Is it love or is it addiction

A great deal of relationships are codependent couples who, literally, can't live without each other. Why do we become addicted to our partner so easily in intimate relationships? Why do we need the other person so badly that the thought of breaking up creates in our heads a vision so dramatic as if it was the end of the world?

We are going to start this article in a rather unusual way. I am going to quote an extract from "You're the one you've been waiting for", the best book on relationships I've ever read. It’s written by Richard Schwartz, the creator of IFS therapy (you can read more about this model here). It describes the metaphor of a magical kitchen, which will be a perfect introduction to what follows in the article.

Magic Kitchen metaphor

"Imagine that you inherited from your parents a magical kitchen in your home from which you can obtain any kind and quantity of food. Because your parents fed you unconditionally, you learned to do the same with your many children. They are happy because they love your food. Your food is so nourishing and satisfying that they never overeat or crave candy or other kinds of junk food. 

You never use food to punish or motivate them; consequently, they trust that they are worthy of being well fed just because they are your children. They don’t fight because each one knows there is plenty of food for everyone. You also give freely to friends, neighbors, and those in need of food, just for the pleasure of sharing. You know that you don’t need to hoard because your food supply never runs out.

Then one day a man knocks on your door and offers your children a steady supply of pizza and candy if they will take care of him emotionally. Because you and your kids are so full and you can see that he doesn’t take good care of his own kids, your response is, “No, thank you—we have plenty of food of our own.”

On another day, a different man knocks. He is like you in that he has many children whom he feeds generously and who are happy and satisfied. He is attracted to the cuisine of your magical kitchen, but he doesn’t need it because he likes to cook and has plenty of food of his own. His children love playing with yours and would like to live in your house, but because they know that he will care for them no matter what happens with you, they trust him to decide where to live.

You invite him to share your home, and you love how much the two of you enjoy each other’s cooking. Both sets of children relish the mixed cuisine that now comes from your kitchen.

Now imagine that you live in a different household. You are very poor and have little food for your children. Because they are starving, the youngest and weakest of your kids cry all the time and beg you to find someone to feed them. Their desperation drives you crazy, and you lock them in the basement so that they aren’t always in your hair and you’re not always reminded of their suffering. That’s the way your parents taught you to handle problem children.

As hard as you try to ignore the sobs of those young ones, however, you can still hear them through the floorboards. The urgency of their need is like a constant gnawing in the back of your mind. Some of your older children lose trust in your ability to take care of the family. They take on adult-like responsibilities, prodding you to work harder, trying to contain or calm the ones in the basement, and searching for food. Because these older ones aren’t equipped to handle this level of responsibility, they become rigid and controlling. They are constantly critical of your work habits and performance, and they expend enormous amounts of energy trying to keep the basement children at bay.

As the guy with the pizza and candy heads toward your door, the basement children smell the food before he arrives. They go insane with joy at the prospect of being fed and possibly released from their exile. They idolize the Candy Man and are willing to do anything to please him. You and the older kids are hungry, exhausted, and impressed by how happy the Candy Man makes the basement children feel. The possibility is very appealing of no longer having to deal with them and instead letting them attach to someone else.

Consequently, despite some misgivings about the guy’s demands and the poor quality of his food, you and the older children agree to satisfy his emotional needs in return for steady meals. He turns out to be abusive at times, but your younger kids fear starving and being returned to the basement. Also, while he is increasingly stingy with the pizza and candy, the younger kids are addicted to it. Every time you bring up the topic of throwing him out, they override you.

Now imagine that the food in this story is really love, and the children  are the different parts of you. If you identify with the first parent, who has the magical kitchen, you don’t need to read the rest of this book. That’s because when you love and accept your parts unconditionally - simply because they are in you - they won’t be attracted by the false promises of certain other people. 

And when you find the right partner, your parts won’t be so dependent, demanding, protective, or easily hurt that they create constant dramas or make you tolerate abuse. Instead, they each will love your partner in their different ways, enriching your experience of intimacy, secure in the knowledge that if they are hurt by him, you are there for them and will deal with him.

If you are like most people in this culture, however, you learned from your parents and peers to exile certain parts of you. Therefore, the basement of your psyche is filled with love-starved, vulnerable inner children. Because they get so little from you, they will be obsessed with finding someone they imagine can rescue them and, out of their desperation, will blind you to that person’s faults. 

