This Might Be Why You're Drawn To Chaotic Relationships

March 18th, 2024

It’s not supposed to feel like your life is always on fire.

Household chaos has been defined as “systems of frenetic activity, lack of structure, unpredictability in everyday activities, and high levels of ambient stimulation” (Bronfrenbrenner & Evans, 2000, p. 121)

If you grew up in a chaotic household, you probably developed a unique skill set to manage high levels of chaos and discomfort. This is often true for those who grew up in alcoholic, dysfunctional, or chaotic environments where they had to constantly be on the alert for threats to their emotional or physical safety. These children are raised in an environment where rules are continuously changing. They must remain alert and find ways to pivot quickly.

You are quick to act in a crisis, and you can skillfully read other people’s emotions.

You feel comfortable in fast-paced environments, and you’ve chosen a career where you can utilize those skills.

When the building is burning, you’re the one who knows what to do.

And I would bet you really struggle with stability and calm.

Chaotic relationships

This Is Why You're Drawn To Chaotic Relationships

When someone grows up in a chaotic household, they may struggle to create healthy adult relationships. Here are some reasons why you may be drawn to chaotic relationships.

  • You learned not to speak up for yourself and feel accustomed to environments where you must silence your experience. You are uncomfortable when you can feel your inner experience.

One of the primary ways we manage a chaotic environment is by silencing our inner experience. You can sustain more chaos when you learn to ignore that inner voice telling you this is too much or that you deserve better. This is an essential life skill for children who live in chaotic, abusive, or toxic environments. This skill is necessary for them to survive the internal turmoil that comes with the chaos.

And this skill will absolutely harm you in adult relationships. If you learn to ignore your feelings and inner experience, you will have a lot of difficulty identifying when you are being harmed. You may not even notice when this is happening. People may be drawn to this quality in you because you’re less likely to set boundaries, ask to have your needs met, or leave when things aren’t going well.

  • You learned it’s not safe to bring up how you feel, and you are accustomed to people not asking about your feelings and environments where there is no space for how you feel.

If you grew up in a chaotic household, there may not have been a safe or reliable person you could confide in. If the adults around you struggle to manage their moods or are constantly swept up in chaos, you learn that you cannot share how you feel and that important people don’t care about how you feel. You likely feel more comfortable in relationships with people who do not consider or ask about your feelings. In these types of relationships, you can disengage from any problematic feelings.

  • You learned to be okay with what is not okay. You are comfortable tolerating massive amounts of distress, and it takes a lot to push you over the edge.

People who end up in chaotic relationships tend to have the ability to tolerate a lot of chaos, disrespect, and mistreatment. This is a pattern that was established in childhood and continues in adulthood whenever the individual is in a relationship with someone where they have to tolerate poor treatment to continue a relationship with them. When you learn this is what love is about, you tend to assume it is what everyone does in their relationships. You feel that things must reach a very extreme level before you can do anything about it.

  • Being in a chaotic relationship allows you to use those hard-earned skills and makes you feel competent.

Even if the chaotic relationship is bad for you, it’s what you know, and you feel confident in your ability to manage what is often unmanageable. Many adults who lived through chaotic childhoods take pride in their ability to stay. They have made this skill a key part of their identity, and it may feel like a failure if they cannot tolerate the chaos. Instead of finding a relationship where you do not need to use those skills, you create situations where those very strategies are necessary.

  • You learned that it is dangerous to speak up.

You may have learned, through your experiences, that calling out the chaos or maltreatment would result in emotional or physical harm. Instead of speaking out or leaving, you have learned that you must manage the chaos and find a way to live with it.

Stable Relationships Are Unfamiliar Territory

There’s a chance that you’re just not used to being in a stable relationship, and even though you want it more than anything, it feels threatening and scary to experience something so foreign. It doesn’t feel good to be in a relationship dynamic that you’re not sure you can handle. Because even if the chaos isn’t good, you’re good at it.

You have to give yourself the space to practice being in a stable and safe relationship. You might mess up, react to a threat that isn’t there, or totally sabotage the peace in the process, and that is ok. You are learning.

Things do not have to be the way they’ve always been.

Your needs matter.

You are allowed to feel at peace.

It’s not your job to keep everyone happy at your own expense.

It’s not your job to fix everyone around you.

Stable relationships can be fun and exciting.

Chaos is not the same thing as passion or love.

It’s not supposed to feel like your life is always on fire.