Why We Love Unhealthy, Chaotic Relationships — And 3 Realistic Ways To Break The Cycle

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young woman with colorful hair in front of a train, pondering chaotic relationships

Dating can be exciting, but it can also be one of our biggest distractions to finding real love — and the happiest, healthiest version of ourselves.

I know what it feels like to find yourself entranced by the thrill of meeting someone and beginning the chase:

You meet a guy you really like, the sparks start flying, and you can’t help but get excited, wondering if he’s ‘The One'.

Suddenly it’s been 2 days since he messaged you, and you get that sinking feeling that this isn’t going to work out. But by now you're trapped in yet another chaotic relationship, always left feeling unsteady and unsettled.

By now you're hooked. There’s an intoxicating high when you connect or spend time together — but when you’re alone again, you feel flat. 

As you chase the elusive buzz, he moves further and further away from the Prince Charming you thought he was, but it's too late. The chaotic relationship cycle has lured you in.

Chaotic relationships are about the "high", not the guy. 

But this runs a lot deeper than simply making bad relationship choices. Chaotic, on-again-off-again relationships often fill a deeper role in our lives — and it’s not a healthy one.

I should know. 

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I’m writing this post as someone who was addicted to love. Well, not real love that forms the basis of our best relationships, but the chaotic rollercoaster that I had it mixed up with in my mind. 

After experiencing one bad relationship after another, I started to realise the problem wasn’t that I was attracting ‘all the wrong guys.’

It was worse than that. The problem was with me. 

It was with my expectations of what love should be, it was with my need to always have a crazy story to tell, it was with needing intensity to characterize my life. 

If an experience with someone didn’t set my world on fire, I wasn’t interested. 

I craved passion, uncertainty and increasingly bizarre situations in my personal life to get this fix. 

Enter what I have come to affectionately call, ‘the messy years.’ 

You know the messy years.

A couple of margaritas with a friend on Tuesday night is virtually a green smoothie compared to your weekends. 

Stillness is anathema to you. If you don’t have any plans one night, you work your way down through your list of fake friends to go out with. The kind of people who loathe not having anything fun to do, just like you.

You know deep down these friends would never be there to help you out if you weren’t this turbocharged ‘fun’ version of yourself. 

You oversleep. You cancel on people flippantly. You’ve spent one too many days in bed, wishing you’d had the energy to get up and go to yoga. 

Then there’s the people you fall in love with. 

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This was my pattern with dating: I'd meet someone, they'd show me pretty clearly that they weren’t a suitable partner, but I was having so much fun with them, getting such a "high" off them, that I wouldn't want to call it quits.

Things would get crazy. We'd patch it up. Things would get crazier, and so on and so forth, until something really broke and it ended. 

Looking back on those years, it’s too easy to put my rose-tinted glasses on. I remember most clearly the last minute vacations, the odd days when things were going well.

But It takes longer for my mind to connect with the day-to-day reality of what things were actually like. 

The hours I wasted wondering if things were going to work out. The sadness I felt when I didn’t have a love story occupying my every waking hour. The crazy situations I accepted and courted that kept my relationship alive. 

I spent a lot of hours trying to make it work with this carousel of unsuitable partners, when really the person I needed to work it out with was myself. 

If today you’re in one of those on-again-off-again relationships that you just can’t seem to extricate yourself from, if you’re hung up on an ex after a relationship ended suddenly, leaving you feel like you narrowly missed out on your happy ever after, or if you are addicted to the "spark" of a dysfunctional relationship, then you may need to walk the same path I did. 

It was only when my life fell apart that I realised something really needed to change. Yet another bad boyfriend had walked out on me, leaving me in a nearly empty, dusty apartment — pregnant and alone. 

A few weeks later, I lost our baby, and even after a 2.5 year relationship, he never came to help me, and never even sent so much as a text to see how I was. 

It was a huge reality check. 

As much as the circumstances were awful, I wanted to have my baby, and I realised that if I was going to become the kind of person who could do this properly, a lot was going to need to change. 

And (spoiler alert) it did.

