Avoid (or get out of!) Yo-Yo Relationships


Avoid (or get out of!) Yo-Yo Relationships


Sarah met Tom on an online dating site, and they immediately
struck up a fun and friendly correspondence. As the weeks progressed, Tom and
Sarah started talking on the phone, and, although they were long distance, even
met in person.

As their friendship progressed, Tom began pouring his heart
out to Sarah. He told her how happy she made his life, and how he was truly
beginning to feel that she was "the one." Tom seemed like the answer to Sarah's
prayers, and her hopes began to soar.

However, after several months of talking, Sarah and Tom's
friendship took a different turn. Tom had met someone else online, and was
wrestling with which woman to pursue. In his orbit of confusion, Tom confided
to Sarah his struggle of bouncing back and forth between feelings of interest
in her and the other woman. He continued to call, text, email, and even asked
to occasionally meet. Tom told Sarah that he needed her friendship in his life,
and would miss her horribly if she went away.

It was at this point that Sarah emailed me.

I could read the angst between the lines of Sarah's email.
She truly cared for Tom, and was hurt that he had chosen to pursue interest in someone
else at the same time he was pursuing her. To add insult to injury, Sarah was
bombarded each day with messages from Tom begging her to stay in his life and
be his friend.  

Unfortunately, Tom is an individual who struggles with
"yo-yo" feelings. He cares for Sarah…yet he cares for the other woman. He
doesn't want to lose Sarah…yet he also wants to pursue Woman #2. In reality,
he is confused to the point that he cannot truly care for or commit to either of them. This type of
back-and-forth emotions and intentions is highly hurtful and unhealthy, to all
parties involved.

In his book How to
Avoid Marrying a Jerk
, Dr. John Van Epps labels Tom's behavioral type a
"player." He warns:

"Players have an insatiable appetite
for attention and the intoxicating excitement of infatuation. For a player, living
within the fences of one relationship is both boring and unfulfilling….But
don't expect them to extinguish the old flame. The irony of players is that
they often try to keep one relationship burning while they ignite another" (p.

After talking with Sarah, we both were very sure that she
ultimately didn't want to be involved with a man who could not focus or commit
to one woman. And yet, the reality was that Sarah still had feelings for Tom, and
Tom was still calling Sarah.  

I encouraged Sarah to cut all ties with Tom: block his
emails, his phone calls, and not return any messages he'd already left. Sarah and
I both knew she needed time and space in order to heal and move on from her
disappointment. A few weeks later, I heard from Sarah again:

"He has continued to contact me through text messages. 
He wants to still pray together and I am having such a hard time telling him
how I feel about things. My head is telling me to run, run, run…but my heart
is telling me to stay and hang in there. I am sure these questions are pretty
self-evident, but I feel that I have lost my head in all this."

Untangling a Yo-Yo

Sarah is in a very draining and
difficult situation. While it's best to avoid yo-yo relationships in the first
place (if you can recognize them), it often turns out that it's only after you're involved with someone that
you discover the problem.

Once she recognized that she in a
yo-yo relationship, Sarah did several things right as she disengaged from the

1. Sarah prayed.

Sarah immediately recognized that
she needed heavenly wisdom to help her figure out her relationship with Tom,
and that she needed strength to do the right thing. She not only spent
significant time praying herself, but she also asked her parents, siblings, and
close friends to pray for her.

2. Sarah acknowledged her head vs.
heart conflict.

In her email to me, Sarah admitted
that her head and her heart were telling her two different things. That's a
huge step! If you can admit that your heart is entangled in a bad situation, it
will greatly aid your ability to do what you rationally know is right. Acknowledging
emotional cloudiness is half the battle.

3. Sarah asked for help.

This step is extremely
significant. After acknowledging her weakness of not being able to cut things
off with Tom, Sarah reached out to others to help her through the process. She
called her sisters and asked for their accountability and encouragement. Sarah
emailed me and others for our advice on the situation. While she could have
easily said to herself "This is my problem, I can fix it on my own," Sarah took
the brave and prudent step of asking others to assist and advise her.

