When drama characterizes a relationship it is often because drama has become a drug in its own right. For sex addicts high drama relationships often lay the groundwork for sexual acting out. But drama serves other functions that keep relationships from being healthy.
I am not talking, of course, about the kind of unpredictable drama from outside events, such as natural disasters, war or other life threatening situations. I am talking about the relationship or family that is characterized by almost continuous turmoil. In this kind of relationship the focus is on one conflict or crisis after another.
The crisis driven family
Here are two examples of how drama can become the focus of the couple or family interaction. There are probably many other variations on the theme.
Family of origin drama. These are unresolved conflicts and problems relating to the relatives of one partner or the other. These dramas often focus on one or more relatives with problems (legal problems, drug problems, relationship problems, financial problems) and create chaos and conflict between a couple. The couple never arrives at a solution or a reasonable way to deal with the relatives but instead gets wrapped up in blaming and targeting various relatives at various times. Couples sometimes allow these other people’s problems to become all that is talked about. Rather than working jointly on resolving the chaos, the couple is at odds and never come up with a real problem solving strategy.
Chaos and conflict within the relationship. In this situation one or both partners have or create and endless series of problems and crises. One partner may fall into blaming and anger, as when there is the ongoing threat of infidelity and end up “getting even” and creating more chaos. Or one partner may be always in a crisis of some sort, such as a work crisis, a deadline, a perceived threat or any other type of situation that repeatedly takes him or her away and drives a wedge into the relationship. In the latter situation there is often the promise that things will be “normal” after such-and-such is over. But then something always crops up to create more drama.
How drama works as a drug to avoid intimacy
When drama and chaos come to characterize a relationship it is usually because both people have problems with intimate relating. Drugs allow us to escape and avoid all kinds of unpleasant emotions. For sex addicts, a high drama relationship provides a built in excuse to (a) lead a separate, secret life as a way to escape the drama and (b) puts the focus on the crisis rather than the addict so that there is less scrutiny of the addict’s sexual acting out behavior.
Here are some of the ways that drama provides escape from emotional pain in a relationship.
- Drama and chaos create distance between the partners. People who are intimacy avoidant, as addicts are, have a fear of closeness. They are afraid of getting too committed and then getting abandoned or of getting too bonded and then getting swallowed up; or both.
- Drama and chaos can increase adrenaline. In this case drama creates a heightened state of arousal which addiction prone people can use to escape feelings of boredom and apprehensiveness that arise when the addict is alone or left without an external sense of purpose. Addicts are often uncomfortable around people but they also have trouble relying on their own inner resources.
- Drama is a great way to avoid our own problems. By being immersed in some crisis or conflict the person does not have to confront what is wrong with him or herself. Addicts can avoid dealing with their own issues and can maintain a façade of being “OK” because they can focus on some other situation that is far worse.
- Partners who are emotionally immature as addicts often are, drama provides escape from being accountable and dealing with the mundane chores that go along with any relationship. This feeds the addicts narcissistic false self image. Feeling different from and better than the average person, the addict is exempt from ordinary requirements. This is of course a cover for deeper feelings of inadequacy.
Drama as a symptom, empowerment as the cure
As unstable as high drama relationships are, they are hard for the partners to see. When a relationship is beset by one crisis or drama after another it is important to see this as a symptom. This may be hard for the partners to accept.
We should see a crisis driven life as one in which we feel powerless and inept at dealing with certain situations and relationships. And one in which the chaos is probably not the only or even the primary issue.