So they are likely to make you pick Mr. Wrong and then, because they are so needy and vulnerable, will either make you stay with that person too long, will overreact to perceived hurts from him, or will try to control how close or distant he gets to you or to others.”

The inevitable disappointment

Now take a moment to reflect. Do you love all your children and feed them unconditionally, or rather have them locked, hungry and thirsty, in the basement, where they scream and cry for attention even louder?

I would very much want that for you to be one of these few people who have such a magical kitchen in them, a boundless fountain of love for all your inner parts, even the most hurt ones.

However, if that's not the case, don't worry. In this article, you will learn how to stop focusing on having these parts nourished by other people and taking care of them yourself. This way, you will be able to build healthy and conscious relationships, free from patterns of co-dependency.

As a result of social programming and what we have learned from our parents, we tend to doubt that we can give ourselves what we need. We are taught to cherish the vision of a world, in which “finding your other half" is crucial to achieving happiness. Romantic films overbrimming cinemas and tv screens put in our heads notion of love at first sight happening between people who has always considered loneliness as their biggest failure in life.

So, we focus on finding relief for our suffering in the outer world, instead of owning our own wounds. We enter into relationships expecting that our dream partner simply by being there will help us get rid of our sense of loneliness, and by loving us will prove our worth to us. 

Unfortunately, this strategy works only temporarily. As Schwartz states, "your partner can't keep making you feel good at all times; you are bound to feel disappointed at some point.” Sooner or later, some event will force you to confront that difficult truth: my partner is not able to fill my own emotional holes.

He might start spending more time with his buddies, forcing you to face your fear of loneliness.

She might stop looking up to you as she used to, thus awaken the part of you that needs admiration so badly.

He might leave his dirty socks on the floor, and you will lash out on him, which could be a symptom of your strong need for control driven by a sense of helplessness.

Actions and reactions of our partners keep evoking in us all these parts that still need to be healed.

Three lifebelts

When this type of situations become frequent and our partners no longer seem to meet our needs, we do whatever we can to still get from them relief from our emotional burdens. Usually, we use one of the following strategies for that:

  1. We're trying to get our partner to change. We criticize, embarrass, negotiate, ask, demand that they become the person they were before - or fulfill whatever image of them we created in our heads.
  2. We do the same thing, only to ourselves. We neglect ourselves for the sake of our partner and do what we think our partner expects. Of course, this has very destructive consequences, because we deny our true identity, which leaves us with anger and frustration that we pretty sure will later direct onto our partner.
  3. We draw away from our partner and a) start seeking a new relationship, b) disown our inner suffering and stay in the current relationship (even though our partner keeps throwing at us things like "you can no longer feel anything, you’ve become an ice queen!"), or c) dissociate ourselves from these feelings and decide to split up and be single again.

You surely have no trouble seeing that none of these options is particularly attractive. So what alternative do we have?

Directing your attention inward instead of seeking rescue in the other person, which basically means self-work.

Let's face it, that's not going to be easy. Without receiving constant affirmation, many of us will experience, to a greater or smaller degree, a sense of worthlessness, loneliness and emptiness.

However, if we want to have a more deeply soul satisfying relationship and resilient intimacy with our partner, we have to be aware that it doesn’t come easy. We must take the time to build such a magical kitchen for ourselves. A space where we can tend to our wounded parts.

We need to learn to nourish our parts with self-love, so that the love of others will only make a wonderful complement to it, rather than a drug, which we can’t live without.

Of course, this is not about being 100 percent self-sufficient. Nobody is. By nature, we all seek to be in a relationship, in a community. There is a lot of support that you can both give and receive from your partner. I can't imagine being in a relationship if there was no such mutual bond between me and my partner.

However, when you stop unloading the burden of taking care of your own emotional baggage (and your anger when he fails to do so) onto your partner, he will become the companion, partner and lover you need.

Why? Because he wants it and sees great value in it, not because he fears rejection if he fails to fulfill your former expectations. If you are willing to share with your partner the responsibility for working out what is still unresolved in you, you can receive a great deal of support from him.

