There's something about a dramatic on-again, off-again relationship that makes for a juicy plot when it comes to TV, movies, and books. However, when you're the one actually going through the ups and downs of such a tumultuous relationship, the reality isn't so romantic. In fact, there's science to prove it. A recent study conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that patterns of breaking up and getting back together can take a toll on a person's mental health.
Researchers examined the role that "on-off relationship cycling" has in the psychological distress of people in both same- and different-sex relationships. By analyzing over 500 individuals who have coupled off, they found an association between relationship cycling and symptoms of psychological distress like anxiety and depression.
While it's clear that the on-again, off-again dance isn't good for your heart or your head, it's not always detrimental to get back together with an ex. "For some couples, breaking up can help partners realize the importance of their relationship," explains Kale Monk, assistant professor of human development and family science and co-author of the study. It's the continual routine of breaking up and reconciling that can cause the most damage.
Monk also points out that couples often get back together after breaking up out of practicality or necessity. For instance, you might be more likely to stay in a relationship for financial reasons or because of how much time you've already invested in a single person. However, according to Monk, these aren't good reasons to stay with anyone. It should be about dedication, not an obligation, he explains.
It's not surprising that continuously going through breakups only to get back together can take a toll on your mental health. If this a pattern that you've fallen into, you might consider Monk's advice for evaluating a relationship. "If partners are honest about the pattern, they can take the necessary steps to maintain their relationships or safely end them," Monk says. Here are a few of his tips for taking an honest look at where you and your S.O. stand.
1. Think about why you broke up and look for consistent issues.
2. Have explicit conversations about the issues that led to your breakup.
3. Think about why you want to get back together and determine whether it's rooted in positive feelings or convenience.
4. Remind yourself that it's okay to end an unhealthy relationship.
5. Consider relationship counseling even if you're happily dating or married.