Everyone I know who’s happily coupled up seems to say the same thing: When you meet the right person, it’s effortless. You can debate the finer points of cauliflower vs. regular pizza crust without arguing, you have the same taste in terrible reality TV, and there’s never any Are they going to text me back? B.S. with which to contend. But what about the opposite of that situation—a relationship that often feels like you’re pushing a 50-pound medicine ball uphill? In spiritual terms, this difficult love connection is called a karmic relationship.
If the medicine-ball scenario sounds familiar, don’t freak out: Your S.O. isn’t a frustrating person because of bad karma related to that time you didn’t wipe down your bike after spin class. Instead, says women’s empowerment coach and astrologer Natalia Benson, the person came into your life because they have a “soul agreement” to help you grow. (A soul agreement, in mystical speak, is a contract you made with each other in the spirit realm, before incarnating on Earth.) “A karmic relationship is typically one that really challenges us, but it’s an opportunity to step into the most powerful version of ourselves,” she says. “The purpose is to learn from the dynamic.”
In fact, it’s the painful parts of a karmic relationship that allow for deep transformation. “In a really roundabout way, you realize that this person is a teacher who is helping you step into who you’re really here to be,” she says. “We get into the karmic dynamic because we have to learn to love and respect ourselves.”
It’s indeed a controversial perspective that even bad relationships have a silver lining, and that we’re somehow destined to be in them. But regarding love from a karmic viewpoint does offer a benefit: It can help you get clear on the how you may be devaluing yourself so you can make healthier choices in the future.
How do you know if you’re in a karmic relationship?
If you think you might be in a karmic relationship, there’s a good chance you are. Still, Benson points to three specific signs to look out for.
1. You feel a heavy energy when you’re together: Most karmic relationships start out as any relationship may—there’s usually a honeymoon phase, where everything feels blissful and fated. But at some point, in this case, the partnership stops being fun and starts feeling like a drag, despite the fact that you still share a super-strong connection. All relationships have rough patches, obviously, but in a karmic relationship, there’s a pervasive weight you’ll feel in your body, Benson says. “You’ll know the difference at a visceral level between something that’s just a challenge and something that’s karmic.”
2. You notice a lot of red flags early on: Maybe he has to dominate every conversation, or she’s got a way of slyly making fun of you in front of your friends. Red flags are personal, says Benson—we all have different triggers. But if you find yourself deeply questioning or making excuses for your partner’s behavior, it could indicate something more than an insignificant personality quirk. “When you’re justifying something, you should pay attention to that,” says Benson. “A lot of times we see the red flags, but we still go into the relationship, and typically that can be because there’s a lesson that can be learned.” For example, in the two scenarios above, the relationship could be teaching you how to speak up for yourself.
3. You’ve got complex emotions about the relationship: Karmic relationships can come with a lot of contradiction. Even though they’re tough, you can also feel magnetically drawn to the person and in love with their good qualities, making it hard to just leave. But since it’s normal to not love everything about your partner, even in a healthy relationship, how can you know whether karmic roots are at play? “When something is right for you, it truly feels good—not just the high of romance, but on a really core, visceral level, it feels solid,” says Benson. These good vibes transcend, say, the irritation you feel when your plus-one chews with their mouth open.
What to do if you’re in a karmic relationship
As you’ve probably gathered, karmic relationships can turn toxic fast. So first things first: If you’re in a situation that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive—or one that feels like it could turn abusive in the future—leave as soon as possible. Seek the support of a therapist, friend, or family member as you go through this transition, or reach out to an organization like the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“If you’re in a situation that’s depleting you and not serving your spirit, you’ve got to create an exit plan.” —Natalia Benson, women’s empowerment coach and astrologer
Even if your karmic relationship isn’t abusive, says Benson, it’s best to recognize the lesson in it and move on. “If you’re in a situation that’s depleting you and not serving your spirit, you’ve got to create an exit plan,” she says. Start by improving your relationship with you—again, a coach or therapist can be a helpful ally in this process. “You’ve got to start taking care of yourself on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level,” Benson says. “Then you can say, ‘Does this relationship have a place with me as a self-loving, self-respecting person?’ If the answer is no, you’ve got to act on that.” In most cases, this process will help you learn whatever you need from your karmic relationship.
Do you have to experience karmic relationships in order to grow?
Short answer: heck no. Once your self-worth is on point, Benson explains, you’ll naturally start to attract partners who can mirror that level of love and respect—and you’ll have an easier time weeding out those who can’t. “If you’re paying attention, you don’t have to stay in a karmic relationship for 10 years. You can get the message in a month or a week, or even more quickly,” she says.
Every relationship has its ups and downs, and you’ll expand as a person no matter what. “Whatever you’re supposed to learn in this lifetime through relationships, you’re gonna learn,” says Benson. “But it’s better to learn it in a healthy dynamic with someone you feel really seen by.” Wise words even if you don’t believe in karma, right?
Karmic relationships often involve narcissists, per Benson—here’s why these toxic people seem so irresistible at first. One step to take that can help you heal from one of these relationships? A body-positive boudoir shoot.
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