On again / off again relationships

By Heather, a love is respect Advocate

Abusive behaviors can manifest in several ways such as name-calling, demanding passwords, controlling purchases or pressuring someone to have sex, and although these behaviors seem pretty obvious, sometimes there are other subtle ways in which partners can throw off the healthy balance of equality in a relationship. Like we’ve said before, love alone isn’t enough to make a relationship work.

One of the behaviors that can throw an otherwise healthy relationship into a tailspin is the infamous “on again/off again” relationship. While these relationships might not show a clear pattern of behaviors designed to take power and control from someone (which we would label as abusive), we know they can be unhealthy, toxic, and painful to deal with.

As usual, we’re not here to tell you to break up or stay with your partner.

We’re firm believers that you know your situation best — hey, you’re the expert in your relationship, and we trust you to make the best choice for yourself! However, we can tell you why the on again/off again relationship may not be a sustainable solution for your long-term emotional wellbeing and happiness.

What can we tell you about on again / off again relationships?

They're painful.

The hurt caused by frequent breakups is hard to ignore. While everyone has the right to end any relationship at any time for any reason, if you find that you and your partner are constantly ending things and getting back together, it may be time to reassess if the communication, trust and respect in your relationship are sufficient. We know that relationships take work, but a relationship that’s ending all the time clearly isn’t working.

They may offer hints about you or the other person.

If you feel like your partner punishes you by dumping you whenever they don’t get their way, or if you make the choice to regularly break up with your partner instead of dealing with conflict between you two, it’s possible your partner is abusive, you are not ready for a relationship — or both. Taking your time to analyze why you want to break up with someone is always worth it so that you ensure your decision is based on a calm and rational thought rather than just a manipulation tactic.

They're a negative way to deal with conflict.

It is totally possible for a couple to break up, make up, and go on to have a happy, healthy relationship, but the likelihood of a relationship weathering the storm after break up number 3…or 30, may be much lower. Every relationship has conflict, and that doesn’t make them unhealthy – it’s how we choose to handle disagreements that determine where our relationship falls on the spectrum from healthy to unhealthy to abusive.

Don’t feel like you have to make any big decisions right away, but whenever the time comes we always recommend you trust your gut instincts about your relationship, especially if your head and your heart aren’t on the same page! If you are currently dealing with an on again/off again relationship, there are ways to cope that may be helpful for you.

Anyone who has spent any time on our site knows we’re big fans of journaling, and this is one of those times that keeping notes on your thoughts and feelings around your on again/off again relationship (if it’s safe for you to do so) can be super helpful. Writing down your side of the story, what happened, who said what, and how you felt can help you if you’re dealing with self-doubt or even gaslighting.

If you’re concerned about someone reading your notes, a less-obvious option is to mark happy and sad faces on a calendar and use some kind of symbol for other frequent occurrences (like an exclamation point for a breakup and a star for getting back together) or whatever comes up a lot in your relationship.

Self-care is always important, but if you’re dealing with painful or stressful emotions, it’s even more so. Breakups can be draining, but having a strong support system can make them easier to get through. Aside from spending time with friends and family, self-care can be as extravagant as a weekend at the spa, or as essential as making sure to drink water throughout the day. Whatever helps you relax, clear your head and feel emotionally well, it’s worth doing!


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