What does it mean to "share responsibility"? This means that you have the full right to live in a relationship and ask your partner not to do the things that evoke your unprocessed emotions (instead, do the things that help you take care of your needs). Of course, you ask accepting the fact that they may refuse you.

In order not to be attached to what your partner thinks or does, it is important that you take care of your emotional burdens yourself when these are reawakened. Be the main protector of those most neglected parts of your personality and treat your partner as someone who can (but does not have to!) be there for you in this process.

To sum up, you will not be able to love anyone until you love yourself.

However, here I’d like to share with you 9 practical ideas on how to go easy on your partner and stop expecting from him to carry your emotional burden.

9 ways to avoid love addiction in your relationship

Maybe not all of these methods turn out to be right for you at that stage of your relationship. Still, I suggest that you try each one of them. Although, at first glance, some of them may seem quite challenging, they get easier when put into practice. 

Implementing each of these ways will definitely have a positive impact on how you and your partner feel in the relationship and how the bond between you two gets stronger.

  1. First of all, stop holding your partner responsible for how you feel. Accept that it is your own job to take care of your emotions and your well-being. Even when HE pisses you off, when HE hurts you, when HE neglects you - remember that the emotions standing behind your strong reactions are yours and you are accountable for dealing with them. At the same time, in such situations …
  2. Talk to your partner about the difficult emotions you experience. Tell him about the traumas you experienced during your childhood. Share the things that you find most difficult. This way he will be able to understand you and your behaviour. It is important that both of you know that the other person is not to be blamed for your own overreacting. That your reactions come from within each of you. Talking about your wounds will probably contribute to your mutual empathy.
  3. Try not to hurt the other person with what you say, even if your argument has blown out of proportion. Every wounding word hurts those most vulnerable parts in us, which in turn only enforces our defense mechanisms. The stronger the defense mechanisms, the greater the chance for the conflict to escalate.
  4. If you still end up hurting each other with your actions or words, give each other some time alone and think about what triggered such your behaviour. Apologize to your partner and explain why you acted out like that. Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as the language of love, can do wonders here.
  5. When your partner behaves as if he did not care about you or stopped loving you, remember that it is only one part of his personality that has such a negative attitude towards you. It is quite natural that one’s personality comprises of many kind and loving parts as well as angry and resentful ones.
  6. If you are worried about your relationship or you feel your needs are not being met, do not force your partner to make small sacrifices so that he becomes the person you want him to be. Under such influence, he may be happy to do what you expect him to do because that will make you happy. However, he will no longer be the person you originally fell in love with. He will gradually stop being himself. 
  7. On the other hand, don't neglect yourself for the sake of your partner. Don't tune in to what you think he expects. Instead, try open and honest conversation about each other’s needs and expectations. You will both see whether it is worth continuing this relationship.
  8. If you decide to split up, be aware that you might feel terrified and that feeling is related to the fear that your inner children will be left without any food (love) now. It does not have to be like that, as long as you learn to make contact with that part in you where love is in abundance, so that you can feed all the parts that need it.
  9. Print this article and give it to your partner with a note that you want to talk to him about it within the next few days. Ask him what he thinks about it and whether he is open to trying out the ideas described here.

Finally, remember that every relationship is a challenge. It always puts you in a position where you have to confront those most difficult parts of yourself. In that sense, there is no better environment to get to know yourself and work on yourself than in an intimate relationship.

So you can consider your partner as your most precious teacher. A teacher who will give you hard lessons showing you those parts in you that are not healed yet. 

Good luck in creating strong and conscious relationships. If you have some time and the willingness to share your experiences and thoughts on this topic, please leave your comment below the article.

Write a comment

  • Jenna12

    This is a little confusing and doesn't seem to approach a case where the partner has become abusive over the years. I recognize much of this but what happens when he takes my vulnerabilities and turns them against me? Uses the fear of rejection to force me to do things that I don't want to do or just continually ignores my needs for his own? He only wants to "work it out" when I decide that I've had enough and try to get away from "the pizza man" to find something that works better. I get that a lot of our problem is due to some early trauma from me but after 13 years I hoped he would... in the end, I find myself going back to him, hoping that THIS time it will be different. Because, you know, pizza. I'm scared to go back but I'm terrified to stay away.