The most important relationship is with your Self

by Daniel Linder, M.F.T.

I have been a practicing therapist (MFT) since 1981. When I am asked about my clinical orientation or my primary influences or leanings, I sum it all up in one statement, “I am a self and relationship based therapist,” and an Addiction/Recovery Specialist and Relationship Trainer.”

I attribute my 30 plus years of experience working with addiction, recovery and relationship related issues to who I am, what I’m most passionate about and to what I’ve always been most passionate about—the inner workings of relationships—when they are going well and when they are not going well. I have also had my own personal struggles with addiction and in recovery to fall back on.

How did The Relationship Model of Addiction (TRMA) Come To Be?

I remember having persistent doubts regarding what I was being taught about addiction and treatment. There was always something missing, misrepresented and just plain inaccurate. Alcoholism, Alcohol Dependency, and later, all other addictions as well, were presumed to be and treated as diseases; understood solely as a medical conditions, with bio-chemical, neurophysiologic and genetic origins underpinnings.

The American Medical Association (and later the American Psychological Association deemed addiction to be a disease  characterized by a loss of control (inability to stop or resist) and a steady diminishment of functioning mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, that can eventually lead to death.

While initially I was taken by the disease concept because of the positive impact of mitigating against the stigma attached to both alcoholism, as well as addiction.  By placing addiction under the umbrella of treatable medical conditions, compassion became a first order response. The disease model streamlined the process of assessment, diagnosis and treatment. It established that stabilization (sobriety or abstinence) was the standard for treatment.

However, over time, the disease model of addiction seemed to become antiquated. From my perspective, there was no getting around the fact that emotional, psychological and relational aspects of alcoholism and addiction were never given enough—or any—consideration.

The Relationship Model of Addiction™ (TRMA™) introduces a new paradigm for understanding addiction and recovery that humanizes addiction by shining a light on the aspects of addiction that had long been ignored.

Addiction is not a disease. Addiction is a relationship.

Addiction is not a pathological dependence as much as it is a pathological relationship with a means of relief (of pain from unmet emotional needs (including substances, activities, sex, porn, gambling, love and relationship addictions.  Addiction is not being sick per se, as much as it is being lovesick; having an aching heart. 

The word, relationship implies a relationship just like any other, where there is an emotional involvement, investment or attachment. The relationship serves to relieve pain from unmet emotional needs; the basis of the relationship is to serve as a means of relief. The need to relieve pain is the underlying driving force of addiction.

TRMA is based on the premise that human beings have two basic needs: the need for love (short for the sum total of basic emotional needs) and the need to relieve pain.

What happens when our need for love goes unmet?  There is going to be pain and this pain backlogs over time, as long as our need for love goes unmet. The greater the pain, the greater the need to relieve that pain will be. 

When we are loved, feel love towards another, feel loved by another, we grow and thrive. Feeling love and connection can themselves be intoxicating.  The more nourishment our primary relationships provide, the less pain from unmet emotional needs there is going to be. Less pain means less of a need for relief; less or no need for relief spells doom to the need for relief and the need for a relationship with a means of relief.

The Cause of Addiction

The ultimate causes or sources of addiction are the relationships that fail to provide adequate nourishment and generate a perpetual backlogging of pain. The desperate pursuit of relief is what shapes the addict’s life and relationship. It becomes a primary and all-consuming relationship that makes the formation of other relationships impossible, and leads to increasing isolation and pain. 


Within the framework of TRMA, recovery is viewed as a three-stage transitional journey—out of unhealthy relationships and into healthy, emotionally nourishing ones. Stage I: Breaking-up (with the means of relief) is the first leg of the journey. Stage II: developing the relationship with Self; and Stage III: creating emotionally nourishing relationships with others.

When you are in healthy, emotionally nourishing relationships, no longer will your relationships be driven by the need to relieve pain. Rather, you’ll be in relationships that will feed your growth and wellbeing.

“The quality of your relationships is the quality of your life.”

Daniel Linder is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Addiction Specialist and Relationship Trainer, practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, providing individual, couples, family and group therapy since 1981. He is the founder of, an online addiction recovery and relationship training resource for those in recovery, as well as health professionals with easily accessible educational and training materials.

[email protected]

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