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Yo-Yo Relationship Patterns

How to deal with the fear of permanent attachment.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Have you been in love with the same person for a long time but keep breaking off the relationship and then wanting them back again?

Do you feel absolutely certain each time that you aren’t going to run away again but find that you are unable to keep your commitment?

Do you wonder what drives you to keep behaving this way, knowing in your heart that your partner will not play that game forever?

Do you feel bad when you treat your partner this way?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, there may be underlying reasons why you may be the kind of person who oscillates between wanting to be in a committed relationship and somehow being terrified of being entrapped in one.

The “one I truly loved but finally drove away” is a forever painful recollection and often a lingering regret. A partner who truly loves you and doesn’t want to lose you can only be pulled in and spat back out for so long before they have to let you go.

If you want to change your yo-yo behavior patterns, you’ll need to recognize and understand the reasons for your conflicts. Many of those underlying motives come from earlier relationship traumas and are healable when you know what has been driving you to behave this way.

Following are the eight most common reasons why people continually oscillate between commitment and escape. Read through these questions and explore those which may apply to you.

1. Do you use your relationship as a safe haven?

If the partner you keep leaving but cannot stay away from is a symbolic parental figure in your life, you will feel homeless too far away from them. You might not have the exciting sex you seek within the safety of the relationship, but you know you are cared for and forgiven. Sadly, the exotic world is still out there and becomes more seductive as you become more secure, making it likely you will stray again.

2. Are you afraid of intimacy?

Do you find yourself wanting your partner not too close but not too far away? Do you push and pull them to keep a balance that is not threatening to you? Do you fear entrapment if there is too much closeness but feel afraid and insecure when you get too far away? If your partner, anticipating your next disappearance, holds on too tightly, it may fuel that fear of losing yourself in a situation you cannot control.

3. Are you scared of being known too deeply?

All people have had trauma in their lives, made mistakes for which they feel humiliated, or have family secrets they are afraid will emerge if they get too close to anyone. As a relationship deepens, some of those hidden experiences might threaten to emerge. To avoid that vulnerability and its consequences, you may feel you have to run from the relationship when you are in danger of being exposed. Safely behind your walls again, you’re ready to return again.

4. Are you afraid of failure?

As long as a relationship is not a forever commitment, it is less likely to be looked at as a failure if it doesn’t work. You might find yourself trying to solve that conflict by leaving the relationship when seemingly unresolvable problems arise. Away from the relationship, you can get help or seek better ways to handle disagreements and feel that you can do better now. When you feel more confident that you can resolve the issues, you want the chance to try again.

5. Do you always feel as if there might be something better out there?

You are marooned on a great island. A symbolic ship arrives to take you to a different place. What if is a better choice? What if you would be happier there? What if there will continue to be more choices?

You love the person you’re with, but someone else might be better. You begin to see the faults in your partner and rationalize that you deserve more. After going back out there, you find yourself missing your partner more and more and realize how you have talked yourself out of something truly valuable. You are somehow able to get your partner to try again, but fear inside that those same feelings will reemerge.

6. Are you afraid of being rejected?

Most people fear rejection and abandonment. Those two experiences are the most likely to tear into childhood trauma, and many people will do whatever they can to make sure they don’t have to face them. If you feel insecure in your relationship and sense that your partner is thinking about leaving, you may take the lead and leave first, even if you don’t want to go. You’re waiting to see if your partner will fight to get you back, and if so, you’ll do that. Your current fears are resolved, but they will reemerge, causing you to bolt again.

7. Do you thrive on the drama, agony, or ecstasy of separation and reconnection?

All relationships can fall into patterns of too-easy predictability and joyless routines. If you are either easily bored, love drama, or are often attracted to what is a little out of reach, you may begin to feel as if your life force is waning. You are most likely to threaten to leave in passionate ways to alleviate your discontent. If your partner doesn’t up the excitement ante, you maintain the drama of passionate abandoning and equally passionate reconnecting, keeping things alive enough for you to be satisfied.

8. Are you a forever tester?

There are many people who don’t trust love and put their partners through endless rounds of separation and reconnection just to see if their partners really love them enough to take them back. Do you keep your partner forever on trial, wondering if they can hold you? If you can’t get what you need, do you purposefully escalate your demands until you get what you want, including walking out until your partner ups the ante?

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