The very public engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has the world buzzing about another royal wedding. The image of a prince carrying off his princess is a powerful one in our culture. The couple seems so happy, so perfect, so very much in love. It’s the happy ending everyone wants, the Prince Charming story many people hope for — perhaps the one you dream of for yourself.
It’s easy to forget that they will face the same pressures in marriage as every other couple — plus a whole lot more, because they are in the public spotlight to the extreme. Will and Kate seem to be well matched, and perhaps Harry and Meghan will be too. But let’s not forget that their parents divorced quite acrimoniously. Their Aunt Anne, Uncle Andrew, and Great-Aunt Margaret are also divorced. It seems even marrying a prince or princess doesn’t guarantee that you will live happily ever after.
We are biologically hardwired to connect with other people and to go through life two by two, and culturally hardwired to become marital partners. But is this always the best choice for us? Do we really need a Prince Charming to be happy?
For some people, life is a choice between living in a kind of fantasy matrimonial romance novel or the sheer hell (for them) of being single. They are obsessed with the idea of being wed, no matter what the cost. Relationships pile up, becoming increasingly tangled and messy. Marriages become serial disasters because they jump in again and again without first doing the work of unearthing the trauma and issues that keep them in a cycle of marriage and relationship addiction.
The key to distinguishing marriage and relationship addiction from the normal ups and downs of relationships is to examine the frequency or severity of those ups and downs. If a person has five happy relationships and one unhappy one, she is not likely a relationship or marriage addict. If she is unhappy in every relationship, and yet feels even worse on her own, likely she’s addicted to romance, relationships, and marriage.
Some people develop a marriage and relationship addiction as a response to childhood experiences. When a child receives plenty of love and nurturing, they feel secure in themselves. That person is likely to grow up with a good sense of themselves as a complete person; they’re able to set healthy relationship boundaries.
But without this nurturing, a child may develop poor self-esteem and insecurity. Being in a relationship relieves these negative feelings, so someone with marriage and relationship addiction may use obsessive behavior to keep their negative feelings under control. But the relationships of marriage addicts are often dysfunctional and are based more on discomfort and obsession than they are on love. Some even stay in abusive, painful, incompatible and unfulfilling marriages because they either fear abandoning their spouse or lack the autonomy to leave. If they do leave, they repeat the cycle again and again, because they believe they should be married and/or can’t imagine the emptiness they will feel if they’re not married. Any relationship feels better than being single.
Marriage addicts live by a set of beliefs and rules set by their parents, friends, and cultural institutions that declare they are not “whole” unless they’re in a committed marriage.
To get past relationship addiction, you will need to reawaken feelings of wholeness within yourself. You will continue to attract dysfunctional relationships until you are willing to let go of unhealthy patterns that keep you in the marriage and relationship addiction cycle.
The fact is, one person can’t ever fulfill all your needs. That’s a Prince Charming myth. The happiest people (and the happiest couples, too) have friends and family who give them some of what they need, and draw on their own inner wisdom for the rest. They are complete with or without their partner. They know what they do and do not deserve, and they are able to walk away from a relationship that hurts more than it supports them.
Forget about Prince Charming; you don’t need him. You need something true and real in your life. Maybe that includes a partner. Maybe it doesn’t. You’ll be fine either way.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Radio Host, Certified Transformation Coach and author of the award winning book The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery and Ecourse. You can take her quiz to find out if you are co-dependent or sign up for a 30 minute strategy session with Sherry. Check out Sherry’s new book The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession.