Karmic Relationships: Navigating Intense Connections for Spiritual Growth

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When you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s natural to want to grow in the relationship. However, if you’re in an emotionally volatile, passionate connection that seems to bring out your worst attributes—you may be in a karmic relationship.

The concept of karmic relationships is not a psychological, scientific, or scientific term, so there’s no medical research on this phenomenon. Individuals and some mental health professionals, however, typically describe this type of partnership as a relational mirror that can show both partners their unhealed parts, inner fears, and childhood wounds.

Since the connection is steeped in so much intensity, karmic relationships are not sustainable for a life-long commitment. What karmic relationships can offer is a meaningful opportunity to better identify and understand your unhealthy behavioral patterns so you can reflect and ultimately grow from the experience.

What Is a Karmic Relationship? 

Karmic relationships have a spiritual association with them which can be seen in the term’s esoteric etymology. Ryan Sultan is a therapist, board-certified psychiatrist, director at Integrative Psych, and research professor at Columbia University who has explored karmic relationships in his practice.

He explained that the concept is intertwined with spiritual and metaphysical beliefs within Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age spirituality, specifically in the principles of karma and reincarnation.

Karmic relationships are connections between individuals that are believed to be rooted in past-life experiences. These relationships often serve as catalysts for personal growth and the resolution of karmic debts or patterns.


While karmic relationships can be admittedly confronting, Sultan points out that they’re also spiritually significant. From a higher level, your partner reveals wounded parts of yourself that would’ve been otherwise hidden. Perhaps they bring out your inauthenticity with your true self or repression of anger.

Because the dynamic is always facilitating a conversation around your pain points, it allows you to address unresolved issues, learn important lessons, and accelerate spiritual maturity. That is if you choose to see each other as a teacher and not succumb to the relationship’s challenging triggers. 

Outside of its spiritual connotation, karmic relationships can have a psychological perspective beyond the immediate physical draw. The sparkly chemistry acts as a magnet that keeps you entangled in a loop of repetitive and potentially harmful patterns that you can begin noticing, calling attention to, and healing. 

If your relationship mimics a rollercoaster, your brain responds to the peaks and valleys with a suite of chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine because the brain craves attachment. Love feels addictive. Researchers in a Harvard study found obsessive-compulsive behaviors can be a close cousin to love.

Notably, another study shows that bonding love and substance dependence have similar psychological profiles because mating and addiction elicit similar neurochemical activity within the reward circuitry of the brain.

With karmic relationships, there are often fluttery butterflies, all-consuming obsession, and an almost compulsive quality to the connection as they bring out your greatest triggers; you can fight and experience repetitive conflict that may go without resolution until addressed. Due to this emotionally addictive cycle, you may find it difficult to walk away from your partner, even if the relationship devolves into toxicity. 

Common Signs and Characteristics of Karmic Relationships

A karmic relationship is based on karma—where you feel like there’s something unfinished that you have to finish in this lifetime. If you’re wondering if this is taking place with your partner, here are some clear markers that you’re wrapped up in a karmic relationship. 

Intense Emotions

When you’re in a karmic relationship, Sultan says you may feel a sense of familiarity or deja vu.

“You may meet someone and feel as if you have experienced this moment before,” he continues. “You may have sudden strong and intense emotions about the person very quickly.”

Because it’s so intoxicating, the relationship may feel as if it’s meant to be. Your relationship might resemble a whirlwind romance at the beginning before it settles into a heavy intensity that permeates the overall relationship.

Turbulent Dynamics

Karmic relationships are tinged with an unmistakable rollercoaster feel, licensed clinical social worker, Jennifer Surak, founder of Jade Psychotherapy notes. Because there are so many highs and lows interspersed with sometimes toxic behavior, the relationship feels addictive and codependent

Each fight feels like a breaking point. You push each other’s buttons. You love them fully but you can’t help seeing all of the red flags too. Miscommunication and the feeling of being unseen constantly plague your relationship. “Having this type of dynamic is a recipe for turbulence that can often look like an abusive relationship,” she says.

Repetitive Patterns

A karmic relationship positions you for the ultimate learning experience for healing. Because your partner functions as a unique catalyst for your unresolved personal issues, the relationship will constantly activate any unhealthy patterns for you to face.

If you can’t seem to get past old arguments, this may be indicating something deeper is at play. The short-term may be painful, but you are acquiring lessons for long-term growth.

Since the relationship is stagnant it tends to repeat the patterns over and over again. The only way to end the cycle is for you to leave the relationship.


Lessons to Be Learned 

When you’re together, there are many learnings and lessons that come up. Karmic relationships can be emotionally draining, but Surak says there are positive effects that can come from the bond.

