How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship, With Dignity

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Letting Go Of a Toxic Relationship

We're approaching a new year, and as such, you may be thinking about changes you want to make in your life. If you've been stuck in a relationship with someone who is not treating you well, and who is causing you hurt, anxiety, pain and frustration, now is a wonderful time to consider leaving your toxic relationship behind… and creating a new year full of healing, health and happiness for yourself.

Toxic Relationship Warning Signs

Letting go of a toxic relationship can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. In my work as a life coach, therapist, and couples counselor, I have had the privilege of walking with many people through the experience of first recognizing that their relationship is toxic, then ending a hurtful relationship, and then healing after the “toxic relationship experience.” Toxic relationships take a toll on you, at every level. And every step of this journey is hard. (Necessary, meaningful, and empowering… but hard). I know, I've been there personally too.

Letting of a toxic relationship often starts with people working to improve their relationships.  At this stage they often believe that if only their partner could make changes, then they'd finally get the love, respect, and consideration they deserve. They come in to life coaching or even drag their partner in to couples therapy, hopeful that they can make improvements. (And I will say that almost all the time when two people are both committed to a relationship and willing to make changes, relationships can be transformed).

However, if your relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to be healed in marriage counseling or couples therapy. Instead, you'll continue to feel frustrated, hurt, angry… and then elated when it seems like your partner is finally hearing you and caring about your feelings… only to be crushed when they disappoint you again. [Read: “Are You Addicted To a Toxic Relationship?”]

But in many genuinely toxic relationships, the biggest “warning sign” of all is when your partner routinely shows a lack of interest or follow-through in changing anything about the relationship. Instead, you when you bring up your feelings you get yelled at, blamed, rejected, or made to feel that the problems are all your fault.

Characteristics of a Toxic Relationship

In these situations of course, attempts at couples counseling often end badly. Most of the time, since their partners are unwilling to work on things with them, people in toxic relationships wind up entering empowering life coaching or effective therapy on their own.

Only over time (and often through deep personal growth work) do they then learn how to spot the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and come to terms with the fact that the only way to improve their situation is to take their power back and move on.

But until then, people in toxic relationships often struggle. They struggle with the mixed signals they get from their partner, because sometimes they are loving. They're told that things will improve, and maybe they do for a little while. Many people believe that if THEY work harder at the relationship, are more loving, are more generous, and more patient that their partner will eventually change. (Because often, their partner is telling them in both overt and covert ways that the relationship problems are their fault).

Over time, a genuinely toxic relationship will destroy your self-esteem, interfere with your other relationships, make it hard to focus on positive areas of your life, and consume all of your time and attention. But through self-reflection, self-love, self-compassion (and sometimes excellent therapy or life coaching) you can begin to see that you have become attached to a profoundly unhealthy partner who is never going to give you the love and respect they deserve.

Then you can work to create positive, empowering changes: Like insisting that you are treated well, and setting firm, clear boundaries with anyone who doesn't — especially the one who's supposed to love them the most.

Can a Toxic Relationship Be Healed?

Ending any relationship is hard, and even people who are addicted to profoundly toxic relationships can hold on hope that the relationship can improve, sometimes for years. Many people (understandably) need to know if their toxic relationships can be healed before ending them permanently.

In fact, I get many, many relationship questions on the Growing Self blog about this very subject. Of course the writers of the questions are not labeling their relationships as toxic. They are instead describing extremely frustrating, hurtful, even crazy-making relationship experiences and then asking, what should I do? (Usually phrased as, “How do I get this person I love very much to stop treating me badly?”

If a relationship is truly toxic, it is unlikely to change no matter how hard YOU work at it. Why? Because it lacks the fundamental building blocks of a healthy relationship: Empathy, commitment, personal responsibility, and true love.

Your toxic relationship will finally be changed forever, when YOU decide that you're not going to participate in it anymore. When you commit to yourself that you are worthy of love and respect, when you recognize your toxic relationship addiction for what it is, and when you learn how to cultivate the type of healing mindset that will set you free, you can end your toxic relationship for once and for all.

