A re­cent study re­veals that on and off re­la­tion­ships can cause ma­jor men­tal health prob­lems in an in­di­vid­ual’s life in the long run


Did you know that on-off re­la­tion­ships can be toxic for your men­tal health? A new study re­veals that such re­la­tion­ships are as­so­ci­ated with higher rates of abuse, poorer com­mu­ni­ca­tion and lower lev­els of com­mit­ment. There are char­ac­ters like Sam and Diane from Cheers, Ross and Rachel from Friends and Car­rie and Mr Big from Sex And The City, which were a part of on-off re­la­tion­ships, keep­ing us en­ter­tained.

How­ever, a re­searcher from the Univer­sity of Mis­souri, USA, says that the pat­tern of break­ing up and get­ting back to­gether can be harm­ful for an in­di­vid­ual’s men­tal health. He sug­gests that peo­ple in these kind of re­la­tion­ships should make in­formed de­ci­sions about sta­bil­is­ing or safely ter­mi­nat­ing their re­la­tion­ships.

A prior re­search has es­ti­mated that more than 60% of adults have been in­volved in on-off re­la­tion­ships, and more than one-third of co­hab­it­ing cou­ples re­ported break­ing up and later rec­on­cil­ing at some point. Com­pared to re­la­tion­ships with­out this pat­tern, on-off re­la­tion­ships are as­so­ci­ated with higher rates of abuse and com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap.

Kale Monk, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of Hu­man Devel­op­ment and Fam­ily Science, Univer­sity of Mis­souri, says, “Break­ing up and get­ting back to­gether is not al­ways a bad omen for a cou­ple. In fact, for some cou­ples, break­ing up can help part­ners re­alise the im­por­tance of their re­la­tion­ship, con­tribut­ing to health­ier and more com­mit­ted unions. On the other hand, part­ners who are rou­tinely break­ing up and get­ting back to­gether could be neg­a­tively im­pacted by the pat­tern.”

Monk and co-au­thors Brian Ogol­sky and Ra­mona Oswald ex­am­ined the data from more than 500 in­di­vid­u­als who are cur­rently in re­la­tion­ships. They found that an in­crease in break­ing up and re­unit­ing was as­so­ci­ated with more psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress symp­toms such as de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety. They did not find mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ences be­tween same-sex and het­ero­sex­ual re­la­tion­ships in this pat­tern.

Part­ners break up and re­unite for a num­ber of rea­sons; a com­mon one is ne­ces­sity or prac­ti­cal­ity. For ex­am­ple, a per­son might stay in a re­la­tion­ship for fi­nan­cial rea­sons or part­ners might stay to­gether be­cause they feel they have in­vested too much time into the re­la­tion­ship to leave. How­ever, Monk ad­vises that former part­ners should get back to­gether based on ded­i­ca­tion and not on obli­ga­tion.

Monk sug­gested a few tips for cou­ples that in­cluded, that when con­sid­er­ing rekin­dling a re­la­tion­ship that ended or avoid­ing fu­ture breakups, part­ners should think about the rea­sons that led to the break up to de­ter­mine if there are per­sis­tent is­sues im­pact­ing the re­la­tion­ship.

An­other step they can take is that to have ex­plicit con­ver­sa­tions about is­sues that led to their break up, es­pe­cially if the is­sues are likely to re­oc­cur. One can also spend time think­ing about the rea­sons why rec­on­cil­i­a­tion might be an op­tion. Is the rea­son, rooted in com­mit­ment and pos­i­tive feel­ings, or more about obli­ga­tions and con­ve­nience? The lat­ter rea­sons are more likely to lead down a path of con­tin­ual dis­tress.

An­other point to take into con­sid­er­a­tion is that it is okay to end a toxic re­la­tion­ship. For ex­am­ple, if your re­la­tion­ship is beyond re­pair, do not feel guilty leav­ing for your men­tal well-be­ing.

Cou­ple ther­apy or re­la­tion­ship coun­selling can also be of help. Even happy dat­ing and mar­ried cou­ples can ben­e­fit from ‘re­la­tion­ship check-ups’ in or­der to strengthen the con­nec­tion be­tween part­ners and have ad­di­tional sup­port in ap­proach­ing re­la­tion­ship tran­si­tions.

Part­ners who are rou­tinely break­ing up and get­ting back to­gether could be neg­a­tively im­pacted by the pat­tern. KALE MONK, AS­SIS­TANT PRO­FES­SOR, HU­MAN DEVEL­OP­MENT AND FAM­ILY SCIENCE, UNIVER­SITY OF MIS­SOURI

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