How does 'trauma bonding' play into a relationship with a person you love when addiction is present?


I wonder what people’s thoughts are about ‘trauma bonding’? The more I learn about it, the more I recognize it in my relationship and I see it in other relationships also that have addiction playing a role. The connection is made stronger through the intensity of the highs and lows. I get so confused about separating out things like co-dependent tendencies, toxicity & narcissistic behaviors from the person, the relationship and the addiction. The things that happen when you are in a relationship with a person who suffers with addiction are so very often ‘unhealthy’ - if these things happened in a normal relationship everyone would advise you to leave without hesitation. I have currently had to shut down my communication with the person I love, as he was inhabited by his monster (he was using crack again on top of his heroin habit) and I couldn’t bear any more mistreatment. I don’t want to paint myself as a victim, I am not. I work hard on my own healing, I meditate, I walk, I practice yoga, I am trying to re-parent myself. It hurts me to be so black and white (it is not my natural state) but I am trying to be strong in my boundaries and unfortunately this one had to be strong and wide, it almost feels impenetrable to me right now. I have total empathy for this person who I care about and love deeply but I feel myself hardening towards him. Before now I have always tended towards ‘that is not you speaking, this is not you doing this, this is not who you are, this is the addiction, it is controlling you.’ But lately I have found myself wondering, when does personal responsibility come into it?
I say this after so so many stops and starts, truths and mistruths, extreme highs & extreme lows, beginnings and beginnings again, forgiveness and love. The ups and downs can be absolutely relentless, traumatic and bruising. I know addiction as an illness, I have seen it first hand and walked so closely beside it - but the behaviors that it brings with it are such a mind %%^%$%^$ - if you don’t mind me saying!!!
What are people’s thoughts about trauma bonding in relation to addiction?


I would LOVE to hear other peoples thoughts on this. Do others struggle with the same questions and dilemmas?


I’m going to caveat my response with - none of the following is advice about whether to stay in a relationship or go. Just my perspective from my experience, which has taken it’s own particular course.

I’m still with my loved one who struggled with addiction so my response is going to come from that perspective :slight_smile:

I guess I wonder - in what relationship is there no ‘trauma-bonding’ nor ‘co-dependency’?

Or in other words, perhaps because words are very important to how we think about things, shared experiences and interdependent relationship.

I don’t have the illusion that life couldn’t be easier on a different path. I just guess for me, this is the path and it’s about taking the next best step.

When you say:

Before now I have always tended towards ‘that is not you speaking, this is not you doing this, this is not who you are, this is the addiction, it is controlling you.’ But lately I have found myself wondering, when does personal responsibility come into it?

I think both are right. 1. it is the addiction, 2. I am affected by it and need to protect myself by changing my behavior - in this case setting limits around what is OK with me and what patterns I want to change. For example: when they’re using I’m going to separate myself from the situation, and communicating that ahead of time.

And yes, the intensity does add something to it! But isn’t there also something about the intensity that opens our eyes, teaches us something, how fragile life is, or what truly matters (not the rat race but love and connection)? It can be a wake up call. I know it changed my whole perspective on life.

I also think its totally fair to set your limits or boundaries, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them and don’t support their recovery. You need to be taken care of to take care of others - that’s what our course is all about in case you’re willing to give it a try :slight_smile:


