On-again, off-again relationships are incredibly common (think Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Mr. Big) — but they’re not good for your well-being. According to new research from the University of Missouri, the persistent pattern of breaking up and getting back together can affect your mental health, and the impact might be more serious than you think.
“Breaking up and getting back together is not always a bad omen for a couple,” explains Kale Monk, an assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri, and study author. “[However,] partners who are routinely breaking up and getting back together could be negatively impacted by the pattern.”
Along with co-authors Brian Ogolsky and Ramona Oswald from the University of Illinois, Monk examined data from over 500 individuals currently in a relationship, studying the aspects of psychological distress that occur during patterns of breaking up and getting back together. Symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and emotional instability led the researchers to the conclusion that on-again, off-again relationships tend to do more harm than good when it comes to the individuals’ well-being.
Monk says these relationships often point to underlying issues, and definitive conclusions should be made instead of putting a band-aid over the problem. “People who find themselves regularly breaking up and getting back together with their partners need to ‘look under the hood’ of their relationships,” he says. Before making rash decisions to break up or reunite, it’s important to assess how severe the problem is, and then make an informed decision.
Monk also suggests that open communication, honesty, and couples’ therapy are all key aspects when it comes to making the decision to break up or stay together. And if you’re still left feeling ambivalent about the relationship, remember that it’s okay to end the relationship for good, and that you should never feel guilty for prioritizing your own mental health.
This relationship pattern may be common, but the findings suggest that the anxiety that comes along with it is not worth the roller coaster of emotions that follows. The researchers point out that at the end of the day, being honest with yourself and with your partner is the only way to address what’s really going on. “If partners are honest about the pattern, they can take the necessary steps to maintain their relationships or safely end them,” Monk explains. “This is vital for preserving their well-being.”