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Addicted To Drama in Relationships? – 8 Relationship Experts Reveal Exactly Why You Attract Drama and Chaos in Your Relationships

by Tracy Kelly – LMFT, Candice Michael – LMFTA, Natalie Davila – LMFT, Sally LeBoy – MS, MFT, Jennifer Meyer – M.A., LPC, NCC, Heather Petitpas – MEd, LMHC, Charlene Benson – LPC, CSAT, CMAT, Kavita Hatten – MS, LPC, NCC

Addicted To Drama in Relationships

“The secrets to a long lasting relationship: two people working, standing, wanting, being together and seeing the future together.”

~ Unknown

The Secrets To a Long Lasting Relationship Quote
Kavita Hatten

Not only is drama time-consuming, it depletes our emotional, physical and spiritual energy leaving us with less energy to focus on the things that really matter. 

The problem is, how we choose our partners is largely unconscious.

It is rooted in our childhood experiences and primary bonds we had with our parents or caregivers. Unconsciously, we choose partners that are like our caregivers to recreate the drama in our adult life. 

Due to this, unhealthy “drama patterns” are largely unconscious, too. 

An example of this is when couples argue about the same issues over and over again, triggering the same emotional reactions. No wonder couples feel nothing changes and feel frustrated, helpless and sometimes out of control as a result. 

So other than the obvious, why do dynamics like this cause so much pain? 

Because, the emotions that are triggered are rooted in old childhood experiences that are often painful and trigger unmet childhood “attachment needs” – needs such as love, acceptance, safety and belonging. 

In short, these relationship patterns will continuously to repeat until they’re brought to the “conscious awareness.” 

Until you deal with your individual unmet needs, very little will change. 

If you are struggling with unhealthy patterns in your relationship, you can learn to minimize it, eliminate it or better yet, learn from it. 

Here are five valuable growth exercises that you can practice on a regular basis:

1. Practice the Pause: 

If you are sensing a conflict or already in the midst of one, do yourself (and your partner) a favor by giving yourself a time-out. 

Ask to have a moment to detach from the issue and pause. 

During this time, take some deep breaths. Take as much time as you need so you can reconnect to the conversation level-headed. 

2. Recognize triggers: 

When we have strong emotional reactions to something or bothered by the same issues in a relationship, it often points to a trigger of a previous unresolved issue – perhaps a previous relationship or as far back as childhood. 

Take time to reflect. 

Ask yourself what that could be. Is it related to a previous relationship? Is it related to your childhood relationship with your mother, father or other caregiver? 

3. Responses vs. Reactions: 

The difference between reactions and responses are reactions are filled with intensity, strong emotions and a sense of “entitlement.” 

An example of this, “How could you do this to me?” Responses on the other hand, are thoughtful, grounded and come from an open, vulnerable place. An example of this, “I felt hurt when you said that to me.” 

Practice responding rather than reacting. 

When you are reacting, it’s a “knee-jerk” behavior, coming from an automatic, unconscious place. Ask yourself, what are you really feeling underneath the reaction. Is it another emotion that needs to be dealt with or expressed? Could it be sadness, fear, grief or loss? Remain aware and take time to self-reflect. 

4. Be clear: 

Although you can’t completely avoid misunderstandings, try to be as clear and intentional as possible when you communicate. 

Communicate what is necessary and only what you mean. 

Keep emotional or “heavy” conversations to over the phone or in person. 

If you don’t understand what is being conveyed or misunderstand, ask for clarification. For example: “What I heard you to say about that (issue/topic) was this,” and “What I felt about that (issue/topic) was this.” 

5. Not my drama: 

An old Polish proverb, “Not my monkey, not my circus.” This is referring to not getting involved in issues that are not your problem to be dealt with in the first place. 

When there is drama in the relationship our lens becomes foggy. 

You may feel confused about what your issue is and what your partner’s issue is. You may not know, “Whose problem is it?” You may even feel that your are responsible for another person’s emotions or behavior, or that you have to “fix” the problem solely on your own. 

