Although intended to teach life lessons, karmic relationships are often tumultuous, emotionally charged relationships that feel predestined.

Karma’s definition varies depending on its spiritual context. Some cultures believe your life essence is based on karma, that who you are is determined by the karmic energy you’ve accumulated.

The modern world widely considers karma a concept of cause and effect, where good deeds translate to positive effects and bad deeds lead to negative ones.

This causality belief is what makes up the framework of a karmic relationship. Cause and effect in life can be an important method of teaching lessons, and karmic relationships are all about learning.

A karmic relationship isn’t a formal diagnosis or clinical designation.

It’s a spiritual relationship label used for two people brought together from past lives to resolve unfinished issues or impart important life lessons.

“[Karmic relationships are] believed to stem from unresolved issues carried over from past lives, creating a cycle of lessons and personal growth,” explains Dr. Caroline Madden, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Burbank, California. “These relationships act as mirrors, reflecting back to us the aspects of ourselves that need attention and healing.”

Karmic relationships are often intense, challenging, and emotionally charged. They can be short-lived because they bring out the highest of highs but also the lowest of lows, resulting in emotional exhaustion.

Jenae Stainer, a licensed clinical social worker at Bespoke Treatment in Los Angeles, California, adds that karmic relationships are often extremely intense and passionate.

Stainer explains that couples feel an “all-consuming” love or experience a sense of unbreakable magnetism to their partners, despite difficulties in the relationship.

Karmic relationships vs. twin flames and soulmates

Karmic relationships aren’t considered “healthy” relationships. They’re turbulent and volatile and can evoke many negative emotions and experiences.

“Twin flames and soulmates typically relate to individuals whose level of compatibility with each other creates a more synergistic romantic connection,” says Stainer.

Twin flames are considered to be two halves of the same soul. Your twin flame is your soul’s mirror, and this means they can reflect back to you all the positive and negative features within yourself.

Soulmates are separate souls that share a deep connection. Unlike karmic relationships and twin flames, soulmates have a very balanced, harmonious existence. They complement each other and can be the longest-lasting of the three bonds.

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There’s no checklist that can summarize every karmic relationship, but common signs you’re in a karmic relationship include:

  • feeling an immediate, powerful connection to the other person
  • having a sense you’ve met before
  • patterns of ongoing conflict
  • noticing unresolved challenges from past relationships or childhood emerge
  • feeling a sense of obligation rather than a genuine connection
  • being on an “emotional rollercoaster”
  • experiencing intense attraction and repulsion for that person
  • emotional burnout

The dangers of the “karmic relationship” label

In a spiritual context, the thought of a relationship that comes along to teach you lessons and help you with personal growth sounds like a positive thing.

But labeling a relationship as karmic may keep you in situations of abuse. It can imply you’re meant to be where you are, that fate wants you to go through this experience.

Learning lessons is never a reason to justify staying somewhere you aren’t safe mentally or physically. If a karmic relationship makes you feel unsafe, it’s time to leave.

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Sophie Cress, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified Gottman therapist from North Carolina, recommends first identifying the karmic lessons and patterns that occurred in the relationship.

“Reflecting on recurring themes, conflicts, and emotions can provide insight into what you’re meant to learn from this connection,” she says.

Next, Cress suggests working with a spiritual healer if those aspects of a karmic relationship resonate with you, or creating a private ceremony where you symbolically cut ties with the relationship.

“This ceremony could involve writing a letter and burning it, or releasing something into the water, symbolizing the end of the relationship.”

Self-help tips to consider

As you attend to your spiritual needs, other ways you can help end the relationship include:

  • gathering a positive support network to reinforce your decision
  • develop self-care routines and affirmations that emphasize self-love and forgiveness
  • gradually decrease the time you spend in the relationship
  • using artistic expression to help process emotions
  • focusing on visualizing your future to help keep your forward momentum
  • involving a professional mediator

Not all karmic relationships have to go down in flames. There’s no rule stating two people can’t learn and grow together for a more positive future — together.

“At the end of the day, whether a karmic relationship should be ended or transformed into something better is up to you, but with the help of mental health professionals, this concept can certainly help you understand what you’re facing and give you the strength to find what works best for you,” Stainer says.

Karmic relationships are based on concepts of learning and personal growth. They’re believed to be relationships with people connected to you from past lives who’ve remerged to resolve unfinished issues or teach life lessons.

Emotional turmoil, conflict, and burnout are common features of a karmic relationship, even though you may feel deeply connected to the other person.

Knowing when and if to walk away from this type of connection isn’t easy, but staying somewhere you feel unsafe for the sake of personal growth is never worth your mental or physical health.