Beliefnet
The Celebrity Therapist

hands-544522_960_720Nurturing someone, helping them to grow and change for the better, is part of a loving relationship. People in healthy relationships often say that over time, their partner has helped them become a better person. But when nurturing turns into an obsession, it becomes a kind of over-parenting without the growth. The idea of a nurturing obsession is not to make the partner happier, but to make them more dependent.

Obsessive nurturers are drawn to people they believe they can save, fix, or change. This is more common for women, who tend to be caretakers anyway, but men certainly do it too. The nurturer believes if they just love this person enough or do enough for them, they will be able to mold the relationship of their dreams. But there’s another reason as well: If you nurture a needy person, they will become dependent on you; and if they are dependent, they will never leave you.

The reasons people become obsessive nurturers are complex. Many came from what therapists call a “parentified” family, where needy parents can’t meet the emotional and sometimes even the physical needs of their children. The child feels rejected by their emotionally and physically unavailable parents, and believes that if they can save their parents, the parents will not abandon them. So child becomes a kind caretaker, in a desperate attempt to keep the parents engaged.

This role reversal is common in families where there is neglect, abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce, or where one parent has died and the remaining parent turns the child into a substitute partner.

When the child grows up, their adult relationships represent the family they grew up in. They are attracted to partners with problems, so that they can finally symbolically fix their parents. They are motivated by an extreme fear of the same rejection they endured as children, and subconsciously believe they can heal their childhood wounds by nurturing a needy partner.

The obsessive nurturer becomes overly responsible for their partner financially, emotionally, physically, and in every way possible, leaving the nurturer drained and frustrated. They never get back as much as they give, but they just keep thinking that if they give more, they will finally get that fantasy perfect relationship they long for.

We attract and are attracted to people who share our view of the world. That means people who are willing to give endlessly, often with little in return, tend to attract people who are happy to take endlessly and give back very little. At the very least, obsessive nurturers end up preventing their partners from growing and making the changes they really need to make. At the very worst, they end up with partners who are charming, manipulative, lying sociopaths.

I was one of those people. I married a recovering alcoholic, and although I know from my work in addiction that relapse is always possible, I chose to file away that knowledge somewhere very deep. After we had been married five years, my husband did relapse. As a clinician I know the signs very well—staying out all night and not calling, smelling like alcohol (and swearing it’s cologne), angry outbursts, running out of money—but I just explained them away.

When I could no longer do that, I believed my love alone would save my husband. I put him into rehab several times, only to be disappointed by his continued relapses and his constant lying about it. He never followed up on his promises to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, get a sponsor, or seek therapy. And yet, I somehow continued to believe that I could “love his problem away.”

But by making excuses for him and supporting him when he could no longer work, I was enabling his addiction. He had relapse after relapse. He lied to me about using. He didn’t keep his promises. My obsessive nurturing never changed him; and it didn’t help him, either. When I finally realized that and divorced him, he hit his own proverbial bottom. It’s what we both needed to grow and become better people.

Take Sherry’s quiz to find out if you are a love addict. You can find her new book, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession here. To learn more about Sherry Gaba and her work, visit www.sherrygaba.com.

appsTreating an addition is very different from treating a simple cold. It is more like managing a chronic health condition where it will require constant tending to yourself and your emotional state to avoid a relapse. In this way, a love addict has to continually manage their emotional environment just as an alcohol or drug addict has to manage their emotional health and their lifestyle choices.

Unfortunately, as I talk about in my book “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession” technology has created a world where reaching out to find a new partner is just a tap away. The need to be in a relationship is immediately satisfied with online conversations that are damaging in several ways.

To help understand the issues behind the use of dating apps for those with love and relationship addiction as well as for codependents, let’s take a closer look at some rather startling numbers and statistics.

According to Rob Weiss, LCSW and other authors in a 2012 study in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, the sheer number of apps and dating sites allows for both single, in a relationship and married people to easily create online “hook-ups” and get gratification by having that first connection with another that is such a draw to a relationship for a love addict. Everything is perfect and, without actually meeting the person, the fantasy of the perfect partner seems to come to life on the tablet, computer or smartphone.

However, many people with love addiction issues enter a slippery slope scenario with these apps. What starts out as online flirting with anonymous people can quickly turn to meeting for sex, dating a person that is a fantasy rather than a reality, or even multiple affairs that quickly create another cycle of guilt, loss of self-worth and the potential to be emotionally hurt and let down once again.

The Online Persona Issue

It is not uncommon for a person with a history of codependency to attract a narcissist online. These people know how to send the message that triggers reactions in the codependent, and it is easy to come across as charming, giving and attentive when all you have to do is send a text.

Then, all of a sudden, the communication stops. The potential Mr. Right’s profile disappears, and the codependent is left reeling with another loss of what they have built up, at least in their minds, to be the next perfect relationship.

Ghosting, or simply disappearing online, is done by many people on dating sites. In a study by Elle Magazine, 50% of people who have been ghosted have also ghosted someone else. For younger groups, between 18 and 33, the number of people using online dating apps that have reported being ghosted at least once is an amazing 78% according to the dating site Plenty of Fish.

Additionally, the use of dating apps provides instant gratification that is simply not realistic in a real-time relationship. It is a fantasy world where people are whom they want to be and are able to treat others as they choose, all without consequences or reality.

The Online Addiction Component

As if the reality behind online personas isn’t difficult enough for a codependent or a love addict to traverse, there is also the issue of the online addiction component. Apps are designed to appeal to the user is a range of different ways, stimulating the bran with specific lights, colors, and images, creating a powerful change in brain chemistry when using the app.

