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On-Again, Off-Again Relationships Are Seriously Terrible for Our Mental Health

We all know a couple that breaks up and gets back together so often that it becomes a normal part of their relationship. Maybe we’ve been in one of these relationships ourselves. Either way, we know they’re very stressful to be around and/or in, but beyond that, they can also be bad for our mental health. 

According to researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the pattern of breaking up and getting back together can result in psychological distress. The study, published in the journal Family Relations, indicates that more than 60 percent of adults have been involved in these on-again, off-again relationships, and more than one-third of couples who live together reported breaking up and then getting back together at a later point.

What’s particularly troubling is that researchers found that these types of relationships are associated with higher rates of abuse, poorer communication and lower levels of commitment.

But interestingly, it’s not always bad news.

“Breaking up and getting back together is not always a bad omen for a couple,” Dr. Kale Monk, assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri, said in a statement. “In fact, for some couples, breaking up can help partners realize the importance of their relationship, contributing to… 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.”

After examining data from more than 500 couples, Monk and his colleagues noticed that people in on/off relationships experienced more psychological distress symptoms, like depression and anxiety. This was the case for both same-sex and heterosexual couples.

This completely makes sense. If, like me, you’ve ever been involved with someone who would constantly change their mind about whether or not they wanted to be in a relationship, regularly threaten to end things, then promise to change and want to get back together, you know that it basically turns you into a ball of anxiety. Not having any sort of security and not knowing if today would be the day he’d decide to end things (or if we were broken up, would decide to get in touch again and reconcile) made me a nervous wreck.

So, what’s causing couples to keep breaking up? The researchers found that one of the primary reasons is because they see staying in the relationship as practical or necessary; for example, someone might opt to remain in a relationship for financial reasons or because they feel they have invested too much time in it for it to end. To prevent this, Monk advises that people get back together out of dedication, not obligation.

“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,” Monk said in a statement. “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.”

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