Letting Go of a Toxic Relationship

Because so many people have been reaching out for relationship advice on how to deal with these types of toxic relationship situations, I decided to devote an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to this subject. On this episode we're going to be talking all about toxic relationships, including:

  • How to identify toxic relationships. I'll be sharing the top 5 signs that you're in a toxic relationship. Listen and give yourself the mini, “toxic relationship quiz” to find out if your relationship is actually toxic, or just temporarily frustrating.
  • Why toxic relationships are so addictive. Instead of beating yourself up for remaining in a bad relationship, learn why you're biologically predisposed to developing intense attachments to others and why toxic relationships are actually MORE addictive than healthy relationships.
  • The difference between healthy vs toxic relationships. Just because your relationship feels hard and frustrating does not mean it's toxic and irredeemable. Learn the difference between toxic and healthy relationships, and get access to some relationship resources to help you determine whether you should keep working at this, or move on.
  • How to leave a toxic relationship with your dignity intact. Too many toxic relationships end with, ironically, the person who was caring, trying, and hurting getting broken up with. If you're in a toxic relationship, don't continue to dangle on this string, waiting and hoping it will get better until they end it. Take your power back, and decide for yourself to be done. If you're realizing that it's time for you to pick up your self respect and move on from a toxic relationship, we'll talk about how. We'll discuss how to cultivate  self-compassion, self-respect. and the ability to stop depending on an unreliable, hurtful person to love you, and instead, learn how to love yourself.

 

You might be listening to this podcast at the cusp of a new year (or other major life change) and ready to leave this relationship for good. You might be just starting to explore whether or not the relationship you're in is salvageable. You might be realizing that your relationship is toxic, but still in love and not sure how to end things. You may be caught in a toxic relationship cycle of breaking up and getting back together again. Or, you might be sitting in the pain, anger and heartbreak of just having been hurt again for the dozenth time, and looking for answers.

This podcast is for YOU.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps: One of the tools I mentioned if you're still in that “can this relationship be saved” space is my relationship quiz that can help you learn whether your relationship is fundamentally strong, or fundamentally toxic. Here's the sign up box in case you'd like to take it. xo, LMB

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by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

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How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How To Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down

How Do I Communicate With a Husband Who Won't Talk?

[social_warfare]

“He tells me whatever I want to hear so that we can stop talking about it as soon as possible,” Mary says, huffily, arranging the pillows of the Marriage Counseling Couch behind her. “I bring up anything, and he immediately gets defensive. It's impossible to get him to talk about his feelings. It’s like talking to a wall.” She goes on. “If I really, really push it and go after him sometimes he’ll react and we’ll finally address something, but it’s like I have to totally freak out to get him to go there with me. It’s so frustrating. I don’t want to be that person, but I feel like it’s the only way to get him to listen.

Can you relate to what Mary is saying? If so, you’re not alone. It’s incredibly common to have one person in a relationship shutting down during conflict, which increases the frustration and loneliness (and often the volume) of the other. You might be tempted to think that this is a “man thing.” Not true: a significant portion of relationships have women who withdraw in tense moments, and male partners who pursue. This dynamic also happens in same sex relationships with both men and women.

Whether you're trying to get through to your guy or your girl it can feel like the harder you try to communicate, the harder they try to avoid. Sometimes they defend themselves — invalidating what you’re saying in the process — and sometimes they simply refuse to participate in the conversation.

All you want to do is for them to listen to you. Hear you. Respond to you. But whenever you try to communicate, they clamp down like a clam under assault. You try harder: Raising the volume, raising the intensity, and getting more passionate. But the harder you try to connect, the harder they work to block you.

If this communication style turns into a pattern, you might stop believing that you'll ever get though. You might eventually give up on trying to connect. And that is a very serious problem. Because relationships fail when people stop believing that their partner can be who they want or need them to be.

 

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Here are some new ideas to consider if you want to get your withdrawn partner to open up:

1) Stop Being Scary

I say this a bit humorously, but seriously: It's often the case that “pursuing” partners can get… intense. (I know I certainly can when I'm not able to get my point across). And it's totally understandable — when you're feeling frustrated, shut out, unheard, and uncared for it hurts. It's the most natural thing in the world to get more intense and “passionate” in efforts to make yourself be heard. But consider how you may appear when you get that way.

