It’s like your heart’s starring in the movie Groundhog Day: You’re nuts about this person, so you let all kinds of red flags and other bad signs slip through your radar… until the day you decide your self-esteem has had enough, and it’s time for you to do something about it. So, even though it hurts, you decline an invitation or try to pull away from the person you’ve been seeing, because you know that you deserve more than you’re getting out of this relationship. Then, whammo — Mr./Ms. Elusive-and-Noncommittal suddenly notices you’re beating a hasty retreat and launches a charm offensive filled with compliments and loving gestures designed to win you back. For a moment, you wonder if the object of your affection has finally come to his or her senses, so you cautiously crack open the door to your heart again. And for a brief time, it’s bliss… but before you know it, you’re right back where you were before, stuck in the status quo. Then, the cycle starts anew.
Sounds exhausting, right? Unfortunately, many daters find themselves trapped in a similar pattern that literally sucks them back into a relationship that isn’t fulfilling their basic needs. That’s why it’s called “the Hoover maneuver” in some self-help/group therapy circles (yes, it’s in reference to the brand of vacuum cleaner). And unless you make a conscious choice to stop the cycle from repeating itself again, it can go on for years — if not a lifetime.
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So what’s a fed up (but heartsick) person to do? The first step is simply recognizing what’s happening in your relationship. “I think that all of these situations start out with the potential cycle-breaker feeling flattered by the attention and promises of change, but the reality is that these kinds of manipulators — or even ‘abusers,’ if you will — don’t change, but their partners have to,” says relationship counselor Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed., author of ManReaders: A Woman’s Guide to Dysfunctional Men and founder of www.dysfunctionalmen.com. “The cycle-breaker needs to set boundaries quickly before getting sucked in again and again.”
The problem with being manipulated this way (and one of the reasons it’s so difficult to spot) is because it feels good to be pursued by someone who didn’t appreciate you before. Being “Hoovered” makes you feel vindicated because this person finally seems to have realized the error of her/her ways and saying all the right things to you. Your needs are being met, and you’re happy… for a little while, anyway. Unfortunately, the reality is that a “Hooverer” will give you just enough attention to keep you hooked, though this person may not even be cognizant that he or she is doing this to you. Your on-again, off-again partner just wants to keep you in his/her life — on that person’s terms, of course — and to somehow maintain the connection.
But here’s the question you must ask yourself: Is this a healthy relationship for you to be in? It takes two people to let this pattern happen in the first place (i.e., the victim has to be open to getting sucked back into the relationship…which isn’t hard to imagine if you truly care about someone). That said, if you realize that the situation is wearing you down more than it’s building you up, it may be time for a change.
Think you might be a victim of the Hoover maneuver? Check out these five clues you’re getting sucked back into a potentially unhealthy situation — and how you can get back on the path towards breaking the pattern.
Clue #1: You ask for some space and your date suddenly changes his/her tune
This is practically the definition “pulling a Hoover maneuver” on someone, because it only happens after you’ve already tried to pull away from the relationship. You see, the “Hooverer” essentially panics and realizes that losing you could be a reality. To combat this, your not-quite-ex may suddenly shower you with gifts, compliments, promises, and demonstrations of love and affection in order to persuade you to keep the relationship going a little bit longer. Even if this person won’t commit to you long-term right now, he or she can’t commit to not having you, either. So, the “Hooverer” will try to keep things going with you on an even keel (only because it makes him or her feel more stable… it really isn’t about your happiness). What usually happens next is you start hoping that maybe things will be different this time around, and eventually, you allow yourself to get back in contact again. However, if you’re looking to break the cycle, this is the exact moment when you need to call the person out on making a commitment to you. “Is this person introducing you to his/her family and friends and acting like you are someone that will be part of his/her life in the future, or are you never at that point?” asks Kaye. “If the person isn’t willing to even do that, you have no chance of being that special one.”
