The process of breaking up and reuniting is a trope in modern relationships.
In popular culture, dramatic ruptures and reunions are given especially weighty meaning, with a tacit implication that that what doesn’t kill a relationship only makes it stronger.
However, the art of breaking up and making up – as notably exhibited by Sex and the City’s Carrie and Big or Friends’ Ross and Rachel – can have adverse effects on a person’s mental health, new research suggests.
According to a study carried out at the University of Missouri in Columbia, which involved more than 500 individuals currently in couples, 60 per cent of adults have experienced an on-off relationship.
In comparison to more stable partnerships, on-off relationships were linked to higher rates of abuse, lower levels of commitment and poorer communication.
These types of relationships were associated with greater psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety.
“On-off relationships usually occur when one half of the couple is less committed than the other,” explains dating coach James Preece.
He tells The Independent that the person who is more serious about the relationship tolerates their partner’s volatility because they don’t want to risk losing them.
“The break-ups can be caused by constant arguing or infidelity, but both sides are still drawn to each other,” he continues.
One of the primary issues with this pattern is the lack of reassurance it cultivates, he adds, which can exacerbate underlying insecurities both inside and outside of the relationship.
“It leads someone to question themselves and wonder why they aren’t good enough to sustain their partner’s interest.
“This can lead to increased amounts of jealousy, which can make people feel anxious. The longer it goes on then the worse they feel, which can result in depression.”
If someone is making you feel like this, Preece advises drawing a line under the relationship once and for all.
“Your health is more important than spending time with someone who makes you so unhappy,” he says.
Psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree explains that an on-off relationships often comes about when both partners are fundamentally incompatible but have a strong sexual passion for one another that keeps them coming back for more, resulting in a destructive push-pull dynamic.
“This is typical of emotionally and physically abusive relationships,” she tells The Independent.
“It comes across as if they can’t live without each other, yet when they are together they are toxic for one another. “
When considering the possibility of rekindling a relationship that has ended, it’s crucial to remind oneself of the reasons why you broke up in the first place, suggests lead author Kale Monk, assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri.
Before reuniting, Monk advises having clear conversations with your ex-partner about what went wrong initially and seriously considering the likelihood of these issue dissipating in a reincarnated version of your relationship.
The study, titled “Coming out and getting back in: relationship cycling and distress in same-and-different-sex relationships,” was published in the journal Family Relations.