If you’ve ever experienced a bond that feels like a magnetic connection, but with a turbulent twist, you’re not alone. Karmic relationships are filled with passion and pain, often at the same time.

While the phrase “karmic relationship” isn’t a clinical term, the characteristics do resemble other, well-known relationships.

“A karmic relationship is one that’s filled with all-consuming passion but is extremely difficult to maintain,” explains Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.

These relationships aren’t meant to last, she says, but they’re learning experiences for those who have them.

While “karmic relationship” can have a negative connotation, Hafeez says it can also be viewed from the perspective of personal growth.

“They’re opportunities to learn something about yourself that you never knew before, as well as the most significant life lessons in love,” she says.

To get a better idea of what a karmic relationship is, how it manifests, and what you can do to walk away from one, read on to see what the experts have to say.

There’s a good chance you’ll be in the thick of it before you even realize you’re in a karmic relationship.

With its pattern of breakups and reunions, it’s a relationship that both partners seem unable to resist, says Andrew Aaron, LICSW, a marriage counselor and sex and relationship therapist.

“It grips both partners tightly, and despite the damage done to both, they don’t seem to be able to let go of each other, even though everybody around them is telling them to end it,” he explains.

And Hafeez agrees. “There’s usually an instant connection in a karmic relationship, and for some inexplicable reason, you feel magnetically drawn to the other person and like you can’t live without them,” she says.

You also feel destined to be with the other person and can’t understand why it’s not working out, because this person feels perfect for you. This makes it very difficult to see your partner’s flaws, Hafeez says.

Moreover, a karmic relationship isn’t exclusive to a romantic partner. You can also experience this type of connection within your family of origin, with a friend, or a brief encounter.

Identifying a karmic relationship is tricky, especially when you’re caught up in one.

Besides the characteristics described above, there are some signs and red flags that may indicate you’re experiencing a karmic connection.

Roller coaster of emotions

One of the most common signs of a karmic relationship, says Hafeez, is the roller coaster of emotions. This typically follows a pattern of happiness one day but misery the next.

If you’re in a karmic tie, it often feels like any minor argument or bump in the road is the end of the world, Hafeez says.

“All relationships have their ups and downs, but in a karmic relationship, rough patches feel like a pervasive weight on your chest,” she adds.

Resembles a codependent relationship

Karmic relationships often resemble codependent relationships because they create dependency, which Hafeez says ends up consuming all your thoughts and feelings.

You might also feel “addicted” or “dependent” on the relationship, making it very difficult for you or or the other person to break it off. Even with alarm bells ringing in your head, Hafeez says you can’t resist staying.

One-sided relationship

Karmic relationships are often toxic and one-sided. Hafeez says this can lead to one person being self-serving and the other doing everything in their power to keep them happy.

Fearful of how it’ll end

Sometimes it’s easier to deal with an unhealthy relationship than face what may happen once it’s over.

Hafeez says someone in a karmic relationship is often fearful of what will happen or who they’ll turn into once it ends.

The ideology behind a karmic matchup is twofold: to break the cycles of bad behavior from past lifetimes and to learn how to heal.

“At the core of all of this, the purpose of karmic relationships is to learn and grow,” says Hafeez.

“Some people believe karmic relationships are agreements between two spirits to help the other grow before incarnating on Earth, with the sole purpose of learning something we weren’t able to in a previous lifetime,” she adds.

With that in mind, karmic relationships are very different from other intense relationships, such as one with a soulmate.

“People often confuse karmic partners with soulmates, and they aren’t the same,” says Hafeez.

“Karmic relationships teach you about the world and others, whereas your soulmates help you learn your self-worth,” she says.

You feel good, balanced, and happy in a soulmate relationship. But in a karmic relationship, Hafeez says you’ll always feel like something is just not right.

Carrie Mead, LCPC, a licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, says the purpose of a karmic relationship is to advance the soul forward in this lifetime.

“I believe the most important thing to know about karmic relationships is that you (your soul) has chosen to learn this lesson for its advancement toward knowing, enlightenment, and understanding,” she explains.

Although the lesson you learn in your karmic relationship may be difficult, and it may cause you great pain in the short-term, Mead says it develops your soul and moves you toward greater peace.

“But you must also remember that your soul provides karmic experiences for others that you may be unaware of, and sometimes you receive the lesson, and sometimes you give the soul lesson,” she says.

Walking away from an unhealthy relationship can be difficult — especially if you’re leaving because the partnership is abusive, codependent, or just isn’t serving you anymore.

And ending a relationship, especially a karmic one, is far from easy.

“Significant strength is required to break away from the kind of intense connection that exists in the victim/victimizer and codependent dynamic,” says Aaron.

Even though such cycles are destructive, Aaron says the partners feel comfortable due to growing up with a distorted definition of love and self-value.

Because of this, support is a vital factor in making the transition.

“The best way to move on from these kinds of situations is to recognize the lesson from it,” says Hafeez.

Her advice? Focus on you, your self-worth, and your self-respect.

“If your relationship doesn’t seem to prosper without you at your best self, you should act on it,” she explains.

Remember, these relationships are born out of conflict and will most likely end in conflict. “They’re toxic and unhealthy,” says Hafeez.

Allow yourself time to be alone and grow from the experience. If you rush too quickly into another romance, Hafeez says you’ll likely fall into the same karmic patterns.

“When you cut the cord and learn your lesson, you break free from the karmic bond forever,” she explains.

The good news is you’ve already experienced the hardships of the relationship and now it’s time to learn from your mistakes.

“Try not to draw this from a place of anger or blame, but instead, take full responsibility for your actions and your role in the relationship to restore balance in your life,” adds Hafeez.

Creating a safe space for honest conversation is a critical component of a healthy relationship.

“Healthy communication is both positive and assertive,” says Aaron. It expresses personal experience, desires, wishes, and concerns.

“Effective communication focuses on positive changes and outcomes instead of negative expressions that use judgment, criticism, and blame,” he adds.

Also, healthy communication is empowering, says Aaron, because it clearly defines the way forward and expresses conviction in achieving it.

Part of healthy communication is the ability to recognize nonverbal cues. We often say more with our body language than we do with our words.

That’s why Hafeez says it’s important to pay attention to nonverbal cues and to read your partner’s body language while also being aware of your own.

It’s best to keep neutral body language and eye contact when having an honest conversation with your friends, family, and partner.

And finally, building a relationship based on healthy communication requires each partner to really listen to what the other has to say.

To do this effectively, you need to quiet your mind and resist the urge to plan what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking.

Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a relationship with a friend or family member, experiencing a karmic connection with another person is something you’ll never forget.

In fact, the lessons you learn from these passionate yet volatile relationships are what helps propel you forward as you enter into new partnerships.

That said, if you’re being mistreated, or you’re unsure of how to escape an unhealthy relationship, it’s critical that you reach out and ask for help.

Talk to a trusted friend or family member, or make an appointment with a therapist.