How to Tell if Your Relationship’s Unhealthy: Exploring Addictive / Dependent Love vs. True Love
Relationships are tough little beasts because they involve people, and people are complicated. We crave love and connection, but we don’t always grow up having solid, healthy models of what love should look like.
...and that can result in a bit of a hot mess.
For better or worse, we most commonly look to our parents as our relationship role models. But even if your parents’ partnership endured and they stayed together over the years, you’ve more than likely learned some negative patterns from observing them.
Moreover, the length of our relationships doesn’t necessarily correspond or correlate to their health. Many couples remain married for decades despite having unhealthy relationships.
So how does love manifest itself in a healthy relationship?
Before digging in and answering that question, it’s first important to clarify that there are two different sorts of love that tend to characterize our relationships these days. And while one is healthy, the other can be toxic.
Sometimes what we think of as “love” is actually addictive and dependent in nature. It can look and feel a lot like love on the surface, but some grave issues lurk beneath.
Fortunately, although we may have learned to model this sort of love, it’s never too late to recognize its deficiencies, break from its patterns, and work to adopt the healthier traits that characterize true love.
To begin, let’s first take a look at some of the symptoms of addictive/dependent love:
Obsession / Dependence / Codependence
Do you constantly find yourself thinking about your partner (and I’m talking about after the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship has passed), to the detriment of your own productivity?
Has it become more difficult for you to achieve goals that you’ve set for yourself since being in the relationship? (In other words, is your relationship potentially detracting from or inhibiting your potential?)
Do you feel the need or urge to get your partner’s endorsement, approval, or buy-in on things that should more so be about you, your preferences, and your happiness (for instance, how you dress or choose to style your hair)?
While your partnership with the person you love is certainly important, your relationship should not define your life. You should have your own life - one that’s centered around your passions and whatever it is that lights you up. And yes, sometimes you may share passions with your partner, but it’s also important to have some of your own, independent of your significant other.
Another way that obsession or dependence can play out in a relationship has to do with addiction to your partner. It’s one thing to deeply love and appreciate your significant other and entirely another to need them like a drug fix. This addictive level of dependency is unhealthy - regardless of whether the object of your fixation is a substance or a person.
If you find you’re getting too wrapped up in your relationship, maybe take a step back and try to assess if it’s healthy. If you’re constantly thinking about your partner, it might be a sign of insecurity, or that you need to do some work on the self-love front. Make sure that you love yourself first and foremost and are honoring and prioritizing yourself and your own needs before anyone else’s.
Additionally, if you find that you’re spending almost all of your free time with your partner, that could be a red flag. Try to inject some balance into your life. Make time for friends, social events, and other activities that you personally enjoy.
If your partner feels neglected, or if you don’t feel like you’re getting to sufficiently connect with them, set aside some dedicated time each week to share and spend with each other. But don’t become so engrossed in your relationship that you let everything else fall by the wayside.
Don’t let your life become a casualty of your relationship.
Fear / Insecurity / Jealousy
Sometimes we bring fears and insecurities into a relationship. They may have developed from a past relationship we were in, or they may just be baggage we’ve picked up over time through our observations and experiences.
Whatever the source, if you find yourself operating from a place of fear (versus love) in your relationship, or if you find yourself suffering from jealousy or insecurity, it’s time to take a step back and recognize that this is something you need to address and spend some time working on. (Ideally, you should seek to fix these issues before getting into a serious relationship).
Ironically, if you struggle with jealousy and insecurity in your relationship, you’ll tend to find that these issues manifest themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies. When you feel jealous and insecure, your reaction is usually to crave certainty and control. So when you’re operating from that place of insecurity or jealousy, your actions often consist of attempts to exert control over your partner in some way.
Not only is it unhealthy to attempt to control your significant other, it’s also unrealistic. We can’t control or possess our partners. And attempting to do so usually just serves to push them away.
If you convey and project an image of insecurity to your significant other, they will gradually come to view you through that lens. They’ll be more likely to see you as flawed or broken in some way if you believe yourself to be and hold yourself out to them as such.
But luckily the reverse is also true: If you project an attitude of self-confidence, self-assurance, and security, your partner will be more likely to respect you and view you that way as well.
Scarcity Mindset / Neediness
When you’re a party to addictive or dependent love, a scarcity mindset tends to color the relationship. This means that you find yourself trying to hold on to what you have, while also always fighting for more.
