Dr. Burford is a Christian minister practicing science-based couples therapy through Couples Therapy Inc. He works with all couples with a specialization on couples wanting a biblical perspective. This post originally appeared on his blog.

Addiction and personality disorders can have a profound impact on relationships, often leading to a cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms and relationship discord. In their article “Hula Hoop Health: The stages of Relationship Health,” Dr. Mark and Debbie Laaser use a visual metaphor of three hula hoops to illustrate the progressive stages of a relationship affected by addiction, from autonomy to mutual interdependence. This second article explores how addiction and unhealthy coping mechanisms can disrupt this progression, leaving partners feeling lonely, blamed, and criticized.

Addiction and Relationship Stages

Three hula hoops—representing him, her, and the couple—are used by Dr. Mark and Debbie Laaser as a visual metaphor of the progressive stages of a relationship affected by addiction. Their article, “Hula Hoop Health: The stages of Relationship Health” details the effect of addiction and recovery on the relationship progression in these stages:

Autonomy/Being Single (each person alone in their own hoop)

Infatuation/Enmeshment (both persons fully immersed in the couple hoop)

Individuation/Differentiation (one person returns to their hoop to reclaim their individual interests and identity irrespective of the relationship, leaving the other lonely in the couple hoop and protesting; the second partner may also return to their individual hoop, leaving the couple hoop empty.)

Self-Care vs. Coping (healthy individuation with marriage-friendly supports vs. coping mechanisms unhealthy to the individual and to the marriage (compulsive, addictive, risky or unfaithful behavior.)

Independence vs. Codependence (the healthy spouse, troubled by the partner’s unhealthy coping, will move into the unhealthy partner’s hoop, seeking to help, rescue, heal, or pull them back into the couple hoop. This is resisted, feeling like blame, criticism, and control. The unhealthy person will move further away into unhealthy coping mechanisms, or will retaliate by moving into their partner’s hoop to blame, criticize and control them. Now both parties are blaming each other for the emptiness of the couple relationship. The ideal alternative is that each person take responsibility for their own healthy self-care, so they can be there for the other in the couple hoop.

Mutual Interdependence (not returning to enmeshment where neither has an identity aside from  the relationship, mutual interdependence is each person having one foot in their individual hoop and one foot in the couple hoop. Each is healthily pursuing their self-identity and interests, while being there for the other (supporting the other’s interests, empathizing, helping and encouraging) while also being there for the relationship (prioritizing it, giving it time, attention, affection, connection and nurture). If addiction is still a struggle, the couple’s mutual interdependence is illustrated by the addict’s foot being partly in his or her own hoop, partly in healthy self-care outside the relationship, and partly in the couple hoop. The non-addicted partner’s feet are likewise straddling hoops; one foot is in his or her individual hoop, one is in the couple hoop, and also partially in the addict’s hoop—but in a healthy, agreed-upon supportive way, not an immersed, codependent way.

The Laasers’ full article, “Hula Hoop Health: The stages of Relationship Health” can be downloaded at: Faithful and True PDFs.


Relationships affected by addiction and personality disorders face significant challenges, particularly when it comes to therapy. Individuals with Cluster B personality disorders often lack self-awareness and resist accepting responsibility for their role in relationship problems, leading to a pattern of changing therapists or quitting therapy altogether. However, by understanding the complex dynamics at play and prioritizing self-care and healthy support systems, couples can work towards building a more balanced and mutually supportive relationship.

Read: Part 3: Borderline Personality Disorders