The Toxic Cycle Every Couple Falls For (Here’s How to Stop It in Its Tracks)

If you’re currently in a committed relationship, take a moment to think about the biggest bone of contention between the two of you.

Now that you have your answer, you might think your problem is unique. And although the nitty-gritty details may look different from another couple, the truth is, most trained counsellors and relationship coaches don’t actually need the specifics to understand what’s really going on in your relationship. In fact, we could probably tell you how to fix the problem starting right now.

As it turns out, most couples—yes, even those who claim they “don’t fight”—fall into a very common, predictable sequence:


Often, this pattern comes out in the form of tension, criticism or blame. Let’s take a look at each of these parts more in-depth to understand how they work together and how to stop them in their tracks:

1. Suppress

The first part of our sequence starts when you are withholding a certain truth from your partner. This could be anything from being bored in your relationship, or being attracted to another person. It could be that you’re not even sure you and your spouse should be together anymore.

These secrets could be as small as being angry or annoyed with something your partner did or said. You could be totally pissed about a certain behavior they exude (even if it’s as simple as them never doing the dishes). Or they could be as big as wanting a divorce.  

Either way, no matter how big or how small the truth may be, you feel it’s necessary to keep this to yourself, because the moment you vocalize your feelings, it will create a barrier between you and your partner. So, you retreat, or pull away, instead of confronting the issue at hand.

2. Retreat

True, retreating could be as dramatic as divorcing your spouse, but retreating doesn’t always manifest itself in this way. It could be as simple as creating some distance between the two of you, or choosing to avoid them altogether.

Think about the last time you became angry with your S.O. Maybe you huffed, puffed and sighed until your partner finally asked you what was wrong.

Your response? “Nothing.”

In other words, it’s easy to fall into the trap of passive-aggressive behaviors. Think: making excuses to avoid your partner as a way of expressing your anger, or repeatedly claiming you’re not mad, even though you totally are.

The fact is, when you choose to suppress something that’s on your mind, it feels like the easy option to simply withdraw or pull away from love instead of inviting it in. You don’t want to cause a fuss because you’re fearful of what might happen next.

Will this be the end of my relationship?

I don’t want to get into another screaming match again.

What if he says something about me that I don’t want to hear?

I don’t want to be wrong about how I feel.

Unfortunately, when we choose to suppress and retreat, we’re doing more harm than good, leading to projection.

3. Project

Shocker: when we choose to suppress and retreat, we’re choosing to live in a chronic state of unhappiness.

When we’ve been hurt by someone—resorting to withholding our feelings and pulling away from the other person—it’s common to enter into the arena of the infamous “blame game.” Unfortunately, even if you’ve been wronged, blaming the other person drains a lot of energy and doesn’t solve the problem.

In order to come to a resolution faster, we need to understand that we’re more than likely projecting. Simply put, projecting tricks you into making your partner responsible for your old wounds. For example, if your family grew up poor, you may react negatively if your husband wants to quit his job without anything else lined up. Or maybe your parents were divorced when you were younger, so you might not trust that your partner fully loves you.

Unfortunately, projection keeps you from understanding the true source of your pain, which means you won’t be able to get to the bottom of your issues. If you’re unable to recognize this old wound, you’ll get stuck in the cycle of blaming the other person, which ultimately leads to resentment.

Simply put, suppression begins this ugly cycle of projecting. Unfortunately, the more information you suppress and withhold, the bigger your projections become. Next thing you know, you can’t even look at your spouse without thinking they’re the worst person ever.

Ever heard the saying that “the number of complaints you have about your partner is directly proportional to the number of truths you’re withholding”?

If you read any of my work, you know this one is coming:

You have to own your sh*t.

When you choose to project onto your partner, you’re choosing to drive attention away from yourself and onto someone else. Ergo, you won’t have to face the parts of yourself you don’t like very much (convenient, right?).

But don’t feel too badly—your partner and everyone else in the world is doing the same thing. I’m not saying it’s right, but what I am saying is that it’s time to forgive yourself for all of the times you’ve done this and finally move forward with reality.

Breaking the Cycle to Heal Your Relationship

The sad truth is that as long as you and your S.O. continue down this road together, nothing will get better.

So, it’s time to own your sh*t.

Ask yourself these questions:

What truths am I withholding from my partner? What am I withholding about myself? What do I not like about myself?

More than likely, you’re not getting to the root of the aches and pains you feel about yourself. And, face it: when you’re not even aware of these problems on your own, how is your partner supposed to know about them?

But more importantly, you have to confront yourself with love and patience. There’s no need to start blaming yourself for absolutely everything. All we’re trying to do here is separate what belongs to you and what belongs to your partner.

Want to Know a Secret?

Relationships are oftentimes an inside job. Translation? The key to your best relationship yet starts with you (yeah, you!).

But that’s good news! Why? Because that means you have the power to have more meaningful, energizing, and fulfilling relationships—and you get to do it right now, without anyone else’s permission but your own.

When you work with me, I’ll help you discover why your relationships aren’t thriving and what you need to do to get greater fulfillment from them (aka, breaking that dang cycle we just talked about!). And, I will equip you with the tools necessary to navigate your relationships for the rest of your life. 

My coaching is short term/high impact (read: I don’t mess around…you will get massive results in a short amount of time).

So, let’s get started. Contact me today to see if we’re a good fit for each other!

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Lisa Panos

Lisa Panos is a Certified Life Coach and Author who helps people stop struggling and start thriving in their personal and professional relationships. Trained by Dr. Martha Beck (aka, Oprah’s Life Coach), Lisa helps her clients create new, healthy relationships, mend those that are broken, or say goodbye to ones that no longer serve them. She combines highly effective coaching tactics with an explosive arsenal of personal experience that swiftly moves people out of dysfunction and into a place of deep inner strength.

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