The Push Pull Relationship – Why Can’t You Stop the Pattern?

by Andrea Blundell

You love them, you hate them? You want them, you don’t? Why does a push pull relationship happen, and what can you do about it?

Why am I always in a push pull relationship? 

There are different reasons we push and pull. It might be driven by boredom, or by fear, or it might be an impulse that feels beyond control. Often it’s a combination of several issues, with roots in childhood.

1. You are bored (and might have ADHD).

You have a very fast mind, and you’ve gotten involved with someone based on chemistry and excitement. But now the buzz has worn off, you aren’t intellectual equals, and you are bored. Without realising it, you become a cat with a mouse, pushing and pulling the other person.  

Adult ADHD can also be a factor here, if you tend to be impulsive and also have trouble focussing. It often makes relationships messy.

Time to get to know the other person properly and see if maybe they are more interesting than you’ve given them credit for. Or walk away and go more slowly next time.

[If you think it’s attention deficit disorder, try taking our free ADHD quiz.]

2. It’s a self-esteem thing.

Low self-esteem creates a need to win. So we go after what we think we might not be able to have. Once we get it, we are no longer interested.

We weren’t looking for love, just a sense of worth. So we push the other person away, and when they accept it and walk away, we want to win again, so pull them back.

What other, healthier ways could you raise your self-esteem? Is there a goal that could also see you helping others? Or could you perhaps start with some self-compassion?

3. You are scared of (real) intimacy.

Sex is one sort of intimacy. And for many, that’s the easy part.

It’s when someone tries to get to know the real you that things get scary. What if they don’t like what they see? 

You can deeply crave love, and then when you start to feel seen? Panic and push away, only to pull back because deep down the relationship is what you really want.

Get to know your own thoughts and feelings with things like mindfulness and journalling. Often we fear intimacy because we don’t have a solid sense of self, or aren’t sure we like ourselves. 

4. Relationships don’t feel safe for you.

This is perhaps the most common reason for pushing and pulling. If you at all feel anxious in relationships, it is a good sign this is what is happening.

It can be different than just fear of intimacy. You might in fact be very good at intimacy, able to be vulnerable and connect — until the fear hits. 

You might also feel depressed when in relationships. A study in Australia found that women with fearful attachment issues were more likely to suffer depression

Fear in relationships from attachment issues can happen where you didn’t have a parent you could rely on to help you feel safe and unconditionally accepted.

Or they can arise from a person you trusted in any way abusing you as a child.

Whatever the reason, you really like someone, but on an unconscious level you are scared of being hurt. So you push them away. Then panic and pull them back.

Anxiety and fear in relationships can run deep. Consider counselling if it’s a childhood issue, as it can take support to unravel the past. 

5. You are metaphorically ‘dating your parent’.

Again, the push pull pattern can have roots in childhood and the ways we were raised.

And it can be that we had an unstable relationship with a parent that has led to a pattern of relating we can’t seem to escape.

For example, if you had a critical parent who never approved of you, you might push your partner away at the slightest hint of criticism. In this way you are unconsciously ‘punishing’ the parent you have unresolved issues with.

Journal about your relationship dynamics with each parent. Is it possible you are recreating this dynamic? Write a letter to the parent the pattern comes from, without holding back, then rip it up. Now write about what you’d like your relationship to be like instead. 

6. You experienced trauma or abuse as a child. 

Trauma shatters a child’s trust in the world around them. And that inability to trust does not repair itself. Unless we actively seek to heal, we live our adult life with complex PTSD and trust issues. No wonder we push and pull, we constantly feel in danger.

Sexual abuse often leads to symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). You love people then hate them, and you suffer huge emotional highs and lows where you can’t control what you say and do. Push and pulling is a habit you hate, but feel at the mercy of. 

Trauma, abuse, and borderline personality disorder are very hard to navigate alone. Nor does every type of therapy help. Read our article on ‘Types of Therapy That Work for Trauma‘ and the NHS guidelines for BPD

7. You have very negative core beliefs about yourself.

This relates to most of the above. Things like abuse, poor attachment, and a difficult parental relationship call lead to hidden core beliefs that you aren’t worthy of love, that you are flawed, that you are no good at love.

So just as you start to make progress in a relationship, these core beliefs stir and lead you to sabotage with push and pulling.

Practice mindfulness to start to hear your thoughts and what you actually think about yourself behind the mental chatter. And consider CBT, a short-term talk therapy that focuses on recognising and changing negative thinking

Time to get help and end the push pull cycle for once and for all? Our highly experienced London counsellors and psychotherapists can help you with your relationships. Or use our booking platform to source UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors you can work with from anywhere. 


Want to share your thoughts on the push pull relationship pattern? Use the comment box below. 

Andrea BlundellAndrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of this blog. With training in person-centred counselling and coaching, her fave topics are relationships, ADHD, and trauma. 

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