Stop Dating the Wrong Person

How to end relationship addictions that only lead to heartache

Posted May 13, 2016

What is it about bad habits that makes so many of them so hard to break? What is it about unhealthy relationship patterns that keep us stuck in a rut? It seems that our brains are programmed more for “maintaining the status quo” than they are for “learning from past mistakes.” If you find yourself looking for reasons to end relationships that are relatively stable and free of major stress in order to pursue relationships that promise drama, anxiety, and doubt, you may be addicted to bad relationships. Whether this is a product of a traumatic childhood or something that just shows up in adulthood, the power of the addiction can be hard to tame. You have to decide whether you want to feed the addiction or cut it out cold turkey.

Process Addictions

Studies of the brain show that addictions to processes (gambling, sex, and even unhealthy relationship dynamics) affect our brains the same as addictions to alcohol or drugs. We go from enjoying the pleasure associated with the activity to learning to associate the activity with pleasure to craving the activity and being motivated to seek it out with fervor. So if chaos is what our brain knows, it will be what it seeks out. If the “make-up sex” gives someone a high, then the fight that precedes it becomes part of the cycle of feeding the addiction.

Healing won't Begin until you Admit you have a Problem

If you are constantly choosing the “wrong person,” perhaps it is time to figure out why your brain is convincing you that this person is “right.” Just as it’s true with substance abuse, until a person recognizes that they have got a problem, there is nothing that they can do to help themselves.

Learning from past mistakes is ironically what your brain has already accomplished if you find yourself consistently repeating the same bad choices and the pattern seems too easy or comfortable to change. If you recognize that you are inviting problematic relationships into your life and are ready to stop, here are 5 steps for re-wiring your brain:

  1. Acknowledge the cycle of relationship addiction. Get honest with yourself and really explore what it is about the bad choices you are making that feels good.
  2. If currently in one of those negative outcome relationships, end it. It’s pretty much impossible to stop smoking if you’re holding a lit cigarette in your hand.
  3. Recognize that relationships are meant to be “give and take” with compromise and mutual gratification; a relationship is not a partnership if one member wins every time.
  4. Remind yourself that your needs are as valid as anyone else’s needs might be. Write down what you feel are your “healthy needs” in a relationship—to be respected, to be heard, to be cherished, to offer and receive fidelity, etc.
  5. Replace the negative relationship with healthy positive experiences. Re-wiring the brain is not a quick task—the grooves that have been worn into the brain’s circuits can be difficult to erase or avoid. It takes effort and commitment, just like beating any addiction requires.

“Head Space Detox Place”

It's essential that you discipline yourself to enter your own "head space detox place." Avoid time with or thoughts of the addictive and destructive relationship partner. You will need to explore new healthy options for lighting up your brain’s pleasure pathways. Giving up addictions is seldom an easy journey, so give yourself healthy rewards when you are able to fight the craving to connect with the addictive relationship or pattern. Challenge yourself to do one thing each day that provides healthy happiness. Build new friendships, revisit past healthy passions – music, dancing, art, sports, and so on.

Learning from past mistakes is not always easy—we crave the familiar as it feels “safe.” However, when your perception of “safety” equates to hazardous relational addiction, it is past time to risk the discomfort involved in replacing negative behavioral patterns with those that promote, not compromise, your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

It's Hard to Quit Smoking with a Lit Cigarette in your Hand

When you talk to ex-smokers, even some of those who’ve been proudly smoke-free for decades will admit that there are times when they still crave a cigarette. It’s not easy to give up things that feel good, even when they are bad for you. Addiction recovery isn’t over after a week, a month, or a year of being free from the addictive process. Letting go of negative patterns, though, does get easier with time – and with perspective that can only come from distance – you retrain your brain to equate healthy with good and healthy with right.

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