“Essentially you were two souls that were meant to be. You may have been together in a past life and need to finish what you both started,” she says, adding that you will grow as a couple and once the relationship ends, you will move forward with the lessons learned.

The Role of Karma in Karmic Relationships

Research studying the trans-existential framework of karma notes the literal translation of karma is fate or destiny. Every action has an equal but opposite reaction or consequence.

This means that karma “implies that actions and intentions carried out in previous existence or lifespans influence fate or destiny in a future existence or rebirths."

Past Life Connections 

Simply put, there’s a reason you’re in a karmic relationship and why there’s such a sense of overwhelming familiarity. Sultan says, “A karmic relationship is a type of relationship where two people come together to work through past life lessons and resolve some karmic debt.” 

According to the common understanding of karmic relationships, before you came to this lifetime, you made an agreement together to help each other on your individual journey—then to depart from the relationship when the lesson is learned.

Sultan adds it's important to note that karmic relationships are different from other types of karmic relationships, like a soulmate or a twin flame connection. With karmic relationships, it’s more about learning lessons to transmute your growth into transformation. So, the connections tend to be dramatic, temporary, and rocky in nature. 

Whereas “a soulmate relationship is a deep connection between two individuals who feel a strong sense of compatibility, love, and understanding,” he says. “A twin flame relationship is a type of soulmate relationship where two individuals are believed to share the same soul and have an intense, spiritual connection.”

Soul Growth and Healing 

According to the concept of karmic relationships, your souls were meant to meet at this time to offer you each the opportunity to grow and get to where you want to go next. Being together now offers a chance to break past old cycles and learn from the relationship to actualize into the people you want to become. Otherwise, you may keep repeating these lessons with different people.

Surak points out karmic relationships serve the purpose of self-improvement. “This type of relationship will test you to the ultimate degree by testing your true understanding of love.”

To release your karmic debt, the relationship asks you to learn from and take responsibility for your behavior. By taking positive action with good intentions, course-correcting helps you chart a path forward where you can embody your new lessons and genuinely do better for yourself and others. Choosing to change enables you to break the cycle.

When you’re able to understand the role of karma in your relationship, the frustration, intensity, and tension fade away. This awakens your soul to appreciate each other for the lessons. Then your soul can heal, forgive, ascend, and deepen your true purpose.

Navigating and Learning From Karmic Relationships

“Karmic relationships can help by cultivating self-awareness, recognizing patterns and lessons, practicing forgiveness, and seeking to grow and evolve from the experience,” Sultan says. 

Instead of seeing the union as something filled with constant friction, you can aim higher to see the karmic relationship as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.

Recognizing the Lessons 

What does your partner reveal in you? What does the relationship spark about your fears, traumas, and unhealed areas?

Karmic relationships are tricky to move through so during the time together, Sultan recommends seeing your interactions as serving a bigger purpose into how it can reform the way you see life, love, and partnership.

Setting Boundaries

Karmic relationships can be stressful which means setting boundaries is key. Research suggests that stating your boundaries is an important factor to implement in intimate relationships, in particular, a karmic bond that can be triggering.

If the turbulence of the relationship becomes too emotionally exhausting, Surak advises leaving the relationship.

Karmic relationships are only meant to last short term (days, weeks, months) if they are pushed beyond this it can turn very toxic and can even turn abusive.


Boundaries help you maintain your sense of self, understand your needs, communicate your limits, and figure out when you need to exit before the relationship erodes into a destructive dynamic.

Surak notes, if you’re able to integrate the lessons grow to convert the connection into a healthy relationship, it can then last beyond months and years. However, this tends to be rare.

Embracing Personal Growth

Surak suggests leaning on an established self-care routine and support system during this time. “Having friends and family [around] will help you during the relationship and when you decide to leave,” she says.” You’ll be going through a rapid period of growth which can be energetically intense for your system and way of life.

As you’re moving through a karmic relationship, it’s important to enlarge your life with healthy eating habits, exercise, and satisfying hobbies so you can ride out the waves. Surak also recommends going to therapy to help you focus on what you’re going through and journaling the good and the bad to use the memories for growth and to help you in your next relationship.


Karmic relationships teach us an intricate lesson about growth. The soul connection is about accessing important lessons to expand your definition of what you need to work on to empower who you are and how you love. 

At the end of the day, a karmic partner is not someone to regret but someone to appreciate. They serve as a guide to help you realign yourself to the life you are truly meant for. 

If you need assistance incorporating the lessons, Surak suggests seeking professional help to process the relationship further.

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By Julie Nguyen
Julie Nguyen is a freelance mental health and sexuality writer. Her writing explores themes around mental well-being, culture, psychology, trauma, and human intimacy.