On/off relationships are big bucks in Hollywood. Entire films and TV shows depend on our investment in will-they-won't-they, drawn-out relationships – Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Big, Joey and Dawson, Kermit and Miss Piggy – but did anyone actually think they were relationship goals? A study in the journal Family Relations has suggested that on/off relationships can be linked to signs of psychological distress.
In the study, in which 545 people took part, 279 were in same-sex relationships and 266 in different-sex relationships. The researchers led by Dr Kale Monk from the University of Missouri looked at symptoms of depression and anxiety during on/off cycling in relationships.
They said that 60 percent of adults have experienced such a relationship, which have been linked to higher rates of abuse and lower levels of communication. On/off relationships were more likely to occur in male-male relationships than female-female or mixed sex.
In a statement, Dr Monk noted that breaking up and getting back together was “not always a bad omen for a couple,” as it could “help partners realize the importance of their relationship.” But those that were repeatedly doing it could cause problems.
“On the other hand, partners who are routinely breaking up and getting back together could be negatively impacted by the pattern," he said.
Repeatedly breaking up and getting back together is known as relationship cycling, and that can be a sign of bigger issues at play. In this study, the authors found that an increase in relationship cycling was associated with symptoms like depression and anxiety for both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
"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," Dr Monk said.
"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."
He does offer some tips though. He says that if considering rekindling a relationship, both partners should consider why they broke up in the first place and see if that could still be a problem. Also, he suggests looking at whether getting back together is a good idea.
If you’re really stuck, couples therapy can also be an option. And, if the worst comes to worst, he says to remember that it’s okay to end a toxic relationship without feeling guilty.