4. Sarah got out and met new

Shortly after cutting off all
communication with Tom, Sarah knew that it was important for her to "get out
there" and meet new people instead of sit on her couch with a mope-y attitude,
dwelling on her disappointments. She got back online, spent quality time with
family and friends, and even attended a Catholic conference with a large population
of single Catholics. She did not allow the past to prevent her from engaging in
new social opportunities.

These four steps that Sarah followed greatly aided her
emotional detachment from Tom, and serve as a positive
witness and example to anyone who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

Finding out someone is a player or a jerk is by no means a
fun experience. And yet, being able to recognize a "yo-yo" relationship in its
early stages is actually a blessing. You have the opportunity to disentangle
and detach from a situation quickly, instead of discovering it later in life,
potentially when it could cause you a lifetime of unhappiness.

God gives us the responsibility of discerning with both our
hearts and our heads. Learn from Sarah's example that with God's help, and the
aid of friends and loved ones, you can
make the wise yet difficult choice to move on.



  1. Beatriz-182797 October 3, 2008 Reply

    Exelent article… thanks alot for sharing!!!

  2. De-315276 October 7, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for sharing the article.
    While I agree with Joseph that Sarah needs to clearly communicate with Tom how she feels, if I were her, I would be extremely hesitant to leave "the window open" to become friends in several months. I would probably end with God bless you in your search.

  3. Sophie-366955 October 15, 2008 Reply

    It's as clear as daylight. He has another women. Since when did your self esteem get so low that you'd have to share a man with another woman? And there is no excuse for cheating. This man is making it clear to you that you aren't enough for him. He likes you – but just not enough to be faithful to you. Ignore him. He deserves distance from you and all other women that he treats this way.

  4. Terri-324473 October 26, 2008 Reply

    Great article! I have had a similar relationship. It is very draining and is not good for either party. I have felt the same way and the head telling me one thing and my heart another is the difficult struggle. I pray everyday for the strength to cut all communication. It is so hard. I know I must turn this situation over to God and stay out of it. I have tried to be just a friend but that does not work. I read somewhere that maybe you can be friends if you have found another good relationship. I really don't know about that. I feel like if I continue with trying to be friends it will only be heartache. I keep telling myself "I got along without him before I met him and I can get along without him now."

  5. Ana J. April 7, 2012 Reply

    Reading this article reminds me of somebody I work with. I know this one girl that I work with and she has a boyfriend who she’s been with for two years but during those two years I can tell she and her boyfriend have had this history of being on again and off again. Reading this article and thinking about my co-worker reminded me something I always say all the time. If a guy or girl are in these types of relationships and they know they aren’t being treated right by the other person than I say they have no right to complain. Because they know what they are getting themselves into each time they get back with that person and they know the outcome isn’t going to be any different than the seven or eight times they broke up before. Which is why I don’t understand the actions of my co -worker who is a very pretty, smart and confident young lady but she knows the guy she’s with is treating her bad and she’s told me even her freinds have told her to dump her boyfriend. I remember the last time she told me she and her boyfriend broke up it was because of a deployment. She told me that she and her boyfriend were arguing alot because her boyfriend was getting ready to deploy and he was getting stressed out and they ended up breaking up. But then his deployment gets caneled and then they get back together. Which makes me think if they can’t stay together on a regular day to day basis how do they expect their relationship to survive a six month long deployment if it comes time again for one of them to deploy. Then one day I couldn’t help hearing a conversation she had with another co-worker and they were talking about how her boyfriend had feelings for another girl but he still likes her (or loves her as she put it) and her boyfriend wanted to be with this girl but he still wanted her in his life too. Wow this just made me think how can you still want to be with somebody and say you still love them even though they are telling you they want to be with somebody else too? But maybe my co-worker is not in a place right now with this guy where she realizes this and maybe it will one day take a rude awakening to make her open her eyes.

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