Breaking up is famously hard to do.
It can be so hard to call it quits that we sometimes fall into the trap of on-again, off-again relationships, in which we are locked in a vicious cycle of breaking up and making up with the same person. Unfortunately, a new study reveals that cycle is bad for your mental health as well as your heart.
“A pattern of breaking up and getting back together with the same partner, what we refer to as ‘relationship cycling,’ was associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety,” says study co-author Kale Monk, an assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri.
“We know that breakups are upsetting in and of themselves, but this distress is considered normal and is often temporary. However, a tumultuous pattern of stressful transitions in and out of the same relationship might have more pervasive implications for our well-being.”
The study, published in the journal Family Relations, researched 545 people in romantic relationships and asked about their levels of anxiety and depression, as well as whether (and how often) they had broken up and gotten back together with a partner.
Those who had on-again, off-again romances were more likely to suffer from psychological distress, even after accounting for other factors that can influence mental health. The more on-off cycles a person experiences, the larger the increases in depression and anxiety seemed to be, according to the study.
“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 told HuffPost.
“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.”
That’s bad news for many of us.
Previous research estimated that more than 60 percent of adults have been involved in on-off relationships, and more than one-third of couples who lived together have at some point ended the relationship before later reconciling.
So, as exciting and dramatic as it may seem for TV couples — from Liza and Charles on “Younger” to Rachel and Ross on “Friends” — this kind of chronic romantic uncertainty is best avoided in real life.