Let me tell you, you are not responsible for how someone else feels or perceives something. You are only responsible for your own thoughts, emotions and behavior. 

Ask yourself: Whose problem is it? Is it my problem, his/her problem or our problem? 

Answering this simple question can help with the next step of approaching the issue or simply letting it go. 

Keep in mind that each partner is bringing into the relationship their personal experiences and unconscious histories. Only take care of your baggage. Put down what is not yours. 

Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC – www.phoenixcounseling.net

Tracy Kelly

Addicted to drama? Who could possibly want more drama in their lives? Isn’t there enough drama every day on the news that increases stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and discomfort? 

The last place we want to experience more drama is in our intimate relationships. 

Still, drama or being a victim of tragedy, a crisis, or disruption can be seductive and addicting. Having something continually be a problem, a concern, a complaint, an offense, or a wrongdoing, soon becomes a habit and trains the brain to continually find more things to be upset about. 

This is known as confirmation bias. 

The person is troubled by something, and seeks out more troubling information, disregarding encouraging information. An easy loop to get caught up in. 

How do we stop this drama loop and break this pattern, so that we can enjoy the relationship rather than create a fuss over everything? 

First, learn distress tolerance skills. 

Come to terms that everything is not always going to be how you want it all the time. A relationship is about two people making compromises. Take a breath, take a walk, align your expectations with reality. 

Second, explore what it is about yourself that you do not accept. 

The majority of the time we complain or feel upset with someone else, it is actually about ourselves. We had a bad day, we are struggling with self-doubt or loathing, or we are lonely, hungry or tired. 

Third, find more effective ways to communicate your distress. 

Rather than put your mate through an hour-long lecture about why the towel is on the floor, find a concise way to agree that you both pick up after yourselves on a regular basis, or pick up the towel and hang it up yourself. Everything is not a big deal. 

Fourth, is your mate the one causing the drama? 

Perhaps this is a co-dependent relationship that you both unhealthily cling to and dramatic interactions are the only way you know how to communicate, connect, or express yourselves. 

Make an appointment with a couple’s counselor to help find more effective ways to communicate your thoughts and feelings. This will also increase your emotional intelligence and set you both up for more chances for success and satisfaction in the relationship.

Dr. Tracy S. Kelly, LMFT – www.DrTracyKelly.com

Candice Michael

If you desire to be in a healthy relationship, yet you always find yourself in another high-conflict, drama relationship, it is possible to break this cycle.

First, evaluate your family of origin and what you learned about relationships. 

Many times we are surrounded by a high-conflict family, siblings or parents that make unhealthy drama normal. If that is all you have ever known, observed and experienced you will seek what you consider as normal, which doesn’t mean it is healthy love.

Breaking the cycle will not happen overnight, it will be a process considering the following steps.

First, remind yourself of your own self-worth and what behavior you are willing to tolerate, accept and deny. 

If someone is mistreating you through conflict and making you feel less than your worth then you should tell yourself that it might be best to be alone to salvage self- worth versus enabling someone to control and take my worth.

Second, re-evaluate your supportive circle of people you trust. 

Surround yourself with people that you can lean on to help guide you on what a healthy relationship looks like. If others are worried for you, take a moment to see the situation through their lens versus your own.

Third, Setting clear, healthy boundaries for what you will seek in a relationship, and what you will walk away from will help be a guide to preventing another drama relationship. 

Write down healthy qualities and attributes in a romantic partner and unhealthy attributes as your do’s and don’ts guide. This can be your anchor as you break the cycle. 

Also, if you are in a relationship that can improve then practicing boundary setting with one another can guide the levels of respect that should be shared with one another. Demand the positive treatment you deserve.

Be familiar with red flags, and warning signs of emotionally, controlling abusive relationships. 

Knowledge can help you identify the moment your relationship is not healthy anymore. 

