At first, Jacqueline found her partner’s behavior endearing. He would send her multiple text messages during the day including during work, he randomly appeared when she was out to lunch with friends, he started texting her friends as if he was their friend, and he constantly wanted to know where she was and who she was with. It seemed romantic in the beginning but then after a while, it started to feel creepy.
Her friends were puzzled by his texting. He would send them messages as if they were life-long acquaintances and then get upset when the didn’t respond. On occasion, he would inquire about Jacqueline’s past or her whereabouts. They felt strange replying to him. Jacqueline dismissed his behavior as being overly protective and loving until things escalated.
One night when she was out with her friends, he contacted the friends to “double check” that Jacqueline was safe because she had not responded to him. Feeling annoyed, Jacqueline asked that they not answer him. Within the hour, he appeared at the restaurant and caused a scene accusing Jacqueline of betraying him. When Jacqueline said the relationship was over, he showered her with gifts and begged her to stay.
Jacqueline knew that something was not right about the relationship. It seemed like her partner had an unhealthy attachment to her, almost a love-hate relationship. Yet, he couldn’t get enough. The more time she spent with him, the more he wanted. Nothing seemed to satisfy him. It was as if he was addicted to her. But what does this really look like?
In order to better understand an addictive relationship, it is best explained through the definition of what it means to be addicted to a substance. Then this same definition can be applied to a person as if they were the substance.
- Substance abuse. Just about any substance can be abused when it is used beyond the recommended dosage. The substance meets a desire for an escape, pleasure, numbing, or fantasy. Seen in the reverse, this is the inability to consistently abstain from a substance without a physical or emotional reaction.
- Increasing amounts. “If some is good, more is better,” is a common statement from an addict. There is a craving for the substance that is unsatisfied any other way except to use it again. After a time period, a small dosage is not enough to satisfy so more must be used to achieve the same effects.
- Distorted thinking. Addicts tend to say the same things. “I can stop anytime I want (except they have tried numerous times and failed in the long term).” “I won’t have to do this if… (fill in the blank with a person or circumstance that is blamed for the usage).” There is a diminished ability to recognize that the use of the substance has caused significant problems in multiple environments or relationships.
- Repeated acting out. The frequency of using the substance increases while satisfaction decreases resulting in damaged relationships, finances, health condition, or work impediment. There is a significant impairment in the ability to control behavior and/or return to a healthy level.
- Intense emotional reaction. This is frequently manifested in anger outbursts when a person is confronted about their abuse of a substance. First, they deny, then defend, and finally blame others for their behavior. There is a complete refusal to accept responsibility, be held accountable, or regulate their dysfunctional emotional response.
While a person can be addicted to a friend, acquaintance, child or co-worker, for purposes of this article, the focus will be a partner. When a person is the object of an addiction, it looks like this:
- Partner abuse. An addicted partner must know every thought, action, and behavior of their mate to the point of isolating them from friends and family. The abuser sees their spouse as a physical extension of themselves and therefore justifies tracking devices on cars and phones, reading all text messages and emails, monitoring phone calls, and even having cameras installed.
- Increasing presence. The addicted partner will find ways to “appear” in random places or conveniently show up when not invited. This is usually done under the guise of “I was just trying to protect you,” or “I knew you won’t be where you said.” Sex becomes intense and uncomfortable because the abused is unable to express their wishes without being told by the abuser that that is not what they really want. Literally, there is no privacy for the abused or the ability to make choices for themselves.
- Distorted obsession. The addicted partner can’t stop thinking about their abused and thus works very hard to condition the abused to be the same way as them. This is frequently done in corporation with verbal, physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual or sexual abuse tactics. The addict is obsessed with the abused and wants the abused to be equally obsessed with them. Even when this is achieved, it still fails to satisfy the addict who continually wants more of the abused.
- Controlling behavior. Every behavior of the abused is analyzed, synthesized, and categorized by the addicted partner. Then the behavior is twisted into an unintentional motive such as, “You did this because you don’t really love me“. Finally, the addict uses the behavior and the motive as justification for even tighter restraints, more isolation, and more abusive behavior on their part.
- Ranting. One of the common angry expressions of an addicted partner is ranting. This one-way communication style which feels more like a lecture than anything else is designed to intimidate, overwhelm, and dominate the abused. As the addict becomes more engrossed in their addiction, the ranting intensifies. While it is mostly done for hours at a time in person, it can also be done over text (hundreds of messages a day) and phone calls (constant and repeated calling).
A person who truly loves another does not tighten restraints, isolate from friends and family, and/or belittle or minimize a person’s character, feelings, or beliefs. If any of this sounds familiar, please get help immediately from a professionally trained counselor. This is a situation where it is imperative that the abused get help from someone who understands this process and is familiar with assisting a person out of their environment.