Relationships that involve repeatedly breaking up and then getting back together are linked to poor mental health, new research finds.
These “on-again, off-again” relationships are associated with increased depression and anxiety, as well as worse communication, less commitment and more abuse.
Over 60% of adults have been involved in this type of unstable relationship.
Around one-third of cohabiting couples report breaking up and getting back together at some point.
Dr Kale Monk, the study’s first author, said:
“Breaking up and getting back together is not always a bad omen for a couple.
In fact, for some couples, breaking up can help partners realize the importance of their relationship, contributing to a healthier, more committed unions.
On the other hand, partners who are routinely breaking up and getting back together could be negatively impacted by the pattern.”
The conclusions come from a study of 545 heterosexual and homosexual couples.
The results showed that male-male relationships had the highest rate of ‘cycling’ (on-again, off-again), while female-female and heterosexual couples were similar.
However, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cycling relationships were linked to higher depression and anxiety.
Dr Monk said:
“The findings suggest that people who find themselves regularly breaking up and getting back together with their partners need to ‘look under the hood’ of their relationships to determine what’s going on.
If partners are honest about the pattern, they can take the necessary steps to maintain their relationships or safely end them.
This is vital for preserving their well-being.”
Dr Monk provides some pointers for people experiencing cycling relationships:
- Consider the reasons you broke up in the first place when thinking about getting back together. Can they change or are they permanent?
- Talk about what is leading to break-ups with your partner — this can be illuminating.
- Why might you consider getting back together — are they the right reasons?
- Remember that it is OK to end a toxic relationship.
- Counselling is always an option.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Family Relations (Monk et al., 2018).