Be okay with walking away, by building a support system around you that can help you through the journey of breaking the cycle. 

If you ever find yourself in relationships where you are unsafe, threatened and in-danger seek help from the Domestic Violence Hotline www.thehotline.org, or tell a friend that can guide you to the help you need.

Please know that you are worthy of love, kindness and respect and it is possible to break that unhealthy cycle, you don’t have to fall into the same pattern of high-conflict just because that is all you have known.

Therapy is always a great treatment option to navigate a healthier relationship with yourself and others.

Candice Michael, LMFTA – www.lotuscounselinggroup.com

Natalie Davila

What’s this drama all about? 

There are many circumstances involved in how we respond to disconnect in our relationships. 

Two key factors include our early role models of relationship conflict and our inherent personality. 

Some of us enjoy the thrill of battle, while others avoid conflict at all cost, but eventually the pot boils over. 

Often we are not even aware of underlying emotional turmoil until we hit our boiling point. 

At that point it’s tough to be great at harnessing our emotional intensity in a way that effectively communicates the problem. Worst of all, drama often leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. 

That said, how do we get what we want while avoiding the drama?

Where we have immediate opportunity for change is by accurately identifying our emotions and communicating them effectively. 

First, look for themes in the prompting event. 

  • What happened just before the drama unfolded? 
  • Who was there, what happened, when did it happen and where did it happen? 

Then, break down your thought process about the event that triggered the strong emotional response. 

What part of your understanding is based on absolute facts, and what part of the story is you filling in some of the blanks with your own interpretations, assumptions or beliefs, but ultimately, with thoughts that cannot be 100% proven? 

Additionally, try and understand what was happening in your body. 

Ask yourself where you feel an emotion and what it feels like in your body. 

For example, anxiety or fear often shows up as a tightness in the chest, whereas sadness is commonly a pit in the stomach. These physical clues can help you understand what is happening in the moment, even when your mind is racing with various possibilities. 

“Drama” is often the verbal or physical release of a very intense emotion in the body that is too uncomfortable to tolerate.

Instead, I encourage you to explore the emotion and make sense of it before unloading it. 

Lastly, note your typical actions in conflict situations and their outcomes. 

Do you generally scream and accuse? And then what happens? 

Choosing the right response to the situation is the ultimate factor in getting what we want while avoiding regret.

If we are honest, we can admit that getting yelled at or reprimanded does not feel good. 

It’s also not the most effective way of winning someone over or helping them understand our point of view. 

The irony here is that in this intense state of conflict what we are looking for is connection. 

Instead, try gently explaining the steps of your analysis above, listen carefully and with a curious mind to your partner’s response, then repeat. 

When we take the assumptions out of the situation we take the energy attached to the assumptions out as well. 

When we explain our feelings honestly and ask questions about the other person’s experience, we get to the truth more quickly. The honest truth is where productive problem solving and relationship repair begins. 

Natalie Davila, LMFT – www.nataliedavila.com

Charlene Benson

You’re not alone if you feel addicted to drama! This is way more common than you think. But it doesn’t serve you or your relationship to stay that way. 

Chances are good that you grew up in a home with lots of drama, the model you got for the way to interact. 

You didn’t like it, but neither did you see any other method of dealing with conflict.

There’s hope! You can learn new ways! 

You and your significant other can acquire communication skills to help both of you express your thoughts and feelings in a less chaotic way. 

You can learn how to speak up, if you struggle to put words to your emotions, in a manner that’s not attacking, blaming, or criticizing. Or, if you tend to have a short fuse, it helps you to find healthy ways to express and diffuse the anger. 

It requires intentional effort but will pay off big time for you and every relationship you have going forward. 

To acquire communication expertise, I HIGHLY recommend CoupleTalk.com. 

This online program teaches a set of ten skills you can learn in the comfort of your own home. It’s reasonably priced and worth more than its weight in gold. I’d also recommend TheCommunicationCure.com. This program offers two free talks, one addressing a topic for a couple, entitled “Resolve to Resolve” and one related to a topic on kids.