Hayley Quinn today

Five years down the line, I’m a happily married, mum of one. The craziest it gets over here is when baby decides 5:30am is great time to get up. I love smelling my son’s hair, being engulfed in everyday routine, and feeling totally at peace in my relationship. 

This new found stability in my life allowed my business to blossom, true friendships to be made, and for my happiness to grow exponentially. 

And trust me, if I, "Queen of the Messy Girls" can change, you can too. 

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3 realistic changes you can make now to break the cycle of chaotic relationships & find your authentic self.

Like most things in life, healing and learning to make better choices is a process.

To get you started, here are three of the fundamental tools that helped me get on the right track and break the on-again-off-again chaotic relationship cycle.

1. Get real about the person you think you’re in love with.

The most profound realization I had was when I realised I wasn’t falling in love with real people: I was falling for the fantasy version I had of them in my head. Weird, right? But let me explain. 

You know when you’re totally besotted with someone, how everything they do is magical? 

If you can convince yourself of how incredible they are after a few short dates, you are definitely not falling for them, you’re falling for who you want them to be

When we first meet someone we really like, our minds can make some seriously creative leaps to fill in the blanks.

It’s like having two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and guessing what’s on the other 998 pieces. 

Suddenly they’re not just a normal person with flaws, they’re super human, and because of this we believe they have the power to bring us happily ever after. 

They don’t. 

Instead as we get to know the real them, our fantasy is gradually chipped away at, and you can be left wondering why they’ve suddenly changed so much. 

So how do you fix this?

Well normally when there’s a huge mirage of a love interest in our lives, it’s distracting us from a gaping big problem in our lives. 

Once you let go of the person who’s distracting you, and spend some alone time, you can then face up to whatever you need to really fix within you. 

2. Learn to love your day-to-day life (even if it feels boring at first).

Once you’ve taken the bold decision to step back from the whole dating and chaotic relationships thing, what's next?

Well I’d say it’s time to develop a love of the "normal" and appreciate the day-to-day routines. 

In the past I didn’t really feel alive unless I was putting metaphorical dynamite sticks in to my life. Spending a day by myself, let alone weeks and months, would have felt impossibly daunting. 

I remember the first few nights I tried to stay in and chill: I cooked some chicken soup that had the consistency of porridge, listened to a podcast about learning French (I never did) and wrote a book that was never published. 

It took some getting used to. 

It wasn’t a smooth transition either: I had times when I reverted back to my former ways, but gradually these times became less and less frequent. The funny thing was, I stopped liking that chaotic feeling and I started to enjoy my own company. 

I went out for dinner with myself. I went on holiday by myself. I spent Christmas, you guessed it, by myself. 

Over time I developed a new kind of love affair. I really started to like who I was, and the experiences that had been punching holes in my self esteem dried up. 

3. Stop setting your world on fire and start putting the fires out. 

After a couple of years of changing my dating patterns, I finally reached the peaceful place of realizing that life is quite dramatic enough without self-electing to add to it. 

There will always be struggles along the road as we progress through life: sickness, lack of job security, flakey friends, bad dates. These things can rattle us. 

I discovered that dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of life becomes so much easier when you’re operating from a secure base. Where you wake up with a clear head, eat well, sleep well, save money, and, yes, probably don’t reply to that dubious guy’s text. 

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If this is all a work in progress for you, don’t worry about it. We are all works in progress. 

Finally, it's important to stop feeling ashamed of our "messy years" when we craved chaos and went looking for chaotic relationships in order to avoid spending time with our authentic selves. 

Forgive yourself.

You may even look back on those messy years fondly when you’re up at 5:30 a.m. one day, blending baby food. 

But if you haven’t already, start that journey to fall in love with a perfectly normal life and a healthy person, and in doing so, more in love with yourself.

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Hayley Quinn is an internationally recognized dating coach with over 2 Million views on her TED talk. She has been featured on BBC1, Sky and Channel 4 and is a regular columnist for Cosmopolitan. She is a spokesperson for Match. Follow her on Instagram for daily dating advice.