Break the Cycle of Pain in Your Relationship in 4 Steps

by Gideon Hanekom
January 24, 2020

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In this post, we look at four steps you need to take to break the cycle of pain in your relationship and become happy again.

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A lot of the couples I work with in coaching, complain about persistent, unhelpful or even toxic patterns in the relationships.

Patterns (positive and negative) are essentially habitual behaviour that control much of what we do and the outcomes we experience in our lives.”

Much of what we do as people is oftentimes the result of “learned behaviour.”

In general, a “learned behaviour” is one that an organism develops as a result of experience.

Moreover, these learned behaviours then tend to frequent as habits in our lives which we perpetuate indefinitely throughout our lives.

A habit, in its essence, is repeated behaviour which has become automatic.

And when these are negative or unhealthy, they can wreak havoc.

Often with devastating results.

However, the good news is that old habits don’t have to control you or your partner in your relationship.

As people, we have the ability to change the trajectory of our lives.

You don’t have to continue unhelpful or unhealthy patterns of behaviour and habits in our lives that have the potential of destroying it.

Once we become aware of toxic patterns of learned behaviour or habits, we can take certain steps to change that.

And especially in the context of a relationship, you can learn how to break the cycle of pain in your relationship.

You don’t have to persist with a certain strategy and on a path that you know will get you nowhere.

In the next part of this post, I will walk you through a four-step process that can help you break that cycle of pain in your relationship and give you a better chance of experiencing more happiness and fulfilment.

Follow this 4-step process to break the cycle of pain in your relationship:

One: Understand the root of your pain.

Why do you hurt others or allow them to hurt you?

Look deep inside both your past and present to figure out the source of the pain.

The root of your pain is unique to you, depending on your personal circumstances and how you “saw” them.

In other words, your perspective on what happened influences your emotional state (how you feel about) and thereby your experience of reality.

its not what you look at that matters its what you see. break the cycle of pain in your relationship

In some cases, the source of the pain may have started during your childhood.

You may have experienced childhood traumas or some other negative experience that continue to affect you now in your adult life, including in your relationships.

A lot of times, these experiences are suppressed but still influence our conscious thoughts and actions from the unconscious part of our mind.

We can call these “key decisions”an unconscious decision you’ve made as a result of high emotional arousal during an unpredicted experience, which consequently holds the “key” to both locking in a certain worldview as well as unlocking new growth and personal fulfilment.

And it’s only when we become aware of certain key decisions we’ve made at certain points during our lives, which essentially caused us to close up and suppress healthy development in some area for all of our life, and then revoking those, that we can start breaking the cycle of pain.

Now, if you’ve been the victim of repeated unhealthy patterns in your love life, chances are you may have certain suppressed sources of pain in your past.

You may even have sources of pain from previous failed relationships and friendships.

It’s also possible for other things to have created pain, such as illnesses, mental health issues, relocations, a parents’ divorce, and career changes.

Whatever they might be, if you believe that this could be true for you, you might want to consider getting help from some qualified professional therapist or counsellor.

Therapy may be helpful to help you find these events or past situations, understand them, and learn to think of them in ways that don’t negatively affect you today.

My suggestion would be to find a counsellor that is proficient in a therapeutic modality like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT).

If you want to go about yourself, there are also many books for online courses available that can take you through a similar process of identifying these past suppressed experiences, understanding and reframing them, and committing to new behaviour.

But whatever you choose to do, it is just important that in order to break the cycle of pain in your relationship (particularly in this instance), you must understand the root of your pain (as step one) and do something about it.

This brings us to …

Two: Learn to forgive. 

It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of blame and guilt, but forgiveness is the key to breaking the cycle.

In order to move forward in your life, and become free, you must learn to forgive yourself and others.

Now, forgiveness is something I have talked, taught, and written about a lot over the years.

I think one of the common misconceptions about “forgiveness” is that it is primarily about “the one being forgiven.”

And that typically leads to feelings of “letting someone off the hook” which a lot of people struggle with.

Especially when they’ve experienced hurt or trauma at the hands of that individual or group.

But “forgiveness” in my mind, is more about “the one for giving” than the one receiving it.

A metaphor that is often used to explain “forgiveness” is that of a prison cell with the lock on the inside only.

And the only person that can unlock the prison door is the one sitting inside of the prison cell, not outside.

A lack of forgiveness ends up becoming a way that a person imprisons themselves while paying the full price that goes with that.

Ironically, the people we refuse to forgive remain “free” and completely oblivious to our torment and inner struggle.

“Forgiveness” is about reaching a point where we no longer want to remain imprisoned but desire the freedom to move forward in our lives.

So, we open the prison cell from the inside through forgiveness in order to walk out into the possibility of a new life.

Even when that means some healing still needs to take place in our hearts.

But no healing will ever happen without ever taking the step of “forgiveness.”

