With the exception of a few hiccups along the way, Julia Cook has been seeing the same stylist for 18 years. She trusts Mark Austin Neighbors...

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With the exception of a few hiccups along the way, Julia Cook has been seeing the same stylist for 18 years.

She trusts Mark Austin Neighbors, stylist at Salon 7 in Colorado Springs, Colo., to give her a good cut. And for as long as it takes, she knows she can chat about whatever she wishes — typically the Broncos.

“I don’t know if I owe loyalty, but I feel that way,” says Cook, 45. “I could never cheat on Mark. If I went to another stylist, he’d know.”

If you think of salons, you might think of “Steel Magnolias” or “Shampoo,” in which chatty women gossip with their stylists/therapists while having their hair colored and curled.

Turns out the silver screen isn’t that far off — 88 percent of women say it’s important to have a personal rapport with their stylists, according to the Professional Beauty Association. Clients tend to expect — even demand — a relationship with their stylist that rivals one they might have with a significant other.

Stylists also expect such a relationship — or at the very least, have come to terms with it, since personal problems and saucy secrets have a way of coming out in a stylist’s chair.

“I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine, from the completely horrific to really uplifting amazing stuff, to stuff I really wish I didn’t know,” says Sarah Kendell, owner of Perfect Angels Salon in Colorado Springs.

Work, kids, relationships, sex, affairs — you name it — stylists have heard it all. It’s part of the role they accept when cutting hair: playing the confidant when their clients want to dish. But it works both ways.

“A lot of times we play the role of therapist,” Neighbors says. “A lot of times, it’s the other way around. If I’m having problems in my family, I know who to ask. In my clientele, there’s several psychologists and therapists, so I get help as well.”

This intimate relationship is why many clients often feel conflicted about seeing someone else. That loyalty has kept some women in poor cuts for years.

But why do clients feel obligated to continue to see an unsatisfactory hairdresser?

Well, like any relationship, it’s complicated. Clients tend to form bonds with their stylists from the first visit, a phenomenon that hairdressers attribute to touch.

“You are breaking a psychological barrier,” Kendell says. “It’s a touch in a way that’s a positive neurological association.”

The bond is further strengthened by sharing a project: A woman wants a certain look, and the hairdresser helps her achieve the goal (while keeping a secret that she’s really a brunette).

“[Stylists] help to transform you into someone you see yourself as,” says Karen Sandvik, 36, manager at Perfect Angels Salon. “It’s almost like they know who you really are.”

When clients want to break up with their stylists, the easiest route may be to just do it. “Sometimes it’s just better to rip the Band-Aid off,” Neighbors says. “If you don’t like who you’re going with, find somebody who works better with your hair.”

But as with any breakup, show some sensitivity. Chair-hopping in the same salon can be uncomfortable for both the former client and stylist — like dating someone’s friend.