Get help to heal from your childhood wounds. 

No one made it out of childhood unscathed. We all carry scars for various reasons whether it was a world event, abuse, divorce, a death, disability, economic challenge, or other situation. 

What made those events so traumatic was the lies, fears, and negative beliefs about ourselves and what we believe we can expect in the relationships in which we engage. 

The quicker we get help to heal from those experiences, the faster we become empowered to make healthier decisions. 

If we grew up with an angry parent, chances are good we will either become the angry partner or conversely, become a passive, quiet partner who ends up in relationship with an angry or abusive partner. 

If you don’t want to repeat the pattern, it’s important to get help to recognize and change it. 

The book, Unstuck: Move from Powerless to Empowered in Your Relationships, (available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Good Reads), reveals the default patters common in couple relationships that give rise to the drama and provides 24 ways to address those behaviors. 

Over time, the drama gets replaced with healthy interactions, leading to peaceful, secure, enjoyable, long-term relationships.

Drama is and automatic and preprogrammed reaction to events in life. Thoughtful, conscious choices set us free. Which would you rather have?

Charlene Benson, LPC, CSAT, CMAT – www.bensontherapist.com

Sally LeBoy

Addicted is truly the right word.  

Drama can become an addiction in the same way that drugs, alcohol or gambling can become addictions.  

Drama provides the same rush of dopamine to the brain that is associated with the physiological component of addiction. 

In the same way that one becomes addicted to drugs, the repetitive use of the substance causes the brain to experience withdrawal.  

The subsequent craving which inevitably will lead to the next bad relationship.  A lesser substance doesn’t quell the need.  A less dramatic relationship can also leave you unsatisfied.

To kick the drama addiction, you have to be willing to wean yourself off of dramatic relationships.  

This can be fairly difficult as less dramatic men can leave you feeling flat.  When you choose to address the addiction, it can be lonely and probably depressing.  

There are groups that can be very effective in supporting women who want to create healthier relationships.  These groups are comprised of women who have made or are making this same transition.  They know what it feels like.  

Essentially, you (and they) are asking yourself to give up high levels of excitement for what you know in your head to be better for you, but will undoubtedly feel way less exciting.  

You need to begin a process of training yourself to value relationships in a very different way, based not on your feelings but on your thoughts.

It usually requires a period of abstinence from relationships to make this shift.  Once the excitement has begun, it’s almost impossible to pull back.  It’s like asking an alcoholic to quit in the middle of a binge.  You need to be able to rely more on yourself than on a relationship so that you are less needy.  

While you are abstinent it’s a good time to examine your actual values and what it is you really want out of a relationship beyond the physical and emotional high.

Our choice of a partner will influence every other aspect of our lives.  

That choice will determine the kinds of families we raise, our financial security, and our relationships with others, both friends and extended family.  You don’t want your future to be determined by an unmanageable need for excitement.  

Of course, a relationship without any excitement may also not be worth having.  

We all want to feel a certain passion in our relationships.  But when passion becomes the most importunate criterion you really need to rethink your priorities.  

It may take you a while but with work you can begin to tie passion to other, deeper qualities.  Then you can have a relationship that will give you both excitement and a mature and secure connection.

Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Jennifer Meyer

Feeling addicted to drama in your romantic relationship can feel like you’re stuck on a never-ending roller coaster: exciting at times, but exhausting and unsustainable.  

In order to change the patterns that create drama in your relationship, first ask yourself exactly what drama you’re addicted to.  

Is it the honeymoon period following a big fight, complete with sweet nothings whispered in your ear?  

If so, keep in mind that the concept of intermittent reward could be at play here.  

Think about slot machines and the addictive thrill of trying to win JUST ONE MORE TIME.  