Because if you’re always feeling hurt and resentful, it’s difficult to move on and change.

Forgiveness is crucial to the healing process. Without it, you may not be able to break the cycle of pain in your relationship (and life).

Forgiveness provides a fresh perspective and ways to look at issues in a different way.

It gives you the opportunity to heal the heart and spirit.

Three: Look for new role models.

The third step to breaking the cycle of pain in your relationship, and life, is to start surrounding yourself with the right people.

Now, I need to make it very clear that this can mean different things to different people.

Someone that is right for me might not be right for you, and vice versa.

But the principle still applies.

It is very difficult to start creating new results in your life, let alone break the cycle of pain, when you don’t expose yourself to new people with new, healthier, bigger, and wiser perspectives.

That doesn’t mean you need to avoid your family or current group of friends.

But it does mean that you need to seek out new role models you look up to and can learn from.

And these people don’t necessarily have to become your friends either.

You just need to introduce new voices and perspectives into your life.

I have found that this is oftentimes the fastest way to break through limiting habits or patterns that have been keeping me back.

The problem with our family and good friends is that they oftentimes value our feelings more than our growth.

So they tell us what they think we want to hear, or they minimise the pain they can see we’re causing to ourselves.

All to keep us safe because they love us.

The problem is, however, that we also need people who are willing to speak the whole truth (respectfully and in loving terms) to help us cut through our own bullshit, in order to heal our hearts or minds and move forward in life.

So, a good question to ask yourself is, are your current role models an effective source of inspiration for overcoming pain?

Because it may be time to find some new role models.

Who do you admire?

And who can serve as an example of being able to break the cycle of pain?

You can most certainly start by looking at your close circle of friends and family for role models.

There might be someone.

Or, you can also search beyond this network and look for role models among famous people or celebrities.

Another way you can find a good role model to learn from is to look at the past.

Past figures can be a great source of inspiration for healing and building a positive, uplifting relationship.

So many successful people I know, have found inspiration from historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Marcus Aurelius, Buda, Jesus, Plato, and so on.

The cool thing about technology is that we have instant access to the biographies and teachings of many of these inspiring, historical figures.

So, whatever you choose, just choose someone you can look up to and learn from as a new role model.

That will go a long way in helping you break the cycle of pain in your relationship and life.

Four: Change to positive behaviours.

As I’ve already pointed out, one of the issues of a cycle of pain is that you learn to use a preponderance of negative behaviours or patterns of behaviour.

Negative behaviours can include feeling and living like a victim, blaming others, and having dysfunctional relationships.

They can also include being destructive or defensive all the time.

Now, naturally, if you want to break the cycle of pain in your relationship, you cannot perpetuate these negative behaviours or destructive habits.

That will just get you more of the same.

So, at some point, once you’ve worked through the first three steps of this four-step process, you must start to address the actual behaviours that are causing unhealthy and unhelpful results in your relationship or life.

At some point, you must start switching your behaviour patterns to interactions that are more positive.

Because doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, isn’t just insanity, it’s also a very inefficient strategy to creating any better result in life.

Unless, of course, you want more of the same result.

But I suspect that’s is not why you’re reading this post if you’ve managed to read up to here.

The good news is that you don’t have to do change it all at once.

In fact, small changes very often lead to big results.

And that’s good news for anyone who wants to break the cycle of pain in their relationship and change the trajectory of their life.

So, let me give you an example …

Next time, instead of reacting to pain (like an argument or disagreement) with a defensive attitude and crying, consider reshaping the behaviour to one where you’re more in control of your feelings.

For example, you can react by stating how you feel without framing it like a victim or instantly blaming your partner for having a different perspective from you.

Just making this small change every time you disagree on something, can actually alter the course of your relationship dramatically.

Especially since we know that a lot of couples get sucked into defensive reactiveness when their emotions get the better of them.

The important part is to identify a couple of repeated patterns or scenarios in your particular situation, and then come up with more helpful ways you can react the next time they happen.

Plan in advance some things you can say or do that can help your situation rather than make it worse.

Then, when such situations arise, follow your plan for more positive interactions, stick to it for a while, and see what happens over time.

It’s important to remember that your reactions and behaviours can either alleviate the cycle of pain or make it worse.

Final thoughts …

The cycle of pain and hurt can be difficult to break in a relationship.

If it was easy, everyone would do it, but it’s not.

Especially if you’ve been used to seeing the world and behaving a certain way for a long time.

Breaking that habit might prove to be difficult.

However, it is possible to move out of this cycle.

It is possible to break the cycle of pain in your relationship and create a happier healthier and more intimate love life.

Start by practising this process to help you break the cycle of pain and transform your relationship little by little.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a renowned relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website shares valuable insights on creating healthy relationships life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling more than a decade ago. In addition, he since completed post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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