It may be difficult for others to come towards you, and maintain soft, caring feelings about you, or fully appreciate your needs when you're yelling at them. Interacting with obviously angry people feels threatening. The louder you get, the less people can hear you. Take a breath, tone it down, and you'll get better results.

The louder you get, the less people can hear you

2) Practice Vulnerability

Help your partner move towards you by allowing them to see your pain. Dig under the anger and connect with the hurt or fear that is fueling it. When you can express to your partner that you are feeling lonely and miss them, that you are feeling overwhelmed and need their help, or that you're feeling frightened and need to know that they care — they will see you as softer and more approachable. It mobilizes their love for you, rather than their survival instinct.

3) Be Diplomatic

People like to be praised. Focus on the positive exceptions, and encourage more of what you want. If you must address something you don't like, sandwich it in at least two positive comments and make sure it's a “request” and not a “criticism.” Does this skill feel challenging when you're angry? Consider your options when you're feeling annoyed that your partner is checking out and not following through with household tasks (for example):

  • Option A: “I need to tell you want an inconsiderate a**hole you are, and I want you to sit here and agree with me.”  [Not going to end well.]
  • Option B: “I really appreciate everything you do around here, and I especially liked the way you took out the trash this morning. Would you mind helping me with dinner tonight to? That way we'll have more time to hang out tonight. I like it when we can just enjoy each other and relax in the evenings.”

Which option would go over better with you?

4) Focus on Solutions

Grinding away at complaints about things you don't like makes people feel overwhelmed, and defensive. When you get clear about what you DO want before coming into a conversation, and ask for that in a positive way your partner will be much better able to hear you. Furthermore, when they know what you want, they can give it to you.

5) Get Support

Sometimes, no matter how kind and gentle you are with your partner, they will still shut down, avoid and defend. This is especially true if a negative cycle has overtaken your relationship. Even if you are changing, they still expect you to be the same (and react to you accordingly).

It may also be the case that they are engaging in old, entrenched ways of relating that existed long before you came along. If you suspect that either of these things are happening, it may be wise to get both of you in front of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you untangle the impact of past relationship patterns, and focus on how to relate in a healthy way going forward.

I hope these ideas help you reconnect, if you're in a relationship with someone who avoids conflict, and shuts down. For more detailed, in-depth advice on how to communicate with a withdrawn partner and get things back on track, check out my communication podcasts:

• Improve The Communication in Your Relationship

• How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner (Without Pushing Them Further Away)

How to Communicate With a Partner Who is Upset (This one can really help your withdrawn partner understand YOU, and what happens to you emotionally when they refuse to talk or engage with you).

Wishing you all the best on your journey of growth together…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: One fantastic, low-key, low-anxiety way to begin opening up lines of communication is to do it without actually talking. (Really!) Take our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship” Quiz and send it to your partner to take too. (It's set up so you can send them an email invitation from within the quiz). Then you can share your results with each other.

Just be prepared to learn new things about how your partner has been feeling about your relationship! Pro tip: Even if you learn that there are aspects of your relationship that don't feel good for them right now, it's a positive thing because they are giving you the chance to learn and grow together.

If you respond to their disclosures with empathy, curiosity, and responsiveness it might start to restore emotional safety and begin turning things around. Here's the link to get access to the quiz. xoxo, LMB

Expert Relationship Advice: Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed psychologist, and board certified coach. Dr. Bobby is the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Can You Help Someone Who Won't Help Themselves?

[social_warfare]

What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Does Your Partner Have a Problem?

It is agonizing to be in a relationship with someone you love very much, but who has a serious — and untreated — problem. If your partner is struggling with something like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography addiction, ADHD or PTSD it can wreak absolute havoc in your relationship, not to mention make you (both) miserable. And it can be hard to tell when “being supportive” slides into “being codependent.” If the problem has been going on for a long time, it may even make you question whether you should continue to support and help your partner… or whether it's time to cut your losses and end the relationship.