For many people struggling with love addiction and codependency, the app itself becomes a source of guilt and stress. Just like an alcoholic will pour out all the alcohol in the house in an attempt to get sober, a love addict may find they constantly install an app, feel guilty and uninstall the app only to repeat the installation in a few minutes, hours or days.

Staying away from online dating apps when working with a therapist or a counselor for a love addiction or codependency issues is important. Don’t assume these are harmless ways to meet the right person and talk to your therapist before starting that app download.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Radio Host, Certified Transformation Coach and author of the award winning book The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery and Ecourse. You can take her quiz to find out if you are co-dependent or sign up for a 30 minute strategy session with Sherry. Check out Sherry’s new book The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession.  Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.

narcissismI’ve blogged about narcissists before, but just to get us all on the same page, the Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” In other words, a narcissist is a person who cares only about themselves.

There are three stages to most narcissistic relationships. In the first stage, the narcissist chooses someone to pursue. That decision is based on what the person can do for them. Narcissists sometimes choose very successful and/or very attractive people, because that makes them look good. They’re looking for a kind of “arm candy.” Or they might choose someone with poor self-esteem who doesn’t know how to set boundaries, because that person will do whatever the narcissist wants.

In that first stage, the chase, a narcissist can be extremely charming and attentive. They become the kind of person anyone might fall for. But relationship addicts are especially vulnerable here, because all that lavish attention meets their insatiable need for acceptance and validation.

But when the narcissist has conquered the object of their affection, the second stage begins. Narcissists are actually terrified of real emotional involvement—all they care about is the chase and the triumph. So as soon as they are in a relationship, they start sabotaging it. They become moody and unpredictable. They are unreasonably critical. They pick fights and always blame the other person.

Their partner, the one they treated with such loving adoration, is now dazed and confused. They’re wondering what just happened and how they can get back to the stage where they were being worshipped and adored. It’s easy for a relationship junkie to become addicted to the highs of this kind of relationship, and just deny the lows. They believe if they just try a little harder, act a little better, things will change.

Finally, during the third stage, the relationship junkie keeps obsessively giving, demeaning, and denying themselves. They’re desperately trying reclaim the positive attention they once got. But this is the last stage of a relationship with a narcissist; they don’t bond with people—they just move on.

This is a dangerous dance for the relationship addict—who already feels empty inside. They will do anything to get love. But for the narcissist, their partners are only objects who exist to gratify their needs. Ironically, these are two sides of the same coin: Each needs the other to fill them up. The relationship junkie has a constant need to be adored and the narcissist has a constant need to be revered. But neither will ever get what they need, because their needs are, literally, insatiable.

This situation is more dangerous for the relationship junkie than it is for the narcissist, because the relationship addict gives their partner the power to determine their worth. The narcissist ends up attacking, demeaning, and criticizing the relationship addict—throwing onto their partner all the negative qualities they are unwilling to acknowledge in themselves.

Meanwhile, the relationship addict, with their weak boundaries, will tolerate behaviors they never thought they would—lying, cheating, stealing. Again and again they will try to prove their love and devotion to the narcissist. The narcissist knows the more the relationship addict focuses on them, the more dependent and powerless that person will become. And the more they can be manipulated.

The relationship addict doesn’t know how to set limits—or to distinguish between what they are responsible for and what their partner is responsible for. The narcissist says, “I cheat on you because you drive me to it.” And so often, the relationship junkie believes it.

But the truth is, we are responsible only for ourselves. You are not responsible for the behavior of others. Everyone must own their actions. A narcissist will try to convince you otherwise. But their problems are their own. Don’t let a narcissist project their problems onto you.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.

ringsIn a new book “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie,” I  explores the various complexities of relationship addiction. As a guideline to a working definition and a greater understanding, keep in mind that any type of addiction is something that causes a negative occurrence in the individual’s life.

The Damage of Addiction

Just like being addicted to work, to sex or to dieting can create physical and mental health negative impacts, so can being addicted to being in a relationship. Of course, most people on earth are in a relationship at any given period in time, but these relationships are healthy and non-problematic for the individual. When they cross the line to being emotionally or physically abusive, or when one partner sees his or her identity only as being in a relationship, it becomes a toxic situation.

The challenge in relationship and marriage that a person with this type of addiction loves the falling in love component of the relationship. They want to be swept off their feet, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to not just experience that feeling in the initial part of the relationship, but to continue to expect the “other” in the relationship to become their other half, completing themselves and filling in an eternal void in their emotional state.

At the same time, the person addicted to the marriage or the relationship sees and feels the gap. They recognize there is a lack of this satisfaction and feeling of being complete through the partner, but they cannot let go as being alone is just too impossible to consider.

The End Game

For those with relationship and marriage addiction, stopping and considering what is going wrong in the multitude of failed relationships is not an option. It is the search for the feeling of being in love, for the perfect partner, and for the next promising relationships that drive them forward.

People with love addiction tend to jump immediately from one relationship to another. Every new partner is Mr. or Ms. Right. The love addict fails to recognize the repeating pattern in partner personalities, which leads them to copies of a doomed relationship time and time again. This is a direct result of being so interested in being in a relationship that time spent on straightening their own priorities and exploring the root causes of trauma that create this ongoing cycle.

Relationship and marriage addicts have to be a relationship or a marriage. It is not an option to take the time to be on their own and become comfortable with themselves as a person on their own. Instead, they are constantly in rebound relationships, often cycling in a downward spiral of choosing partners that also have emotional and relationship issues.

For these people, being an individual on their own is not a sign of strength or a positive goal. They only see being in a relationship as the way they want to spend their life, and they are willing to exert all of their energy into achieving that goal, no matter how destructive and even dangerous it may become.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.