A compulsive relationship
may be just the one we need
to work our way
into a conscious relationship.

—Marion Woodman

Have you ever been in a compulsive relationship?

When I first read this reflection I immediately thought of my high school sweetheart who I dated for 6 years. For reasons completely outside my control and rooted in childhood experiences, I was love addicted to him. And this dependency guaranteed that our relationship would be compulsive, troubled, and painful.

Compulsion is always accompanied by dependency.

When any relationship — to a person, an activity, a substance, or even to a certain status in life — is compulsive, you are dependent on the meaning you have ascribed to it to give you what you are longing for.

For example, in the case of my high school sweetheart I was excessively dependent on receiving his attention and validation. Although I didn’t know it, I thought his “love” would make me feel whole.

But no matter how much attention and validation I received from him, it was never enough because I wasn’t resourced and filled up with the inner knowing of my own worth.

When I experienced the gap between what I thought his attention would give me and my felt experience, the pain was excruciating. The combination of my dependency and my deficit of self-love was the crucible through which a more conscious (future) relationship could emerge.

Toward the end of our relationship I remember thinking, “I never want to care about anyone else ever again as much I care about him.” But in truth, care or love wasn’t the issue.

Where there is dependency and compulsion, there is no true love.

Compulsion causes people to spend inordinate amounts of time in the fantasy of who or what the love object is, or trying to make the person or situation different so that it might fill up the deep feeling of emptiness and despair.

A compulsive relationship can serve as a kind of remedial relationship school.

It can help you move into more conscious relationships as you learn what you brought to it, how to heal, and how to fill yourself up with your own inner knowing, your interests and passions, grounded in the knowledge of your intrinsic value.

Learning to see and accept the reality of another person or situation, rather than arguing against it, teaches the value of healthy detachment. Learning to enjoy the spaces between you and the people most important to you creates a more vibrant connection.

A compulsive relationship can apply to any relationship, including substances or any life situation. The pain and consequences of compulsive relationships tell us where something is “off.”

A relationship riddled with dependency can create a roadmap for a more conscious relationship grounded in qualities like respect (of self and other), moderation, tuning into inner wisdom, and interdependence.

If you’re in a compulsive relationship now, be gentle with yourself.

The journey from a compulsive relationship to a conscious one can be slow and messy. And it’s worth every step.

Invitations for reflection, exploration, and action:

  • Is there a relationship to a person, substance, or activity that is compulsive for me?
  • If so, what what is the deeper need I am seeking through this relationship? How can I get that need met in a way that is healthier and more conscious?

© Victoria Priya, LCSW [formerly Vicki Tidwell Palmer] (2021)

Radiant Threefold Path articles are protected by U.S. copyright laws, and may not be reproduced, distributed, or re-published without written permission of the author.

Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body and Soul (©1998)
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick
(Reprinted with permission)

*This post is from the Coming Home to You Series. Visit this page for the backstory of the CHTY Series.



I want to support you to Return to the authentic truth of who you are, Reclaim what is yours, and Receive everything that is meant for you. So that you can Regenerate your life, your relationships, community, and the world.

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