On-Again, Off-Again Relationships: Can They Work?

Getting back together (again)

Most on-again, off-again relationships are very unpredictable and spontaneous, going “off” due to problems and differences they can’t seem to solve and going “on” again because they think things will work out the second time around.

Samantha*, told her story about her suitemate and her boyfriend that went on and off-again multiple times within a week: “A few days ago, I came home from class and I asked my suitemate if I could borrow something from her boyfriend’s room. She goes, ‘I don’t know; I haven’t spoken to him all day. We broke up.” Commence tears in her eyes. Fast forward a day, they are back together again. Fast forward one more day, they broke up again. And yesterday, yep, they are back together again. All of our friends are actually waiting for them to finally call it off for the final time. They are making it very hard for all of us to hang out peacefully.”

Samantha’s story shows how on-again, off-again relationships can be so unhealthy that it impacts even those around them. When you see that your relationship is doing more damage than good, it’s time to just end it. It’s been said that sometimes relationships are just like broken glass. It’s better to leave them broken rather than continuously hurt yourself in trying to put the pieces back together.

Dr. Faye Barkley, Ph.D., research psychologist in human behavior, notes, “Most [cyclical relationships] eventually fail in time. What the couple needs to look at is what keeps brining them back together? Many times, a couple will bond over their need for punishment of self or another. In other words, their mutual illnesses ‘need’ each other.”

If you find that one or both of you find yourself wanting each other back as a means of resolving guilt or as a way of atoning damage that’s been done, don’t get back together. This is a very negative, unhealthy relationship in which both of you will end up disappointed and unhappy. Both of you should be together because you want to be together, not because you feel like you have to be.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles, makes a similar point. “On again/off again relationships may be a sign of fear more than anything,” Durvasula says. “The fear of leaving the comfort of that which is known (albeit probably not working) for the unknown or god forbid—being alone.” If you are simply getting back together because you’re unsure if you’ll find anyone else or that you’re scared of being single and lonely, don’t get back together. This is a co-dependent relationship in which you leach off each other for a sense of self-esteem and worth.


So what is a good reason for getting back together again?

Caird thinks that it’s important to follow your instincts because every situation is so individual. She says, “Ask yourself why they’re coming back and if you think it’s legitimate. There’s a point where you just have to say no. If it’s a constant, continuous rollercoaster, it’s a bad way to live. It can become addicting, so be careful. Be aware. But if you think both of you have really come to a mutual understanding and are willing to make necessary changes and compromise, then it’s up to you to take that risk depending on if you’re ready or not. It’s about trusting yourself, too. You have to be strong enough to handle it if they leave again.”

And if you do decide to get back together again, serious changes need to be made, and you both really need to communicate these changes wth each other. Julie Spira, relationship and dating expert and CEO of CyberDatingExpert.com says, “In order for [an on-again, off-again relationship] to succeed, when the couple gets back together they need to communicate fully and honestly about what changes each will make to help the relationship last. If the goal is for marriage or a long-term exclusive relationship, talking about what didn’t work the previous times and agreeing to a new set of guidelines for success is mandatory. It can work, but only if both partners put ten toes in with the goal of staying together.”

Remember that this can be very difficult. As Caird constantly emphasizes, there needs to be a mutual agreement for any relationship to work out. If you find that neither of you seem to compromise or seem to break compromises made after a short while, it’s time to move on with your life.

Erin Appenzoller, a junior at Emerson College, encourages collegiettes. “If you’re constantly breaking up and getting back together with the same guy, you’re never really allowing yourself to move on and move forward,” Erin says. “Your heart is stuck in one place and you aren’t able to open yourself to new relationships that are probably much healthier than a yo-yo relationship.”

So if inside, you know it’s just not working out, don’t force it. Caird pointed out that you don’t want to lower your bar. “Keep it high in respect to dating, you know?” she says. “The right guy will meet you there.”

*Names have been changed.

Avianne Tan is a senior at New York University studying journalism and English. As a social justice advocate, feminist and mental health advocate, Avianne aspires to use journalism as a platform to raise awareness and incite positive change. 

Currently, she is an interactive news intern for WABC-TV NY Channel 7 Eyewitness News at 7online.com. Being a news junkie, she also writes for The News Blog here on Her Campus. When she's not reading or writing news, Avianne loves taking spontaneous adventures, eating new food and relaxing with her pets. 

Catch Avianne Flu by following her on Twitter and Instagram! To learn more about Avianne, please visit her website at www.aviannetan.wix.com/atan.