The term karmic partner sounds like something straight out of a romance film. You meet. You feel an instant, inexplicable connection. You feel like you’ve never met anyone like them before, but also like you’ve known them for your whole life. Already, you already can’t bear the thought of a minute apart from them. And you’re more in love than ever before.
But after some time together, things start to turn sour in the relationship, and you’re getting a sense of déja vu. Has this relationship already occurred in the past? Why do they remind you so much of someone else?
There’s a new buzzword doing the rounds on TikTok: karmic partners. The aforementioned scenario is what a lot of people describe when they speak of karmic relationships, especially online. The concept of karmic relationships is simple, albeit a little spooky. It centres around the idea that the universe, or some other form of higher power, brings two people together so that they can learn important lessons from one another.
On TikTok, where discussions of karmic relationships flood the dating advice portion of the platform, the hashtag #karmicpartner has 60.4 million views, while #karmicrelationship has an extra 9.5 million views. Every day, viewers consume videos on what these relationships are, how to spot the signs of them and what it means for you if you’re currently in a karmic relationship. But some of the content treads in murky waters, with creators excusing toxic and abusive behaviour from partners as a necessary karma — something inevitable, universal even.
So, we spoke to sex therapists to break down what karmic partners are, where the concept originates from (it’s not TikTok!), what karmic relationships involve, and whether it’s all that healthy to fixate on this phenomenon.
What is a karmic partner?
Much like when attachment theory dominated social media content last year, the idea of there being specific, allotted relationship styles in which all of our connections must fit into, is back and circulating social media, especially TikTok.
Many armchair psychologists and relationship influencers are spreading information across the platform pertaining to three apparent relationship styles:
Soulmates, which you’ll have likely heard of already.
Twin flames, which Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox popularised and refers to the idea of an intense soul connection between two people thought to be each other’s half).
Karmic partners, meaning partner(s) who have been sent to deliver you karma, good or bad.
The general idea is that all of our relationships fall into one of these three categories, and karmic partners are the ones to watch out for most, and the most difficult to leave.
“From a spiritual perspective, a karmic partner is a partner with whom you share an emotionally intense connection from which you learn a lesson.”
According to dating and relationships expert Dr. Callisto Adams, karmic relationships are defined as relationships where you learn valuable lessons. This will be a relationship with difficulties, rough patches, and intensity of emotions. “From a spiritual perspective, a karmic partner is a partner with whom you share an emotionally intense connection from which you learn a lesson. It is believed that people must go through karmic relationships in order to grow and become a better person,” she explains.
The idea of karmic relationships originally stems from Indian religions including Buddhism and Hinduism. And while the word “karma” has been co-opted by Western culture and parlance (such as when people say things like “instant karma” or “karma’s a bitch” when something bad happens to you immediately after acting wrongfully), this often leads to a negative interpretation of karma and its real meaning. In traditional Buddhist and Hindu perceptions of karma, it is impartial, and can be positive or negative.
This means that, essentially, karmic relationships have been sent to you because you need to learn something from your actions or behaviour in a previous relationship, and make up for any wrongful decisions.
How do you know if you’re in a karmic relationship?
Karmic relationships are subtle by nature — all part of serving that good old karma. However, they do have some common signs, according to traditional spiritual texts and those who share stories of their own karmic partners online. Adams says one of the first signs you’re entering a karmic relationship that people typically mention is that very strong attraction you feel to a person “as if you’re drawn to them and you just need them in your life.” She adds that a karmic relationship tends to be notable due to its intensity, a ‘too-high,-too-low’ dynamic, and uncertainty.
“A lot of characteristics seen in a karmic relationship, from a psychological perspective, are seen as highly toxic and damaging for a person,” says Adams. “The high intensity and passion in a karmic relationship manifest in both spectrums, the highs and the lows of the relationship. What seems to differentiate a karmic relationship from another high-intensity relationship is the inability to predict the next high or low.”
Lisa Lawless, a clinical psychologist and founder of sexual wellness company Holistic Wisdom says it’s worth noting that not all karmic partners come in the form of a romantic partner. “A karmic partner can be any significant person who enters and profoundly influences our lives,” she was. So, you can’t just keep an eye on your Tinder date for karma. It could come in the form of a friend, co-worker, or just about anyone.
Is there any science behind karmic partners?
There is currently no scientific or clinically recognised definition of a karmic relationship, nor any medical research on this phenomenon, but clearly a lot of people relate to having experienced this type of relationship, and recognising the signs in their own lives. So why are people so obsessed with the term?
“A karmic partner can be any significant person who enters and profoundly influences our lives.”
Lawless says people may be drawn to this idea of a karmic partner because it can help explain why we are attracted to a person who we are confused about. “The idea of karmic partners has a mysterious and spiritual connotation; however, in psychology, this is typically explored as our unconscious mind being drawn to partners who can offer valuable life lessons in overcoming the things we are most challenged by in ourselves,” she says.
Lawless says that we are often attracted to people who can help us confront and overcome our personal challenges, whether we realise it or not, and these individuals can help us grow and evolve. Sometimes, though, these are people that may offer their lessons through difficult and challenging experiences. “This can be someone who provides us with healthy confrontations or shows us the pain we have inflicted on others,” she says.
In addition, we are also attracted to what is familiar, including things that recreate experiences from our childhood. “We may not even be aware that we are drawn to partners offering similar experiences and dynamics,” Lawless adds.
What happens in a karmic relationship?
A karmic relationship involves experiences that teach us important life lessons, which Lawless says “allow us to grow our emotional intelligence, such as developing increased empathy and learning how to communicate more effectively.”
So far, karmic relationships will seem pretty tame. But some creators online are using the concept of karmic partners to justify painful experiences, toxicity, and even abuse. “My ex is a narcissist but I keep going back to him because we’re obsessed with each other,” one creator says in a video tagged ‘#karmicpartners’. “POV: your ex is evil but you’re still teaching each other the right lessons,” another writes in a video on the same tag.
Adams importantly notes that the way karmic relationships are often described on social media can be indicative of toxic or even abusive relationships. TikTok users frequently speak of narcissism, lovebombing, negging, and frequent fighting as staples of karmic relationships and can brush them off as “part of a bigger plan.”
“What makes it not okay is the expectation of staying in such a relationship because of the belief that you’ll learn a valuable lesson from it,” Adam says. It is always a person’s right to walk away from abuse.
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The fixation on good and bad karma can also lead people to think they must deserve the bad treatment they’re getting in some way. But, sometimes people behave cruelly just because they want to. Whether or not you believe in karma, or karmic relationships, abuse never has justifications and it doesn’t have anything to do with you.
Adams says that karmic relationships can be embraced as long as the lessons we learn from them are seen “pragmatically and in a way that helps us become better versions of ourselves, but they should be avoided if they turn toxic, abusive, or, in any way, harmful to us and/or our partners.”
Unfortunately, one of the ways karmic relationships differ from any other intense relationship is that they are very difficult to walk away from, according to Lawless. Ending a karmic relationship can be very difficult because of the intensity and passion usually involved, and the promise of growth.
But Lawless notes that we don’t have to stay in a relationship to learn from it, so it’s essential to recognise and act on any toxicity or abuse such as “emotional or physical abuse, manipulation, criticism, or lack of respect and misunderstandings” in any relationship — karmic or otherwise. “You can learn from them by leaving them behind, learning to recognise them and not expose yourself to them in the future.”
If you’re finding it difficult to process your emotions or move on, seeking help from trusted friends, family, or a therapist can help provide perspectives that can help you navigate this challenging life lesson.
Sex & Relationships