Break up, make up, repeat. If this pattern describes your romantic relationship, it’s time to hit the pause button and stop the cycle to either improve the relationship or end it. Why? Because you deserve a healthy, dependable relationship, for one thing—but also because of the stress and its impact on your mental health. When researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois surveyed 545 adults in relationships, they found that those in a breakup-makeup pattern reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety—and the more breakups and makeups a couple had, the more symptoms they reported. Plus, it’s well documented that chronic emotional distress leads to physical health problems ranging from cognitive difficulties to slower wound healing to dangerous “leaky gut” syndrome.
ARE YOU A SERIAL “RELATIONSHIP CYCLER”?
According to past research, relationship “cycling” is surprisingly common, with 30% to 50% of adult daters reporting breaking up and getting back together in their current relationships and more than 60% reporting cycling in previous ones. Some people might even be attracted to the passionate excitement of the pattern. But the primary reason a couple cycles in and out of their relationship is generally one of these:
- After breaking up for whatever reason, each person has lingering feelings for the other—they miss each other.
- They feel obliged to reunite, perhaps because of owning a home together or even sharing a lease that’s hard to break.
- They come to believe they can’t do any better than their ex.
- They feel that they’ve invested too much time into the relationship to not give it another chance.
Having obligations and perhaps developing new ones every time you reunite can make it progressively more difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship. On top of that, feeling as though you have to return to it can lead to more unhappy emotions, such as feeling trapped.
HOW TO BREAK THE PATTERN
To break the pattern of an on-and-off relationship—either by breaking up once and for all or staying together once and for all—both partners need to think about the reasons they broke up to look for potentially insurmountable problems. So, before you decide to get back together again, you should seek to identify whether and how things could really be different this time.
To do this, have an honest talk with the other person about the issues that led to the breakup or breakups, especially if these issues seem likely to happen again. This might put you on the same page about what really needs to be improved or repaired. If you disagree about the problems that needed fixing, it’s unlikely that getting back together will work this time either.
Caution: If there was ever violence in the relationship or if having a conversation might trigger a violent episode, consider seeking support services when it’s safe to do so.
Next, openly explore your reasons for rekindling the relationship. Do you want to get back together because you’re devoted to and have positive feelings for each other, or is it more about convenience or obligation? The latter reasons could lead to more distress and eventually another breakup.
If your relationship is beyond repair, know that it’s OK to end it. Don’t feel guilty over leaving the relationship for your mental or physical well-being. If you’re having trouble ending a relationship even though you think it’s the right thing to do, consider therapy or counseling. A therapist can also help clarify the situation for people who are still unsure of whether to work on the relationship or call it quits.
It’s important to note that breaking up and getting back together once is not always a bad thing. Some individuals, for example, say that taking a break helped them reevaluate their relationships and discover they really didn’t want to be without their former partners. They rededicated themselves to improving and sustaining their relationships. When unhappy patterns reoccur, however, partners are likely to feel disappointed and distressed.
Related: Learn how the unlikely duo of science and ancient Greek philosophy can help you build long-lasting love.