This topic has been on my mind lately, as I've recently had a number of listeners of my Love, Happiness and Success Podcast ask me these questions:

  • How do I help my partner who is depressed (or anxious / ADHD / addicted to something) and refuses to get help?
  • What are signs your partner will get their act together, and what are signs you should break up?
  • How do I help my husband who is suffering from PTSD, and won't talk to anyone?
  • How many chances should I give my alcoholic / addicted partner?
  • I promised, “For better or for worse,” but it wrong of me to bail on this marriage if my spouse is not holding up their end of the bargain?
  • Is my boyfriend ever going to be cured of his pornography addiction?
  • Should I feel guilty for ending this relationship, even if I feel like I need to save myself?

These are big, serious questions. But you, my dear listener, told me this is what is important to you… and I'm listening to you. We're going there on this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. I hope that this discussion helps you find your way through this dark time, and back into clarity and inner peace.

All the best to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

[social_warfare]

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What To Do When Your Partner Has a Problem

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, with “Waitin' For The Orange Sunshine”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let's  Talk

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Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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Recovering From Infidelity

Recovering From Infidelity

How Do You Heal, After An Affair?

[social_warfare]

In my experience, there is nothing more painful than discovering that your partner has been cheating on you. It is enormously stressful, painful, and all-consuming. Many couples struggle with infidelity, and how to rebuild the trust and security in their relationship after betrayal. Infidelity can happen on a spectrum, from “micro-cheating” to a long-term affair. When infidelity is discovered, it feels like it blows your life apart. This is true both person who has been betrayed, as well as the person who cheated (who may now feel not just terribly guilty, but afraid of losing the things most precious to them, too). However, what I know from many years of experience as a marriage counselor and a couple's therapist is that there IS a path back together again after infidelity. In fact, I strongly believe that couples have a grand opportunity when infidelity is uncovered, not to just “survive infidelity” but rather create a much stronger, happier, secure relationship than ever before.

More Than Just “Surviving Infidelity”

When an affair or infidelity is revealed, it sends a couple into a crisis. With the right support (and commitment, and courage, and persistence) a couple can use this crisis to get radically honest with each other and build their empathy, and compassion. Believe it or not, the last phases of healing after infidelity often include two people actually feeling safer and more emotionally connected with each other than they did previously.

How Do I Get Over An Affair?

I know it sounds hard to believe, but you can heal after infidelity, and stay together. You may not ever “get over” an affair, but you can certainly heal your relationship. It is also possible to rebuild the trust after infidelity. However…. getting past infidelity is an active process, for both partners. Time alone does not heal an affair. You cannot just “get over” infidelity. After you've been betrayed, you can't just flip a switch and put the past in the past, and trust your partner again. But you can heal, and you can trust again… when you're both doing the work of recovery, together.

Real Advice For Rebuilding Trust and Security, After An Affair

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm sharing the ten crucial steps that every couple must take in order to repair their relationship after infidelity. I hope that this discussion creates a road-map for you to follow, as you work to reclaim your relationship, your trust, and your sense of security after an affair. With love and respect, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Recovering From Infidelity: How To Heal Your Relationship

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: L.A. Witch, “Brian”

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Please rate and review if you enjoy the Podcast!

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

Your Relationship Questions, Answered

Your Relationship Questions, Answered

Your Relationship Questions, Answered

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Relationship Help

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I know that relationships can be confusing sometimes, and lots of people have relationship questions. We have listeners of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast and readers of our blog get in touch frequently asking questions about how they can connect with their partners, improve their communication, or create positive change in their marriages. (As well as asking questions about how to grow personally, or create positive changes in different areas of their life). But today's podcast is all about relationships – specifically, your relationship questions.

Your Relationship Questions, Answered.

Today, we're answering your relationship questions in order to give you some direction, and real help for your relationship. Here are some of the relationship questions I'm answering today:

“How do I know whether my relationship is worth saving, or if I should let this go and move on?”

“Should I stay friends with my Ex?”

“I'm shutting down with my partner. How do I stop?”

“I'm afraid that my boyfriend is emotionally unavailable due to his own issues. What do I do?”