Unfortunately, intermittent reward is also present during trauma bonding, which is when you and your partner get to points in your relationship that are so low and traumatic that it bonds you together like a captor and prisoner.  

This can cause serious emotional damage.  

Do you instigate conflict in your relationship to “test” your partner’s commitment level?  

Keep in mind that with every subsequent argument, you’re creating more damage in the relationship, and it could eventually end the relationship.  

If your partner also seems to crave drama, ask yourself why and how you benefit from it.  

Are you intent on dating a “bad boy” and being the heroic woman who turns him into a good guy?  

This pattern of trying to fix people often leads to a lot of heartbreak on your side, and the “bad boys” generally don’t change until they’re ready.

Do you create drama in your relationship through jealousy and control?  

If you struggle with feeling insecure in your relationship, try to figure out why.  Have you been cheated on before?  

If so, you may experience “triggers” in situations that remind you of your painful past.  

Try to slow down, breathe and identify how you’re feeling and what you’re needing before you interact with your partner.  

If you see red flags in your partner (for example, your partner tries to make you jealous, threatens to cheat on you, etc.), it’s better to end the relationship than to stay in hopes of changing your partner.  

Note: Be alert to signs of abuse, and do not try to leave an abusive relationship without professional guidance.   

Craving or being addicted to drama can also be a sign of a deeper issue:

  • such as unresolved trauma, 
  • an insecure or disorganized attachment style, or 
  • an unresolved pattern from childhood (for example, you had an emotionally unavailable father and now seek emotionally unavailable men; this creates drama as you try to get your needs met by someone who is very unlikely to meet them). 

Jennifer Meyer, M.A., LPC, NCC – www.jenmeyercounseling.com

Heather Petitpas

Sometimes the happy chemicals in the brain, like oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine can be released in ways we don’t even realize. 

Who would have thought that by becoming to rely on drama to get our needs met we are starting a negative feedback loop? 

Like a drug that then requires more and more to fulfill the same satisfying feeling, upping the ante with dramatics is needed for the same desired effect. 

We may have been conditioned to get attention by acting out from a very young age, especially if our caregivers were not responding to us or taking care of us in a healthy way. 

Crying and misbehaving may have given us attention, albeit negative, from our primary caregivers when we were young, so we simply grow up doing the adult version of that in our romantic relationships. 

We are thinking on some level that some attention is better than no attention-even if it is negative. 

So, yelling, manipulating, lying, cheating, etc becomes the norm.

It is worth looking at other ways we can get our needs met in relationships instead of relying on unhealthy negative attention-seeking behaviors. 

Otherwise we will suffer-and so will our relationships (especially close intimate ones like with our romantic partners.) 

How do we change this pattern-how can we get our needs met in ways that are healthy, positive and allow us to show up as our best selves? 

Rewiring the brain takes time but can be done. 

Finding calming, grounding activities that help us have a pleasant feeling and keeps us focused and, in our bodies, can be helpful. 

Instead of lost in negative ruminating thoughts where we can easily make assumptions, start blaming and spiral-taking out our feelings onto an unsuspecting person, certain coping techniques such as writing, gardening, yoga, meditation, spending time with a supportive friend or exercise can keep us in the here and now. 

Psychotherapy can be helpful in assisting the person in recognizing maladaptive ways they are attaching to a significant person. 

The journey can include finding other ways to form a healthier bond with a partner. 

The right therapist will be able to gently challenge the person to find new ways to look at past hurts so they can be healed and new learning can be done, such as more effective ways to communicate, and healthier attachment styles can be put in place.

By staying in the present moment and focusing on feel good, positive activities, we are taking care of ourselves and our partners-we are helping the body release happy chemicals in a positive and socially acceptable way.  

Getting professional help can further assist in assuring our relationships will be more likely to thrive if we can get our needs met without the drama. It can help guide us in how to better show up in our partnership without projecting our own unmet needs onto our significant other.

Heather Petitpas, MEd, LMHC – www.tissuesfortheissues.com

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