You’re ruled by fear and can never seem to have “enough” of whatever it is you might want. It feels as if there’s a finite amount of resources (whether physical or emotional) in the world, and you have to battle to stake your claim over as many of them as possible.
If nothing ever seems to be enough for you or for your partner, it is likely because there’s a scarcity mindset at work. One or both of you will tend to keep tally and account for things. And you’ll do things for your significant other with an expectation of reciprocity (and get upset when that reciprocity doesn’t come).
There’s an inherent sense of neediness associated with a scarcity mentality. You always need or want more.
Now, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between “neediness” and being with a partner who isn’t adequately meeting your needs. We all have certain needs and desires when it comes to our partners and relationships.
Before jumping into a relationship, it can be healthy to have a good handle on what your needs and wants are from both a prospective partner and future relationship. If your partner isn’t meeting your needs, then it may be best for you to find someone who can and does or will meet those needs.
However, there’s a difference between having certain needs that you’d like to have met and the more constant “neediness” that can suggest a scarcity mindset of always wanting more or never having enough.
If you catch yourself extending beyond your objective need set and regularly asking or needing more from your partner, it could be a signal that you’re approaching things from a place of scarcity.
Tendency to put your partner first, ahead of your own needs
Now, this might spark controversy, because yes - love is about giving and caring and sacrifice. But if you think that love means always putting your partner first, before taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs, then you might want to sit down and take a few deep breaths before reading this.
If you constantly put your partner first (and especially if you do so with the expectation that your partner will reciprocate in some way in the future and similarly put you first too), over time, you’ll begin to feel neglected and likely come to resent them. Especially if that reciprocity doesn’t materialize.
And if this scenario happens? It won’t be your partner’s fault. It will be yours.
Because you need to take care of yourself first. That’s your responsibility. We each have a finite amount of energy to give. If you aren’t taking care of your own needs, you’ll have less to give to someone else.
If you find yourself in a relationship that has the above characteristics, odds are, you’re in a relationship characterized by addictive or dependent love. And that’s not healthy. In terms of consequences, not only will the relationship likely end in heartbreak, but one or both partners will also experience a lot of pain, anguish, and emotional drainage while it runs its course.
So if you find yourself in this situation, I’d recommend that you either extricate yourself from the relationship as quickly as possible, or be ready and willing to put in a lot of work to alter those negative habits moving forward.
To help nudge you on to the right track, here are some characteristics of true love that you should aim for:
Self-sufficiency (being enough on your own / independent of the relationship)
You know that you are ultimately all you need. You aren’t dependent on your partner. You’d be okay without them in your life. You’re enough.
You are secure in who you are. You can accept and own your imperfections, but you focus more on your strengths and your ability to grow and improve.
You can let go. You don’t try to control or possess your partner. You know that if they stray or if their path leads them elsewhere, then a chapter may end.
You understand that things are impermanent, and while that can be painful to accept, it’s better to do so and to work to move on than it is to try to ensnare and keep your partner in a relationship they’re no longer happy in. (Taking this latter course of action is only a temporary solution anyway; it will usually lead to an even bigger implosion of the relationship down the road).
You approach things from a place of abundance. When you have an abundance mindset, you’ve adopted a general perspective that there are “enough” physical and/or emotional resources for everyone. You grasp the concept that if you give, you will get.
And you don’t stress about having more. You don’t keep an accounting or tally.
You trust that things will be okay. You know that you’ll get enough from your partner or your relationship because you’re already enough on your own.
Capable of meeting own needs & taking care of yourself first
You know what your needs are, and you know that you must address those needs before you’ll be able to effectively help someone else and meet their needs.
Now, I’d like you to take a moment to reflect on your own relationship, provided that you’re in one. Does your relationship seem to exhibit any of these healthy or unhealthy traits? Have you ever felt like your relationship was your life? Or that you were dependent on your partner (to an unhealthy extent)?
It can be tough for us to be honest with ourselves about the state of our relationships. Because they usually need maintenance, and the work that’s necessary to maintain a relationship can be painful and exhausting to contribute.
Instead, we tend to hide behind denial and minimize our relationship issues. But taking that approach can also prevent us from experiencing true love. So in the end, it’s a trade-off.
Love is vulnerable. Which means it’s risky. But that also makes it all the more wild, precious, worthwhile, and beautiful to experience.