  • We talked about the realities of having a partner with unaddressed emotional issues, and who is not interested in working on themselves. We discussed her points of power, and her opportunities for changing the situation, as well as how to move forward with a partner who is unwilling. Resources mentioned included, What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem.

Do you have relationship advice for these questioners or personal experiences that you can relate? Perhaps you have your own relationship questions, self-improvement questions, breakup questions, or career questions for an upcoming episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast? If so, please leave them in the comments!

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Pro Tip: One very simple, low key way to start making positive changes in your relationship today is to get your partner to listen to this podcast episode with you. (Yes! Trap them in the car!) Joking aside, listening to relationship advice like that offered here can stimulate productive conversations and lead to growth. Try it and let me know what happens! LMB

 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Relationship Advice: Listener's Relationship Questions, Answered

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Please rate and review the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Let's  Talk

If you're looking for guidance about how to handle a specific situation in your relationship, you can have a “Solution Session” with an expert relationship coach to discuss your concerns and get their help in making a plan of action.

If you're looking to make real and lasting change in your partnership, consider investing in a few months of expert relationship coaching that teaches you both how to have a strong, healthy relationship, and show each other the love and respect you both deserve.

 

 

Meet a Few Of Our Relationship Experts

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Meagan uses effective, evidence based forms of marriage counseling including Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and The Gottman Method. In addition to working one-on-one with couples, she teaches our Lifetime of Love premarital and relationship class. Meagan is available to meet with you for marriage counseling or couples therapy in Denver, and for relationship coaching and premarital counseling online.

 

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I’ve been told that my warm, gentle style immediately sets people at ease. Working with me, you’ll feel safe, cared for, and understood. And through that non-judgmental understanding, you will heal, grow, and — most importantly — understand yourself.”

Georgiana Spradling

Georgiana Spradling

PhD, MFT

Dr. Georgiana is a couples counselor and relationship coach with a "tough love" style. Her no-nonsense approach and direct feedback can help you get clarity about what's creating issues in your relationship, develop emotional intelligence skills, change the way you interact with each other, and negotiate your differences in order to build bridges to the center.

Dr. Georgiana is a certified coach as well as a licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California but she specializes in online relationship coaching. She divides her time between San Francisco and Buenos Aires. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French.

Hunter Tolman

Hunter Tolman

M.S., MFTC

Hunter is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, couples therapist, and parenting coach who believes in love, and that strong marriages create strong families. He practices Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which is an evidence-based form of marriage counseling that focuses on helping you create a strong, secure attachment built on trust and empathy.

His gentle, but effective approach can help you open up with each other, and have healing conversations that repair your bond and allow you both to consistently show each other the love and respect you both deserve. Hunter's roots are in Utah, but he is currently based in Colorado. He can serve you as a couples therapist or marriage counselor in Fort Collins, CO and Broomfield, CO, and he provides online marriage counseling & relationship coaching to couples across the US and around the world.

Are You Addicted To A Toxic Relationship?

Are You Addicted To A Toxic Relationship?

Are You Addicted To A Toxic Relationship?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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. I share this story 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 left his wife and children for her several years previously. Their affair had sparked a passion deep inside him, like nothing he’d ever known. They had fun together. They laughed. Their sexual connection was intense. 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 as 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 being without her.

During the break-ups he and I weathered together, he 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 her off completely he wouldn’t get the inevitable “Thinking of You” text that would flood him with hope of being back in to her arms for another few months of bliss.

But the actual experience of being with Sarah was much more difficult than his idealized day-dreams 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.

And 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 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.

The Nature of Addiction

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 joy 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.” It 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.

Addicted to Love

In groundbreaking research, evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher (www.helenfisher.com) 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 love stimulates 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 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, it’s 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 towards 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.

Toxic Relationships

Unless, of course, you fall in love with (“get addicted to”) the wrong person. Someone who rejects you, who is not compatible with you, or who’s 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.

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 Sarah and freedom from his addiction came late.

He started loosing weight and complaining of odd pains in his stomach, and by the time he finally went to the doctor 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 un-breakable 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.

