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Addictive vs. Healthy Relationships

Addictive vs. Healthy RelationshipsNavigating relationships — both platonic and romantic — often can be a complicated and multi-layered task.

Even the act of defining what is normal and healthy in relationships can be daunting.

Many healthy relationships have some addictive qualities to them, and extreme intensity relationship themes often are present in the media. That which makes for great art often can result in interpersonal disasters in daily life.

But what differentiates a healthy relationship from an addictive one?

Some qualities of addictive relationships are:

  • Feeling consumed by the relationship
  • Difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries
  • Fearing abandonment when routinely separated
  • Needing others to feel complete
  • Playing power games

For example, someone who struggles with boundary issues might have trouble saying “yes” when they mean “no,” or may not recognize when their boundaries have been violated.

Often unhealthy or addictive relationships contain recurrent negative feelings such as emptiness; excitement; swings from highs to lows; depression; and anxiety. Often there are undercurrents of fear and elements of high drama that prohibit the expression of true intimacy.

In healthy relationships, on the other hand, partners can allow for individuality; invite change and growth; experience both healthy togetherness and separation; feel the freedom to express needs and wants openly; and avoid attempts to control each other or others.

While we may start out with the best intentions in a relationship, unhealthy ways of being in relationship with others can surface due to unexplored issues from the past in one’s family of origin. Dynamics that were painful in childhood and have not been dealt with can create unconscious negative patterns that affect one’s adult relationships. While exploring one’s past can sometimes be painful, it can be an extremely important toward step toward creating more positive relationships.

True intimacy exists in relationships where love is not dependent nor obsessive, but is characterized by interdependence, and an ability to cope with life’s problems both separately and together. Intimacy requires the ability to trust and take risks in an atmosphere where individuals are free to be themselves. Additionally, mature love requires individuals to be willing to accept each other’s imperfections, and to create boundaries up to and including leaving the relationship if those boundaries are not respected.

The freedom to say “no” when you mean “no” and to accept a “no” answer when you want to hear “yes” is one of the hallmarks of a mature relationship. Additionally, living in reality rather than fantasy, and accepting our chosen partner for who he or she is, rather than who we would like him or her to be is very important. Sharing both differences and similarities, partners learn to meet and tolerate each other’s unique characteristics.

Addictive vs. Healthy Relationships

Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT, CST, CSAT

Alexandra Katehakis, PhD, MFT, CST, CSAT is the founder and Clinical Director of Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, where she and her staff successfully treat a full spectrum of sexual disorders, ranging from issues of sexual desire and dysfunction to the treatment of sexual addiction. She is the author of Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot, Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction and co-author of Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts. Her free Daily Meditations on healthy sex and love are open to the public. Since 2006, Ms. Katehakis has studied affective neuroscience with Allan N. Schore, incorporating regulation theory into her treatment of sexual addiction. Alex is the 2012 recipient of the Carnes Award, a prestigious acknowledgement for her contributions to the field of sex addiction.

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APA Reference
Katehakis, A. (2018). Addictive vs. Healthy Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Aug 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.