Jane thank you so much for your thoughtful response. The person I love has struggled with addiction for 30 years, with only one long recovery period inside of that so I have to admit I have very little expectation that he will move to long term recovery any time soon, I’m sure he thinks the same most sadly of all. Although he never gives up trying which shows incredible fortitude and resilience really.
The intensity of our relationship has definitely opened my eyes to what really matters, most definitely. My relationship with C has enriched my life in so many ways. The difficult thing is though to apply this boundary ‘when they’re using I’m going to separate myself from the situation, and communicating that ahead of time’ means no contact as C lives in active addiction the majority of the time. It is so tumultuous when he moves constantly from very short recovery periods to longer periods of active addiction, I guess that is one thing that is constant! It’s constantly changing. I just feel like the foundation of our relationship gets chipped away with the behaviors that addiction brings with it, it weakens over time until it’s so unstable it’s no foundation anymore. I don’t know if others have a sense of this also? I’m not expecting anyone to advise me as to whether to stay or leave my relationship, I’ve left before and I think I have to do it again, the second time around. Thank you for providing a space to have these conversations Jane and the rest of the village. I spend so much time pondering all these big questions and it’s helpful to be able to have more of a dialogue and thoughts forum. I like your comment ‘in what relationship is there not co-dependency and trauma bonding’ it’s true of course, very few I imagine. As I said I have had to set a boundary and currently we are not in contact, but unfortunately this boundary is interpreted by C as me not loving him enough. He has used that to try and make me feel guilty so it does take a lot of strength to resist the manipulative aspects of that reaction. O wow it is hard. I love this man, he is the one I love, but he has spent so many years removed from his true self - he too often lives in this other self and I wonder at what point is he more that person than his true self.

It’s so confusing…

I see and know my C is gentle, curious, intelligent, passionate, knowledgeable, loving, empathetic, kind, manly, funny, so funny, romantic, well read, interested in others & far more sociable than me. He sees me and he loves me deeply - but - he has also stolen from me, lied to me, left me in a foreign town for hours with no means to contact him or find my way home, he’s not phoned me for days, he’s mislead me, he’s withheld the truth from me and he’s lied to me and he’s lied to me and he’s lied to me. It’s torment.

I read things like ‘when people show you who they are, believe them’ and I just don’t know how to marry the two conflicting realities together. The person using drugs with an altered personality, in contrast with the true nature of the beloved person.

I’ve often thought I could live alongside him using heroin if his use was regular and predictable and if it was legal (and free!) but they very nature of it always has you on edge, knowing it could escalate at any minute. When he uses crack also though, I cannot abide that. That’s easy to put boundaries in place around as he is just monstrous on that drug, as any single one of us would be. It’s truly vial.

I wonder if others share similar thoughts and worries…


Gosh there is more! Because what about the power imbalance?? C accuses me of presenting myself as holier than thou, though I acknowledge I am flawed, I’ve smoked heroin when I’ve been in his company on maybe 5 occasions, I likely drink too much alcohol, I’ve reacted before pausing on more than one occasion, I’m a result of my own childhood experiences & stories. I know some of the intention behind this is to deflect the attention away from him and I understand that. How does one make sense of the power dynamics in a relationship where addiction is basically like the 3rd entity in an otherwise normal loving relationship?


Just clarifying the above - only an example and it would be adjusted to their state / your situation… so depending where they’re at it could be about using less versus not at all :slight_smile: it’s a behavioral skill called positive reinforcement which helps us through our relationship change our behavior to shape theirs.

Have you considered trying our course? I think you’ll find it incredibly useful with the evidence-based frameworks for this :heartbeat:

I know it’s tough when it’s been so long, but recovery is possible and I hear hope in you that he’s still trying.

When you take a break/get a little space for yourself can you make it clear to him you love him, you just need some self care to recoup and show up best in the relationship?


Oh yeah, this is very common. It’s hard not to fall into this roll…and even as a partner sometimes it can feel like we’re mothering. I believe a lot of us go through that. Owning (and verbalizing) our flaws can help and the ways we speak - using Positive Communication is key. May not change overnight but it will, and others here can attest to it, being able to go from 0 communication to 100% better.

What ways we speak? Positive Communication tips:

  • Empathy “I know I find it hard to make changes, what do you think I could do to support you?”
  • I statements “I feel depleted and need some time to rest and recoup, I’ll be able to show up much better after”
  • Take responsibility “I recognize I didn’t show up how I wanted to either, I’m sorry for yelling.”

You probably do a lot of these partially and some of the time, but the framework helps to give you clear guide rails to practice within and have confidence in. (Again a skill from the course - only sharing in context here again because this is exactly why we created it - so people like me and you can get the skills that change everything!!!)
Sending LOVE!