Denver Marriage Counselor Denver Life Coach Denver Therapist

Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LMFT, BCC

"Hi, I'm Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. For over a decade, I've been helping people all over the world create Love, Happiness and Success in their lives through positive, compassionate and effective Marriage Counseling, Therapy and Life Coaching. I'm so pleased to be able to help you, too. There is help for you here, and I'm glad you've found us.

This website is devoted to your wellbeing, and offers loads of free information and actionable advice that you can start using today to create positive change in your life. Browse around to meet our experts, get free advice on our blog, listen to a podcast, or take our "How Healthy is Your Relationship" quiz. Or, if the time is right, you can schedule a free consultation with any of us to talk about your situation -- and, most importantly -- your hopes for your future." -- Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

We Are Personal Growth Experts

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Hunter T., M.S., MFT-C

“Hello, I’m Hunter Tolman and I’m excited to partner with you in your journey towards a happier and more fulfilling life.

My passion is helping people just like you reach their highest potential both individually, and in their most important relationships. 

Whether we work together in couples counseling, family therapy, individual therapy, or life coaching, my focus will be understanding your deepest desires for your marriage, your family, and yourself so that I can help you create your most gratifying life. Our work can help you heal, gain understanding and compassion for yourself and others, and live with intention.” 

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Amanda S., M.S., MFT-C

“Hi, I’m Amanda. I can help you understand yourself more deeply so that you can become empowered to make positive changes in yourself, and your relationships.

I became a therapist, life coach and marriage counselor after a career as an educator, and I believe I still have the heart of a teacher. My approach emphasizes learning and practicing new skills, so that you're not just talking about change — you're living it.

I'm available to meet with you for therapy, marriage counseling and coaching in Denver, Broomfield, and also online."

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Anastacia S., M.A., LPC, MFTC

“Hi, I’m Anastacia. I'm a Couples Counselor, Colorado-Licensed Therapist, and Life Coach with years of experience in helping people heal and grow. My approach is holistic, and helps you connect your mind, body and spirit. My compassionate, non-judgmental way of being will help you feel understood, and safe enough to talk about the most vulnerable things.

Whether you're struggling with hard feelings, coping with a breakup, or facing a big life transition, I can help you move confidently and authentically forward into a joyful and satisfying new future. I'm available to meet with you in our Denver Colorado office and our Denver Tech Center office,  as well as through online video."

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Lisa J., M.A., LCPC

"Hi, I’m Lisa Jordan, M.A., LPC.  I have an affirming, compassionate approach to helping people not just get through hard times but grow from them. Working with me can give you clarity about the past and a new understanding of yourself in the present, so that you can build a bright future.

I use a blend of thoughtful, insightful counseling and strategic, solution-focused coaching to get you unstuck and moving forward again. I am licensed as a therapist in Illinois, and available to meet with you online."

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Silas H., M.S., MFTC

"I'm Silas, a therapist, life coach and couples counselor with Growing Self. I've had my therapy and coaching clients share that my down-to-earth style and sense of humor help them feel comfortable, and like they can talk about anything with me.

If we work together, I'll help you understand yourself more deeply so that you can heal, grow, and make positive changes. I'm available to meet with you for therapy in Broomfield, Colorado and for online life coaching.

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Georgi C., M.S., MFTC

"Hey there! I'm Georgi. I specialize in marriage counseling, premarital counseling and therapy. I have a very warm, gentle approach that helps you feel safe, comfortable and understood. I can help you heal and growth through compassionate, evidence based therapy that helps you cultivate self-esteem and feel good about yourself.

I am available to meet with you for therapy or marriage counseling in Bentonville, Arkansas. If you are a resident of Arkansas, I'm able to meet with you for online therapy or online marriage counseling."

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Tomauro V., M.A., MFTC

"I'm Tomauro Veasley, and I'm a therapist, couples counselor and certified life coach who is all about helping you feel good again. I have a positive, action oriented style that emphasizes helping you make real-world changes to get better results in yourself, your life and your relationships. 

I am available for online therapy if you live in Tennessee, but I work with people across the US and internationally as a life coach online."

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