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Are You in Love with a Person Who Is Self-Destructing?

For many reasons, this is a repeatable pattern.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Being in love with someone who seems to compulsively choose behaviors that can lead to predictable self-harm can be lonely and frustrating. The forces that drive someone to addiction are often so powerful that they can overcome any attempts by a partner to help them recover. The partner in love with someone on that trajectory feels powerless to change them and unable to leave them. They do everything they can to help, but remain helpless to make a difference.


There are many pathways that self-destructive people travel. They can be obsessed and unable to resist addictive substances. Or perhaps work, exercise, social media, or other behaviors take over their time for reasonable commitments to the rest of their lives. What they all have in common is a compulsive need to satisfy these needs at the expense of living a balanced life.


No matter how much they want to love and be loved in a healthy way, those who are unable to keep these behaviors from running their lives struggle to resist them. The emotional and physical hungers only cease once they have given in, until the next episode occurs.


Any person dependent on these compulsive episodes of satiation may cycle through four distinct stages. After satiation, they are able to intimately connect with their partners and give themselves and the people close to them the hope of intimacy and emotional connection. Sadly, that soon gives in to symptoms of withdrawal and the building need to escape. They are no longer able to be influenced as they more compulsively seek that satiation again.


People in love with partners who are unable to let go of an addiction often hold on to those moments of authentic connection and try to keep their partners there as long as they can. They want to believe their sincere and heartfelt statements that they don’t want to give in again.


As the compulsion takes hold, though, they cannot be emotionally and physically available. If their partners try to get them to stop the predictable downward spiral, they often face angry, sullen, irrational, or physically or emotionally destructive responses.


Sadly, many people who fall in love with compulsively self-destructive people seem drawn to them, often in repeated sequential relationships. Even with past failures, they somehow feel that if they try hard enough, they can conquer the demons that are destroying their partners. If only they can be understanding enough, kind enough, forgiving enough, believing enough, they can somehow make their partners leave their addictions or self-destructive behaviors behind.


People who stay in these anguishing relationships often seem as if they are in their own patterns of increasingly self-sabotaging behaviors. They often fall into irrational, dependent behaviors, seemingly unable to stop trying to save their partners. Even when their rational minds tell them they are doomed to change the patterns, they continue to try to do everything they can to distract, seduce, fight, plead, or retreat in defeat.


What makes people continue to be drawn to these heartbreaking, futile relationships? What is it about their partners' agonizing struggles that repeatedly pull them back for hopeless outcomes? What drives them to keep trying?


There are many reasons, but the following six are some of the most common. If you recognize yourself in any or many of them, you can learn to stay away from these painful and frustrating relationships.


Growing Up with Compulsively Self-Destructive Parents

Patterns of compulsive, self-destructive behaviors often pass from generation to generation, both genetically and learned. It may be all that they have ever known. They have been caught up in a pattern of pain and forgiveness and were told by their early nurturers that their victimization in the world justifies their escapes. They are programmed to see this cycle as inevitable and try desperately to get their needs met when the self-destructive person is available.

Saviors

There are people who find self-respect and sense of honor by devoting themselves to helping people in trouble. Their motto is that enough love can heal everything, and they blame failure on themselves for not trying hard enough. People torn between healthy and unhealthy behaviors are very susceptible to these forgiving partners and often do whatever they can to keep them in the relationship.


The Desire for Emotional Drama

People with inherent or learned wide bandwidths for emotional drama are often bored in predictable relationships that are comfortable and secure. There is just not enough stimulation or challenge for them when their partners are steady in their emotional availability and reactivity. People prone to compulsive or self-destructive behaviors are rarely boring people. Their struggles are real, their losses are agonizing, and their inevitable self-destruction is a painful and agonizing process to observe. Their patterns keep them intermittingly out of reach, yet their striving for forgiveness, and desire to quit their escapes, are engrossing for those naturally drawn to crises.


Co-Morbid Behaviors

There is comfort when people struggling with self-destructive escape patterns find someone who is worse off than they are. It is easier to excuse one’s own self-destruction by comparing themselves to another who is living with a bigger conflict. Those caught up in those patterns alternate trying to stop their partner’s behaviors and making it easier for them by aiding and abetting those very behaviors.


Attachments to Other Qualities

The maddening behaviors of people repeatedly doing things that hurt themselves are separate from what that person may offer outside of those patterns. They may have powerful sexual charisma, generosity with material objects, exciting and interesting personalities, bevies of interesting friends, or a commitment to causes or their careers. It is possible to adore these other traits and stay in a relationship which may be eventually doomed. It is possible to adore a person so much that the price one has to pay to be with them feels worth it. But that cost may become harder to pay over time.


No Other Options

There are times when a person in partnership with a compulsively self-destructive person may feel they have no other place to go. They’ve exhausted their resources to try to heal the relationship, and now have become trapped and feel unable to survive alone. Perhaps their friends have abandoned them, their families cannot abide the way they are being treated, and they are physically and emotionally exhausted and erased. Low self-esteem and powerlessness have left them unable to get away.

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