Love is an essential component of any relationship. Unfortunately, for those in relationships with addicts or narcissists, love can begin to feel like an addiction itself. Individuals in these types of relationships must develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that mimic the behaviors commonly associated with addiction. 

Within a relationship with an addict or narcissist, there is a specific dynamic in place. Addicts and narcissists tend to attract people who have corresponding personalities that tolerate or enable the bad behavior of the addict and the narcissist. Perhaps a better way to consider this is that people without addictions to love and relationships leave these situations and walk away. This is in contrast to the individual who stays and tries to fix the situation or to turn the behavior around. 

Leaving the relationship becomes more and more of a challenge the longer the individual invests her or his time, energy, and emotions into making a change. As in addiction, there is often a logical or conceptual understanding of the dysfunction of the behavior, but the emotional ties to the relationship limit the ability to walk away or to make a positive change.

Recognizing the Signs 

One of the challenges of recognizing a relationship addiction is in identifying the signs. While these signs may occur relatively early in the couple’s budding relationship, they are often overlooked or denied, just as addicts may deny their behavior for short or long periods of time. 

·       Lack of consistency in the relationship – people in relationships with addicts and narcissists often have a roller coaster relationship. This is not just a rough time when the couple has differences, but an ongoing up and down pattern with their time together. In addition, it is not uncommon for the times of challenge, disappointment, and anger to far surpass the positive times in the relationship. 

·       You are walking on eggshells – anyone can have a bad day, but if you are constantly worried about how your behavior, conversations, or how your emotional state is likely to trigger the partner, it is likely you are addicted to being in the relationship. Partners should be there to support each other, and not for one person to continually receive support while the other is only seen as a source of support. 

·       Fear of walking away – it is difficult for anyone to end a relationship. If the thought of walking away creates extreme anxiety, fear, depression, or feelings of being completely alone when out of a relationship, there is no longer a healthy balance. 

·       Loss of sense of self – in a relationship with an addict or a narcissist, it is not uncommon to feel a loss of who you are as a person. This can include questions about your values, your identity, and your self-worth. The loss of self is not just internal, and the narcissist or addict contributes to these thoughts by constantly keeping the relationship in turmoil, blaming the other for the dysfunction. 

·       Inability to say no – loss of boundaries and inability to say no is a slippery slope in relationship addiction. Behaviors and choices that would be clearly seen as inappropriate or unhealthy prior to the relationship are normalized throughout your time together. 

·       Hiding issues from those you love – like addiction, people in destructive relationships hide the true dysfunction from family members and friends. This may include omitting details, creating false narratives about the relationship, or simply avoiding these types of conversations. 

Like addiction, the individual has to recognize the dysfunction in the relationship to make a change. It is also essential to understand that correcting the dysfunction in the relationship cannot be one-sided. Both individuals have to be willing to work on their issues as well as work together to develop a healthy, positive, and supportive relationship for the future. 

Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach Author of Love Smacked: How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love And Wake Up Recovery for Toxic Relationships, Codependency and Love Addiction