Why Relationship Drama is Addictive, and What To Do About It

January 14, 2010

Michael Buble“I’ve had relationship issues. I liked pain. I was addicted to drama. Jealousy was the best. I could create absolute mayhem out of nothing. I’m not perfect now but I’m a work in progress. I like myself a lot more, therefore I can like the person that I’m with a lot more.”

Michael Buble

There’s a common belief that women create most of the drama in relationships, but I don’t believe that’s true. We tend to view women as more emotional than men, but in truth they’re just more likely to fully express their emotions. Men and women may have different reasons for provoking emotional upheaval, but they both do it.


Drama in the traditional sense is defined as:

1. A situation involving interesting or intense conflict of forces.

2. A series of vividly interesting events.

Note the word interesting. Nobody cares if the “college marrieds” come to the party. They’re boring. In fact, they’re sort of sickening. We’d much rather watch people get wild and take risks. If conflict erupts, so much the better. We’d rather witness a spectacle than hang out with boring and predictable people. When we find ourselves in a relationship, part of us worries that we’ll turn into one of those boring couples. Our friends start to say, “We would have included  you, of course, but we figured you’d be hanging out with Teddy.” This is distressing; we love Teddy, but we want to matter. We want to be invited to the party.

In fact, we do have plans to hang out with him. Teddy, sweetie pie that he is, will show up right on time, reliable as always, happy to see us, eager to please, and we’ll look at him and feel the slightest irritation. A few minutes later, watching a movie, we start noticing that we don’t like the sound of Teddy’s breathing. Why does he do that thing, that sound, at the end of each laugh?

And just like that, we have a problem.

We become sullen. We wish he would just leave already, or at least stop being so annoying. Teddy, meanwhile, thinks the movie is awesomely funny (Laugh, snort. Laugh, snort.) and getting laid afterwards will be even more awesome!

After the credits roll, Teddy makes his move. It’s the move he always makes, every single time, where he says, “Come here,” and leans forward, sort of climbing on top of us. We’ve always liked the way he pushes us back and down, kind of forcefully, but not tonight. No. Tonight we think, “What the hell? He’s always pushing. He’s practically pushing me right off this couch.”

We make an annoyed face, an exasperated sigh escapes. “What? What’s wrong?,” he says. “Nothing.” “Are you mad at me?” “No, I’m just…I just don’t want to do this right now. You can’t just push me around and have sex whenever you want!” Poor Teddy! Push her around? Sex on demand? What is she talking about? “I’m, I’m not! What’s wrong with you? Are  you PMS’ing? Why are you being such a bitch tonight?”

And we’re off….forty minutes later we’re in tears, he is profoundly upset too. We’re exhausted and stressed out from the arguing. Once again, he says, “Come here,” but this time it’s conciliatory, not demanding. We fall into his arms. And we proceed to have the best sex we’ve ever had.

That is why relationship drama is addictive.

This scenario involved a conflict, a disagreement, that reflects how we were feeling about ourselves. Our self-esteem took a hit when we realized that we are now officially out of the loop socially. This is normal, and happens in all relationships, even the best ones.

But there are also more insidious forms of drama, just as addictive, but also quite destructive. It occurs when one or both parties purposefully (though perhaps subconsciously) manufactures drama. It usually takes the form of mind games, tantrums, screaming and rages.

Why do people cause this more toxic form of drama?

Relationships that devolve into repeated emotional turbulence have some common characteristics:

1. They are non-nurturing.

Often two people are intensely attracted to each other, perhaps even emotionally invested. However, they do not admit this, possibly not even to themselves. They are both angling to be the least interested party, so as to retain the most control and reduce their chances of getting hurt. This behavior is self-protective. The problem is, it creates an emotional void between them. Naturally, they will want to find a way to fill it. Of course, they could profess their love, offering empathic sharing and selfless companionship. But that would mean going way out on a limb. That is a major risk. Why do that when they can get the validation they need by provoking the other person into reassuring them?

2. One of the parties is generally insecure.

Not only in this relationship, but also in their families and friendships, they need constant reassurance and attention. People with low self-esteem are much more prone to lash out irrationally, forcing a demonstration of caring and commitment.

3. One of the parties believes they are in a relationship that they don’t deserve.

This is similar to the second point, but can occur without low self-esteem. It most commonly occurs when one half of the couple is perceived to have a much higher mating value than the other. Women select men for a variety of qualities, and physical appearance is only one factor. Men, on the other, hand, are all about hotness. This quite often results in an average looking guy pairing up with a very hot girl. They are happy, but there will be external pressures. Other guys will tell her she can do better. Her friends may say he’s gross.

He will begin to feel increasingly uncertain of his ability to retain her attraction. This usually results in jealous outbursts. He may accuse her of flirting with other guys, or start acting suspicious when she is out with her friends. He may begin asking her to account for her movements. He will penalize her for the looks she gets from other men, even when she is unaware, and has no culpability. He may even go so far as to call her a slut or some other derogatory term. Though she will resent his accusations, there is a certain validation that occurs with jealousy – she takes it as a sign that he cares deeply for her and is invested. She forgives the outburst, and revels in the role of providing unconditional reassurance about her attraction to him, and only him.

    All of these scenarios generate passion, and that’s intoxicating. Over time, however, one has to flog the beast harder and harder to get the same response. Once a relationship gets filled with drama, it’s very hard to take it down a notch because the emotional intensity is powerful and feels great. When people suffering from manic depressive disorder are first diagnosed, they are often reluctant to go on a medication that will even things out. They welcome the relief from feelings of depression, but don’t want to give up the high they feel when they’re manic. The same principle is at work here.

    Eventually, the person being accused or blamed can no longer supply the necessary high, and the one who tends to provoke the drama will move on to fresh prey. It stinks to be either one of those people in a dysfunctional relationship, but it’s obviously worse for the emotionally healthy person, because they get emotionally and verbally abused, and finally dumped.

    If you find yourself involved with someone who makes a lot of drama, try to preempt anxiety by making your partner feel secure. You can also try reinforcing the behaviors you like, and ignoring those you don’t. When your partner is chill, praise them by saying it was a great night. When they make drama, refuse to become embroiled in an argument about the same old issue.

    Often the people who make the most drama will accuse you of being the crazy or psycho one. They don’t want to be held accountable for their behavior, and will try to turn the tables. When this happens, take your leave.

    Of course, without the drama and the passionate makeup sex, you may find that you’re no longer interested. At that point, you’ll be ready to move on and find a person who can be passionate without being neurotic.

    Have you been in a drama-filled relationship? How did it play out?