What Is an Addictive Relationship?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on February 29, 2024
3 min read

Most people, when talking about addictions, bring up caffeine or cigarettes, but you can also be addicted to your romantic partner. Addiction is a medical condition affecting your brain chemistry.

An addictive relationship can be described as a relationship in which you obsessively give attention to your partner without giving enough of it to yourself. A person in such a relationship feels incomplete or unhappy without their partner. 

If you are unable to function properly without a partner, depend on your romantic interest for a sense of fulfillment, or find that your behavior is coming at a legal or social cost, that could point to addiction. 

Relationship addiction means you are unable to function without a romantic relationship - even if the relationship does not bring out the best in you.

Often, people with this addiction are not aware of their self-harming patterns. A sudden trigger or a friend may make you aware of the condition. When that happens, it is essential to get in touch with a counselor, as addictive relationships can take a toll on your physical and mental health. 

However, wanting love doesn't always mean you are addicted. In fact, some experts suggest that the chemical and psychological effects of love-based attachments and addictive substances are so similar that it is likely both things depend on the same substrates in the body. 

In the beginning, relationship addiction can look like any regular longing. Wanting to be close to your partner or wanting frequent sex are not causes for worry. Things become concerning, though, when you notice the following relationship addiction symptoms: 

  • Not being able to leave a relationship even after seeing red flags
  • Committing to a new relationship quickly 
  • Having feelings of panic and anxiety upon thinking about ending the relationship 
  • Being unable to remain relationship-free
  • Depending on sex to resolve rough patches in a relationship 
  • Not having a life outside of your relationship 
  • Being extra needy and dependent 
  • Blaming yourself rather than seeing your partner's flaws 
  • Feeling unloved, anxious, or depressed
  • Being codependent on your partner 
  • Acting compulsively to keep your partner close and get their affection 

Having an addictive personality means you are more likely to develop an addiction to something. You are unable to control your actions and establish healthy boundaries. 

People with addictive personalities often tend to rely on relationships for feelings of happiness and achievement. 

People who have been brought up in loving and understanding environments are less likely to be in unhealthy relationships as they associate love with a feeling of security and comfort.

On the other hand, people growing up in neglected environments often struggle to get out of bad or toxic relationships since they consider this constant feeling of anxiousness a norm. 

If the love is one-sided, the feelings may become addictive. 

Another 2010 study had similar findings. People who had recently experienced rejection due to a breakup were examined in the study. The authors found that rejection activated the same areas of the brain as cocaine craving. 

Since rejection is often a factor in toxic relationships, relationship addiction may develop because of it.

Recovery from relationship addiction can be difficult. If your behavior is due to unresolved trauma, you may have a hard time stopping it yourself. Therefore, it is sometimes essential to talk to a therapist.

A therapist will identify the underlying problem and address your thought patterns. Then, they will help you develop healthier relationships by setting boundaries. Unfortunately, the "high" of being in a new relationship, which most people with relationship addiction desire, can keep them from having stable long-term relationships. 

Therapy will help you manage these "cravings" so that you can get the love you desire without being over-dependent on your partner.