By Chris Seiter

Updated on January 27th, 2022

This is a complete guide to understanding why your ex keeps coming back and then leaving over and over again.

In this in-depth guide you’re going to learn,

  • The avoidant-anxious self fulfilling cycle
  • You are the constant “On Deck” circle person
  • Why it’s important to outgrow your ex

If you’re ready to go “all in” on learning how to stop the “on again/off again” cycles with your ex then let’s dive right in.

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Understanding The Avoidant-Anxious Self Fulfilling Cycle

If you want to understand why an ex keeps coming back to you after a breakup time and time again then probably the best place to start is by fully understanding something I like like to call the avoidant-anxious self fulfilling cycle.

In order to fully understand this you need to understand a bit about attachment styles. Specifically how anxious and avoidant attachments interact.

For reference, here’s a few definitions on what they are based on an article I just wrote last week,

  1. Anxious Attachment Style: This person typically requires a lot of attention and affection. They really like to feel close to their partners, it’s not uncommon for them to want to spend every single day with them. The core wound of them is that they have a fear of abandonment and being alone and so that’s what usually triggers their anxious behaviors in relationships.
  2. Avoidant Attachment Style: They are a person that does not like a lot of emotional intimacy or vulnerability within a relationship. They typically revert a conversation back to someone else to talk about themselves to avoid the spotlight. Often that’s how you’ll figure out if they’re avoidant or not. Ultimately they are afraid of having a deeper emotional connection and it all can stem from their experience in childhood. They’ve learned that any time they are vulnerable, it can be used against them and therefore they don’t rely on other people.

The reason I hone in on these two types of attachment styles is that we’ve found the vast majority of our clients have avoidant exes,

While most of our clients tend to have more anxious leaning attachment styles.

What’s really interesting is that these two attachment styles are often drawn to one another and yet they end up in this self fulfilling phase that I lovingly refer to as “the avoidant-anxious self fulfilling cycle.”

Here’s how it works.

  • The avoidant starts by thinking “I want someone to love me”
  • Next when they’ve found that person they think, “This is great my love troubles are over.”
  • Then the avoidant person starts to notice some anxious behaviors from the other person and the cracks begin to form
  • Once this goes on long enough the avoidant person starts debating on when they’re going to leave
  • Then they actually leave
  • Then they feel super happy about the fact that they left
  • But if enough time goes by where they’re left alone they start to feel a bit lonely
  • Which leads them to start thinking that they can’t ever find the right person for them
  • Then they start thinking “I want someone to love me.”

And around and around the cycle goes.

The cool thing is that there’s actually psychology to back this part up. Take a moment and watch this video,

I would say the biggest takeaway about avoidants that you could get from that video is the mere fact that they don’t tend to “miss you” until they feel comfortable missing you and the only time they feel comfortable is if they’ve perceived they can’t get you back.

Usually that happens around this phase,

Of course, another interesting insight that I can bring you with regards to avoidant exes is the fact that they are victims of a concept I like to call “the phantom ex syndrome.”

What Is The Phantom Ex Syndrome

If you really think about it the ideal “partner” for an avoidant is the person they can’t have. They are allowed to fawn over them without having to risk the emotional intimacy that a successful relationship requires.

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Generally this is why we see avoidants falling prey to the phantom ex syndrome.

That constant nostalgia for the one that got away. Using our handy graphic you’ll find that the phantom ex syndrome occurs all throughout this area,

  1. So, your ex starts to feel lonely after they’ve broken up with you
  2. They wonder why can’t I ever find the right person
  3. And then they want someone to love them

It’s as they go through this phase that they start to think back to the “peak” moments of your relationship. They have a bit of that nostalgia wave. They start to view you potentially as that phantom ex.

And they’re highly susceptible to coming back.

Of course, that’s when the wheel turns again and again.

Hence, the self fulfilling cycle has become self fulfilling and your ex keeps coming back to you.

The “On Deck” Circle Phenomenon

Growing up I played baseball so it’s one of those sports that always remains near and dear to my heart.

In baseball everyone knows about the “on deck” circle.

It’s basically the spot that batters stand in before they go up to the plate to hit. In other words, it means their turn is coming up next.

What I consistently notice about exes that keep coming back time and time again are two things.

  1. They definitely go through that self fulfilling cycle I mention above
  2. They like to keep you in the “on deck” circle

They do this because they want a known commodity that they can rely on in case things don’t work out for them in the future. It’s a bit like the grass is greener syndrome that way.

If the grass isn’t green on the other side they come back to the person that makes them feel comfortable time and time again, you.

And yes this is a behavior we see happening even if they move on to someone else.

Protocol dictates that you need to engage in “the being there” method if you find yourself in this situation.

But a funny thing can happen when your ex dates that new person. You may find that they’re giving you these mixed signals.

One minute they are really into you and make you believe they’re going to leave that person they are with. The next they want nothing to do with you.

What the heck is going on here?

Basically they are buttering you up and keeping you in that on deck circle in case things don’t work out and inevitably what can happen in these on again/off again scenarios when your ex keeps coming back to you is they like the stability that you offer.

Of course, this leaves one very important question unanswered.

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How do you break the self fulfilling cycle where an ex keeps coming back to you and breaking up with you only to start the process over again.

Why Outgrowing Your Ex Is Essential To Break The Cycle

Being in an on again/off again relationship is one of the most difficult relationship experiences you can encounter because often you’re left wondering how you can break the cycle.

Most people will tell you,

  • Get over your ex
  • Move on
  • Why would you take them back

I’m not going to do that because you’ve probably heard all of it before and it’s not helpful. All I can do is tell you what I’ve seen work for my clients.

Above I mentioned that most of my clients have anxious attachment styles while their exes veer more towards avoidant attachment styles. We’ve covered why these two attachment styles are like oil and water in relationships before but here’s a great video on it by The School of Life,

So really this question, assuming you fall into the average attachment category of our clients, isn’t “how do you break the on again/off again cycle” it’s, how do you put the work in to shift your anxious attachment tendencies to more secure ones.

Here’s the approach I would take if I was you.

Instead of thinking about how bad you’re feeling when you go through a breakup and your ex is playing ping pong with your emotions I want you to recite this simple mantra.

What would a securely attached person do in this instance?

The answer almost always when it comes to breakups is to find a way to outgrow their ex.

Now, what do I mean when I talk about “outgrowing an ex?”

I don’t necessarily mean “move on from them.” I think it’s more in line of being able to live life happily without them and so that’s what I would argue you should spend most of your time on.

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