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Sunday Edition #5: My Column in Yellow

Dear Yellow:

I am caught in the “in-and-out” of an “on-and-off” long distance relationship. I love her. But I don't know if I want to stay with her. Our love has sustained me through some of my darkest times. Sometimes I feel like she's my anchor - she holds me steady, but she weighs me down. Is it better to cut loose, and wander free? Or to respect the link that has kept me grounded?

Situations like this are confusing. There is Love but there is also conflict. No relationship is perfect all the time so the question is if this is just a temporary bump in the road that will resolve or if a larger issue is at play. Since I still haven’t yet figured out how to predict the future to tell you what’s going to happen (I’m only a beginner at tarot cards), let’s take a closer look.

You might think distance is the issue but studies show long distances can strengthen the bond of Love if both partners make an equal effort and remain positive. Also, we tend to idealize our distant Lover because we don’t see the daily messiness of their lives (putting the toilet paper roll on upside down or the pizza box that’s been laying next to the bed for a week) and only witness them at their best. A long distance relationship takes work but it is doable.

What concerns me is the on/off switch of your relationship: I love you. I hate you. Let’s breakup. I miss you. Come home to me. Wait… I hate you.

I’m exhausted just typing all that, it’s even more so if this is the pattern of your relationship. It might make for an entertaining RomCom movie but it is no way to live a healthy life. It is toxic, stressful and Psychologists named it: Relationship Cycling*.

Once a relationship falls into this pattern, it can be hard to break from it. Fight, separate, reconnect all the while completely avoiding resolving the underlying issues. The euphoria of getting back together temporarily masks the need to address the problems. When the high fades, the fights begin again and the cycle continues. For those who do survive and remain together, studies say it’s likely they will feel generally less satisfied in the relationship and the dissatisfaction won’t go away even after marriage.

How does this happen? Why do we keep going back if we are unhappy?

Attachment. False Hope. Fear.

Going back is easy. Leaving forever is hard (at least that’s what our minds have convinced us). You already know what they love and hate, and we have an attachment to the familiar. We also get hung up on the amount of time already invested in a relationship, looking at it as a waste or failure to not keep trying. In my opinion, remaining in a toxic pattern is the failure rather than moving on so you can find a stable healthy relationship.

Delusion starts to set in and we adopt toxic mantras such as,“this time will be different,” “they will change,” or “our love is strong enough to survive.” We hold onto a false hope that Love is enough and we ignore the possible reality of the situation… maybe we simply aren’t a good match.

Fear binds us to the cycle. We don’t want to walk away because what happens if we never fall into loving arms again? What if we just passed on our soulmate and are now destined to a life of loneliness? We give in and go back thinking a mediocre something is better than the unknown.

I think you already know my answer to your question but just in case there is any need to break the cycle.

P.S. Respecting a relationship doesn’t mean you hold onto it. If it has run its course and parting ways is most healthy for both, keeping a grip on your Lover is unfair and selfish. You are preventing both them and yourself from finding the Love that is best for all.

*(Dailey, Pfister, Jin, Beck, & Clark, 2009)


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My Life in Yellow is not a licensed psychologist or health care professional and the advice within this column does not replace the care of psychologists or other healthcare professionals. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a health/medical professional. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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