I wrote a paper in my doctoral program entitled “Drama Addiction: The tempestuous Relationship”. I was intrigued by the topic at the time, because I myself suspected I may be addicted to drama in relationships. The paper is long gone on some forgotten 3.5 disk, but the idea behind it is not. Back when I came up with the idea, the internet didn’t exist for much and I remember being able to find only one book related to the subject at the Barnes and Noble. Now, a Google search for “drama addiction” yields over 21 million returns. I didn’t look through them all, but even a glance at page 10 revealed many of the returns are actually related to the idea of a tumultuous relationship becoming so routine it can feel not only normal, but also become addicting.
I don’t remember all the fine points of the paper, but the general ideas come back to me. I’ve updated the terminology to better reflect the current time. There are three main categories drama addiction can all into: Fantasy, Maelstrom, and Longing, or “FML” for short. Let’s explore each of these in more detail:
Fantasy – this is mindset of being in love with love. A lasting relationship does not have a chance with this person, because he/she is unable to make it past the romantic stage. Once the romance wears off, the relationship ceases to become interesting and then all sorts of problems arise until the relationship ends. Typically the fantasist will feel very hurt and wondering why he/she can’t find the right relationship, only to bounce back very quickly for the next person who turns his/her head and the pattern repeats.
Maelstrom – So many behavioral patterns can fit into this category, but the behaviors are largely focused on anything creating turmoil: fighting, suspiciousness, insecurity, controlling behavior, defensiveness and judgment. This person is unable to relax in a relationship and give him/herself the opportunity to trust the other person. He/she really and truly thinks while a long-term loving relationship is the number one priority, there is the likelihood something will go horribly wrong at any minute, so it’s best be on guard and ready to fight.
Longing – this person is attracted to people who are unavailable in some way, either emotionally or physically, unwilling to commit, or not able to reciprocate the attraction/feelings for whatever reason. This person will fall madly, truly, deeply in love with anyone who fits the above criteria, only to fall into despair and bewilderment about why he/she can’t have this person to love and cherish. It could all be so wonderful, if only…
People who become addicted to these dynamics have a hard time recognizing how destructive they are. Typically, it appears the real problems lie elsewhere. Like we so often do, we tell ourselves lies to shield us from the fear of being vulnerable:
F – I know I can be amazing in the right relationship. I am so good at giving love. I just haven’t found the right person yet who is truly deserving of all the love I have to give.
M – I want to be in a relationship, but the right person is hard to find. Everyone has an agenda, everyone plays games. I thought I had met the right person in the past, but he/she always turns out to be someone different than who I thought.
L – Why doesn’t he love me? We would be so perfect together. No one can love him like I could. I just don’t understand why he can’t see what is right for him.
It all seems so crazy when you look at it on paper, but many people are easily seduced into this behavior. Why? There are several reason for doing so.
Biological – first the brain, being distinct from the mind, likes to be stimulated. The brain loves to fire its electro-chemical impulses. That’s why any addiction is so powerful. Anything that can cause increased neuronal firing can create an addiction: alcohol and drugs, sugar, anger and experiences that create excitement like gambling and being in love. The problem is the brain doesn’t distinguish between good stimulation and bad stimulation. That is the mind’s job. For the brain any stimulation is good stimulation and will be sufficient. It can be a very powerful pull that can confuse the mind.
Behavioral – We tend to learn about the world by watching how others deal with the world. Since there is no school for relationships, we learn from others what relationships look like and what people do in relationships. Media and art make us believe romantic love can and should last forever; television and social media also teach us partners are not to be trusted and we deserve to be with the people we love, regardless of whether or not he is actually a suitable choice for a mate. Also, a majority of people do not know how to cultivate a successful relationship. It is a skill the majority doesn’t learn, and probably aren’t aware of the need to learn. Therefore, there are more bad examples to follow than good.
Psychological – The main reason why people find themselves in all this distracting behavior is they don’t want to deal with their own stuff. It is hard to look at your unconscious processes and motivations and to truly understand why you do what you do. It is not only difficult, but sometimes it is pretty ugly too. It feels too uncomfortable and it’s easier to ignore it and distract yourself with all of these really big problems, for which there are seemingly no answers.
So if you’ve read this far and found yourself anywhere above and think, “I really want to be different. I want to fix this”, what do you do?
First, you have to identify the behavior and admit to yourself it is real. Second, you have to ask yourself, “What is it I think I’m achieving through this behavior? What is my goal?” Very often, you might realize your goal is to give love and receive it in a way that doesn’t put you at risk for being hurt or being vulnerable. Now you have to ask yourself again whether you truly believe those behaviors constitute the best approach to solving the problem or achieving that goal.
I very often see everyone so concerned with not getting hurt in relationships they create all of these distractions and barriers that end up hurting them more than if they were to do nothing in the first place. Love that lasts and supports does not come from a place of defensiveness and suspicion. It comes from a place of giving without scorekeeping. It comes from a place of making a continual and very conscious effort to act in the way of the perceived greatest good for all concerned.
It is a very hard task which takes a lot of work. Everyday. It’s probably why so many people don’t do it. It’s not uncommon to want something and think you are willing to work for it, but then not really put in the effort required and still wonder why it doesn’t work out. It’s human nature.
There are no easy answers to this. If it were easy then everyone would already be doing it. However, here are some places to start:
- Define what love means to you. Love doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. We are programmed to think it does, but every person needs something a little different. Once you define what love means for you, it will be easier for you to find it with someone else.
- Learn how you use your behavior and your communication as a weapon to control others. Decide to give it up. Instead learn and practice communication that facilitates understanding and growth.
- Understand a relationship is like anything else in your life you want to keep around: your job, your car or your dog. It needs your attention every day and you have to invest in it every day. You have to want it to be successful, which is not necessarily the same as getting everything you want anytime you want it. The world doesn’t work that way. If you went to work and just assumed your job will do itself with as little input from you as possible, how long would you last before you were fired?
- Accept the partner you choose is not a person to be changed. He will only give you his best in an environment that supports and draws it out. Suspicious, controlling behavior does not bring out the best in people. Neither do efforts to change them.
- Practice respect.
Love, like life, is complex and there are no easy answers. It doesn’t mean the answers aren’t there. The answers are learnable. It may take time, but you may find the time is well invested.