The Stress of On-Off Relationships

The greater the number of relationship breakups you experience, the greater your feelings of stress and anguish. Indeed, the dynamics of off-on relationships have consequences.
The Stress of On-Off Relationships

Last update: 29 May, 2022

Ending a relationship is never a pleasant experience. In fact, the mourning that some of us go through after these events makes us go back to the relationship without even resolving the problems that caused the breakup in the first place. When these transitions become cyclical, we speak of on-off relationships.

Breaking up and making up favors two unhealthy dynamics, that of repeated grief and emotional codependency. In the long term, it’s an unsustainable situation, both regarding the interaction and the emotionality of the members of the couple.

Evidence exists to support the hypothesis that on-off relationships escalate anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s a good idea to be aware of how the spiral works and the consequences that it entails, and to internalize them. Let’s take a look.

Why do some people go back to their ex over and over again?

Some people take the advice “it’s better the devil you know” to the letter. Indeed, it often feels better to go back to someone you know, even if there are problems in the relationship, because it seems too much like hard work to develop a new relationship with a relative stranger.

This might make you question whether it’s even necessary to have a partner. Even with all the media bombardment promoting self-love and happiness, you might just want to avoid romantic loneliness. In fact, being single may not be an option for you, surrounded as it is by unfavorable myths and other misconceptions.

Other factors include poor conflict management (for example cutting off the relationship because of an argument), emotional codependency, and psychological abuse. That said, each relationship is different and requires a personalized analysis of the situation to generate valid solutions.

Couple looking at each other

The growing distress of on-off relationships

The psychological and emotional processes that occur within your relationships have a strong effect on your individual well-being. Consequently, your break-ups are often accompanied by anguish and feelings of anxiety and depression. This is completely normal as it’s a painful situation.

On the other hand, if you repeatedly pick up and then leave a relationship, it puts your own mind in the position of having to repeatedly go through the associated grief. In fact, a scientific study warns that there’s a positive and growing correlation between emotional suffering and the number of times that partners separate.

This research claims that those subjects who’d broken up with their partners and reconciled repeatedly reported more distress symptoms over the 15-month study period. The stress, in addition to being related to grief, also seemed to be associated with the turbulence of changing roles and customs of the repeated transitions.

sad woman thinking
On-off relationships prevent an emotional balance in the couple.

What can you do if you’re in an on-off relationship?

Maybe you’ve been with your partner for years, but you don’t know how many of them really count. That’s because they’ve been in and out of your life so many times that you’ve no idea what you want out of the relationship anymore. Even so, the idea of banishing them from your mind and daily life forever seems overwhelming.

If you’re in this kind of situation, you’ll know that getting out of an on-off relationship is far more complex than simply walking out of the door. In fact, within this dynamic, there are certain factors whose influence you must isolate.

In close proximity, the other person becomes unbearable. However, from a distance, feelings of nostalgia mask what, before, couldn’t be tolerated for another minute.

For this reason, it’s best that you go to a psychological consultation, especially if you want to stop this ‘relationship cycling’ yet feel that you’re not capable or don’t know where to start.

Helpful tips for breaking the cycle

  • Identify any unresolved issues you have with your partner and ask yourself if it’s possible to overcome them.
  • Lean on your friends and loved ones. Their version of your situation will help you see yourself from another perspective.
  • Explain to your partner the cycle you’re experiencing: It’s possible that they also feel trapped and you’ll be able to find a definitive solution together.
  • Give yourself time. Often, couples get back together because they haven’t given themselves the time they need to grieve. As a matter of fact, during the time you’re apart, you should cut all contact with them.

Conquering and cultivating self-respect is a long-distance race. However, you don’t have to run it alone. Indeed, along the way, you’ll discover that it’s not only couples that are the key to social happiness. Don’t let endless relationship cycling cloud it.

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  • Hoyos, M. L., Arredondo, N. H. L., & Echavarría, J. A. Z. (2007). Distorsiones cognitivas en personas con dependencia emocional. Informes psicológicos9(9), 55-69.
  • Monk, J. K., Ogolsky, B. G., & Oswald, R. F. (2018). Coming out and getting back in: Relationship cycling and distress in same‐and different‐sex relationships. Family Relations67(4), 523-538.