Even when a relationship ends on the best of terms, breakups are never fun. And thanks to social media apps connecting us—and also the plain, old complexities of human emotion—the severed unions are rarely cut and dry. Even when you click “unfollow” on every medium in order to minimize an ex’s digital presence on your radar so you can have space to minimize their emotional weight on your mind, former flames have a knack for hitting you up right when you’re almost fully over it. Or, maybe you get lonely and can’t resist reaching out yourself (blame the mezcal). Regardless of how it happens, getting back together with an ex certainly isn’t uncommon.
In fact, there’s a scientific-ish term for it: Relationship cycling describes the on-again, off-again loop couples often get caught in. And considering how completely devastating breakups can be, getting back together must have at least some mental-health benefit, right? Well, according to new findings published in the journal Family Relations, not really.
Researchers surveyed 545 people of various demographics in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and found an association between on-off relationships and feelings of depression and anxiety. Study co-author Kale Monk, PhD, says this could be due to being forced to repeatedly relive the stress of a breakup, whereas if you break up once, the emotional anguish happens for a temporary period, and then you move on, Time reports. “Patterns of breakup and renewal were linked to increased symptoms of psychological distress, indicating the accumulation of relationship transitions can create added turmoil for individuals,” the study notes.
“I recommend partners think about the reasons they broke up when considering rekindling a relationship. Will things really be different this time?” —Kale Monk, Phd and study co-author
While getting back together with a past love can feel tempting, especially given how easy it is to glamorize happy memories and a person’s best qualities in retrospect, it’s best to tread lightly, take the choice very seriously, and give it a lot of thought. “I recommend partners think about the reasons they broke up when considering rekindling a relationship,” Dr. Monk says. “Will things really be different this time?”
Because while it may not seem like a big deal—certainly nothing more than a happy epiphany!—to give new light to a burnt out flame, do yourself and your mental health a favor and make sure backsliding remains the exception to your dating-regimen rule. As painful as breakups are—and the prospect of a single status during cuffing season—that on-off cycle can hurt even more.
If you want to put an end to relationship cycling, here are some tips on how to break up (for good) in a healthy way. Plus, why you might want to buy yourself a good romance novel afterwards.
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