Relationship Addiction: How to Stop Choosing the ‘Devil You Know’

Love Addiction
Photo Credit:  riptheskull via photopin cc

by Glynis Sherwood

I love him but I don’t feel loved back. But I can’t let go. This is the
third time I’ve been in a relationship like this
.  ~ Diane – age 36

If this statement seems familiar to you, then – without intending it – you may be caught in a cycle of pursuing hurtful relationships with emotionally unavailable people. Sometimes this pattern is referred to as ‘relationship addiction’. All you know is that it hurts – you feel repeatedly rejected, unappreciated or taken advantage of. Your needs aren’t met and you end up feeling bad about yourself. Worst of all is that the more your partner rejects you, the more you cling on, fearing the grief of losing him/her will be worse than the disappointment of the relationship itself.

Obsessive aka Addictive Relationships

The seeds of attraction to hurtful relationships get sown in childhood. When children do not get their emotional needs met by parents, due to neglect, repeated criticism or abuse, then negative relationship dynamics become normalized. The child may also come to believe that they are not loveable. At the same time, there is an ongoing healthy drive by these kids to experience a positive love relationship that gets carried into adulthood. This is all well and good, unless you choose the ‘Devil You Know’.

Why Choose the Devil You Know?

The ‘devil you know’ is very attractive because s/he is familiar. Your subconscious mind recognizes them, as they possess similar characteristics – both good and bad – to the parent(s) who neglected or rejected you. Your subconscious mind wants to heal that original broken relationship, so you can feel loveable and whole. You can heal that breach, but never by choosing the Devil You Know.

What to Do Instead of Choosing the Devil You Know

• Be honest with yourself – admit that choosing the ‘Devil You Know’ has only delivered hurt rather than the love you seek and deserve.

• Be aware early in a relationship – especially with someone you feel super attracted to – of any signs of neglect, unfair criticism, commitment phobia, or conditional support from your partner. If you see any of these signs, raise them with your partner. If s/he shows a lack of understanding, denial and/or an unwillingness to change, end the relationship.

• Recognize your triggers – what drives you towards the Devil You Know. Often it is feelings of unlovability or unworthiness to receive love, and believing that you can only be restored to wholeness in a love relationship. If you feel overly excited in the presence of the person you are obsessed about, insecure and worried about rejection, and/or panicked when you are apart, this is a sign that you have likely chosen to be with another version of the Devil You Know.

• Understand that real love doesn’t hurt. Real love makes you feel valued, cared for and stronger about yourself. Perhaps you have a hard time recognizing genuine love, or it feels uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just unfamiliar. Back away from painful relationships with the Devil You Know, and give yourself a chance to heal and learn how to identify real love.

• As you learn more about love and your emotional needs, avoid getting into relationships that are highly emotionally charged, or go too fast. This is a warning sign that you may be going after the Devil You Know.

• If you start dating someone who seems likable, caring and dependable, but start feeling bored or turned off, slow down and give the relationship a chance. Be patient and understanding with yourself. You may have to learn to be attracted to people who are good to and for you, rather than those who are exciting but will leave you stranded.

• If you feel stuck, confused or can’t stop pursuing the Devil You Know, connect with a skilled Psychotherapist who helps people recover from addictive relationship dynamics.

Need help overcoming Relationship Addiction? Visit my Love Addiction Counselling page

Counselling is available in person in Vancouver BC or by Skype Video worldwide.

Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Certified Addictions Counsellor is a Psychotherapist specializing in recovery from Relationship Addiction, Chronic Anxiety, Grief and Family Scapegoating.

  • Crissy

    I stumbled upon your articles and was completely amazed since I didn’t know that relationship addiction was a real thing even though I’m going through it right now and it’s awful.
    While journaling, I began writing down my suffering and it was similar to what a drug addict might feel. So I decided to google “relationship addiction” and your article came up.
    Immediately after reading the articles the intense hopelessness I was feeling lifted and I finally felt some peace.
    I also began to think about my childhood after you mentioned how this addiction is cultivated. Both of my parents were distant and somewhat neglectful of me as a child.
    So the pieces are beginning to come together…..

    I do have some challenges ahead since I do not think the man I have an on again, off again relationship with can give me what I need. I recently tied to end the relationship due to neglect on his part (he has his own issues of being able to communicate and give enough of himself) but he is continuing to draw me back into the relationship….and I allow it. He has been my drug and to feel peaceful I seem to need “a hit” (his attention) in continual does or I start to go through withdrawal….and it’s awful.

    Thank you again for the amazing insight into this addiction.

    C. Hamel

    • Crissy – Thank you for your kind feedback on my article. So glad it was helpful to you. Now that you are aware of what you are dealing with, and what the challenges are, I hope you have, or will seek support to help you make the changes you need so you can have the life – and relationships you deserve. All the best to you!

    • Lyla Aamir

      Dear C. Hamel,

      I am going through the very same emotions that you have written down, and its ruining my life! Ive recently had a severe panic attack and am on anti depressants now. I do not like this medication at all. It makes me numb and even more anxious. His calls are like oxygen and without him i cannot seem to breathe or function. After reading this article i felt a little relieved that other people are going through these same feelings like myself, and im not crazy. I really dont know how to get off this addiction permanently. Like it will be good for a while after i read motivational stuff, and then again the day in and day out. It becomes painful and i panic.

      • Lyla – I’m glad my article helped you realize you are not alone. As relationship addiction can be extremely challenging to deal with, I strongly recommend that you seek counselling from a professional such as myself, who specializes in recovery from from love addiction. I offer video counselling if you are not in the Vancouver Canada area. All the best.