have some support right now. I’d imaging that the work ahead will involve your getting clear about what is best for you and your children, and making a solid plan to take action when the time is right. At some point, I’m guessing that it will involve working through a lot of big feelings like grief and anger too. It’s going to be a journey, and one that will be measured in months at least, and probably years. Get connected with a good therapist who can walk by your side through all the ups, downs, twists, and turns in your future. It sounds like you’re taking care of a lot of people, and you deserve to have care and support too.

    Wishing you all the best on your journey to healing,
    Lisa

  73. Yes. K, this sounds like an objectively bad situation. You might consider checking out the resources on this website: https://thehotline.org. It has resources and information about domestic violence, and support for you if you need it. From the way this is going, you might. Stay safe… Lisa

  74. I’m addicted to this dude and I know our relationship is toxic. And I act like it’s fine. Reality I’m not fine. I just don’t want him with anyone else. He controls everything of what I can or can’t say. I can’t post him. And he wants a child with me. And he says I can’t post him with the child. It’s too much. I can’t handle it.

  75. I was on and off with my ex for 9 months. I kept trying to leave him because he was an alcoholic (an angry drunk), manipulative, gaslighting and really really mean. He’d constantly accuse me of cheating or seeing other men and I’ve had to repeat myself over and over again, telling him I have never done any of those things. He’s done so many things to me that have traumatized me significantly i.e put me into a chokehold because I had slapped him for slut shaming me and then telling his friends later on that I was punching him and that he could take it, coercing me into having sex with him when I was crying, etc. I broke things off, blocked him on social media and changed my number in November, but I ended up contacting him again a month in a half later. At first, I had just wanted to talk to him to relinquish any unsettled feelings, but we hooked up, I was convinced we were gonna get back together, but he didn’t initiate any calls or messages. I noticed he wasn’t interested and then after a couple weeks he had told me he had feelings for and hooked up with someone else. So I was thinking, okay he’s officially moved on, I’ve already determined that he’s a jerk, so I’ll move on. I told him to stop calling me and he stopped for a while. But then he texted me again a couple weeks ago saying he needed to talk to me, we talked, I tried setting boundaries, he crossed those boundaries and we ended up hooking up twice. I recently found out that he got into a relationship with the girl he has feelings for and he basically cheated…I asked him what our relationship was and he had said, he doesn’t know and that I was on trial, which means he’s still trying to choI’m sorry if this is too much detail, but to sum things up, he is the hugest jerk I’ve ever met and unfortunately he’s been my very first boyfriend or “love” or lack thereof.. He’s got me wrapped around his finger and for some odd reason, I can’t let him go. It’s hard for me to ignore his calls..

  76. What about the wife’s side in this? My now ex husband has become addicted to toxic relationships and cheated twice now. I am the wife sitting at home in this scenario. How do I get past all those feeings of insecurity, betrayal, not enough, etc when he keeps making promises and then going back to the addiction. He cheated on the new girl too… so really he’s kind of like the example on the podcast.

  77. I have been in a relationship for 1.5 years under false pretenses that I had filed for divorce. Which I had not but was madly in love with this partner. She found out through a message to me which was, from the way written, an attempt to get back together. Caught in a web of lies and only because I did not want to lose my new love I continued to try to lie to get out of it only making it worse. Now I cannot let my new partner go but she is done with the lies and inability to trust me. While my wife wants to forgive me and get back together. I truly want my new partner to be with me but she is beyond reluctant as I lied to her about my previous relationship and multiple other items to continue the facade.,

  78. Jim, given what you’re describing, I wonder if the best course of action may be for you to not be in any relationship with anyone until you get yourself figured out and get to a place where you can be a reliable, trustworthy partner. Wishing you all the best….. Lisa

  79. I have been in a relationship with someone for about a year who has some serious emotional baggage, which he seems unable to even start to deal with. I’ve been dumped several times over that year, and kept being drawn back in because I believed the way he was treating me was in some way forgivable, a result of him not being able to cope with the emotional turmoil he was experiencing. I was kept a secret from his family due to some of this baggage, with my stuff I left at his house packed up when they were coming over. So I’d be dumped but as soon as I put some distance between us he’d appear again with a phone call or text, asking me to come over and we’d start again, only for him to disappear again shortly after. I just feel like I’ve been kept on a piece of elastic. I was increasingly being blamed, I was “making things impossible” and stressing him out, if I even dared to discuss how the problems he was experiencing could be overcome. True you shouldn’t try to fix people but I was doing it for me too, as it was effecting my life. Now I find myself being sent a text from him saying “we are over, i’m not going back’, as if I am the only one that has been pursuing this relationship.

  80. What a terrible situation for you to have been in. You know, I think it’s really common for people trapped in a toxic relationship to go around and around a few times until they can begin to see the toxic relationship patterns they’ve been dealing with. I can understand how it’s enraging to now be manipulated and made out to be the pursuer, but I would encourage you to not take the bait and argue back. In genuinely toxic relationships, that type of emotional game-playing and the need to “defend yourself” is actually part of what can keep you trapped in this dynamic. Better to just block this person and remove their ability to communicate with you at all, ever again. That will keep you from being baited and tormented, so that you can get far, far away from all this. Did you check out the “Leaving a Toxic Relationship” podcast yet? I hope you listen to it! Wishing you all the best, Dr. Lisa

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