Keep in mind that this person may not be consciously trying to manipulate or deceive you. Your love interest may sincerely be trying — even hoping — to make things “better this time,” which makes promising to change and taking steps to make things better even more convincing, because this person believes what he or she is saying could actually be true this time around. In this case, it’s best to take a “wait and see” approach, because people can change — but it takes time for them to do so. Ask yourself how long you’re willing to wait and how many chances you’re willing to give before it’s in your best interest to move on.
Clue #2: You’ve broken up and gotten back together five times (or more) already
Is your relationship on a rollercoaster trajectory? If you’re on, then off again so often that you spend most days confused and exhausted, that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Love is complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be that hard. “Too many people take the song ‘Break Up to Make Up’ too seriously,” says Kaye. “No one deserves five chances...by the third time this happens, say ‘goodbye’ instead.” Make a list of the reasons you keep breaking up with each other, and you’ll probably notice that whatever’s written there doesn’t change very much over time. This person can’t do whatever it is necessary to keep both of you happy, so move on and find someone who’s able to give you the emotional support you need in a romantic relationship.
Clue #3: You find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop after getting back together with this person
Walking on eggshells isn’t emotionally healthy in any relationship. If you’re not feeling secure, it’s most likely because your mate is doing things that don’t make you feel safe in your relationship. “If you have a fragile ego (like many people do), this type of personality will drag you right down,” says Kaye. “A person like this may just be running back to you as a security blanket because you are always there, and codependency can often form in this type of relationship.” People who become codependent don’t know how to set healthy limits or boundaries with their partners because they’re too afraid of losing them altogether. If you find yourself feeling this way, try reading some books on the subject, or seek out a codependency support group where you can learn to stand up for yourself and find the strength to leave this cyclical relationship for good. You deserve to feel like you and the one you love are equally invested, and that it’s OK to speak your mind without worrying that your relationship will end if you do.
Clue #4: You realize that this person’s taking up all of your free time and energy
A “Hooverer” will constantly ask when you’re free so you can spend more time together. At first it might be flattering, but that’s because this person doesn’t want you to be with anyone else — and will even start guilt-tripping you for wanting to be with friends or family. “This person is a control freak, and though it feels like the person really wants you, he/she really just wants to control you,” advises Kaye. “Soon, your life will no longer be your own, because these people are emotionally manipulative… get out of the spider’s web before you are sucked in again,” she warns. Kaye also suggests trying to create a “recovery map” for your own life and your interests if you feel that you’re losing your sense of self by staying in a relationship with this person. Write down which things you enjoy doing, the people whom you really want to spend time with, what makes you happy (beyond your relationship), and then schedule those things into your life. Also, speak to the people who act as your support system — i.e., friends and family — so they can validate your instincts about why this relationship is so toxic. These steps can help you regain a life that isn’t totally monopolized by the “Hooverer” in question.
Clue #5: You have experienced this extreme make-up phase before with this person… and know that it won’t last
All good things must come to an end (or so they say). Perhaps that’s not always the case, but when it comes to Hoovering, it definitely is. Much like the initial “Honeymoon” phase of a relationship (which wears off after a couple gets to know each other and settles into a routine), a Hoovering phase is also limited in scope and duration. And if you’ve gone through it all before, somewhere in the back of your mind you know that eventually, all this extra attention and affection will fall back to “normal” levels once more. If somebody who treated you poorly before starts treating you well, there’s no harm in letting this person max out his or her efforts to win you back. But no matter how thick this person lays on the charm, do not change any boundaries that you have set out of self-preservation. In other words, do not settle for less than you deserve, do not stop doing things that are healthy for you or stop exercising your own independence in this relationship. And don’t assume that a Hoover phase will last forever — or use it to bargain for things that you know this person isn’t willing to give you (because you’ll only be setting this person up to fail, and setting yourself up for yet another heartbreak). “The only chance a person has of surviving these relationships is to take control and set very strong boundaries,” says Kaye, who adds: “Start thinking with your brain instead of your heart!”
Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a popular New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Redbook, Maxim and frequently online. A certified dating/relationship coach, she’s published two books:The Real Reasons Men CommitandSex Comes Firstand is the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.