On-again, off-again relationships come in many different forms. There are the couples that have known each other since high school and will most definitely get engaged — except that someone needs to indulge their tortured genius by studying frescos in Rome without a girlfriend for six months. There are also the couples who break up every three months over who bought the garbage bags last time — before kissing and making up after a drunken phone call or seven. Figuring out if your on-again, off-again relationship isn't working isn't easy.
No shade, though: breaking up is hard. And sometimes, staying broken up is even hard. Plus, having a partner relaxes the existential dread of being a human being, so it's no wonder we all want to get back into the arms of someone we're comfortable with. But how can you determine if you're getting back together because you're lonely, or because you're actually meant to be?
I spoke to Josh Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Web Radio Show, about the signs your on-again, off-again relationship isn't working, and it's time to break up for good. Here's what Dr. Klapow had to say about what I will henceforth refer to as "on-off"s.
1. You Feel Fatigued
Breakups are the worst, and finally moving on is the only light at the end of the tunnel. If you and your partner are breaking up, but consistently getting back together, you're never going to move on — and that can't be fun for either of you. "When a relationship goes on and off for a period of time, it becomes exhausting," says Dr. Klapow. "As your emotional connection begins to fade, you will find it tiring to re-engage in the relationship."
How can you tell if you're truly exhausted by your on-off? "You will literally feel worn-out and fatigued," explains Dr. Klapow. "This is a sign that it is time to call it quits for at least a while."
2. You Are Resentful
If your on-off leaves you angry, think twice before getting back into it. "Feeling frustration in a relationship that is on and off is normal," says Dr. Klapow. "But if you feel yourself resenting the person, both when you are together (on) and apart (off) then it means that the relationship is dying or has died." Nobody wants a relationship full of bitterness.
3. You Get Back Together After Increasingly Shorter Periods
If you and your partner have taken breaks a few times over your twelve-year relationship because you have demanding jobs or have lived in different cities, that's pretty standard. "It's one thing to navigate a relationship and take a break when there are problems," explains Dr. Klapow. "But if the time together starts becoming shorter than the time apart, it may be the signal that the relationship is dying."
4. You See The Relationship As A Burden
"When the relationship itself is seen as a hassle, a burden, or an arduous task, it is time to end the relationship," says Dr. Klapow. You should be with someone you love, trust, and believe in. You shouldn't be with someone who makes your life harder.
5. You Have To Convince Your Partner To Make It Work
I'm going to be your mom for a moment: NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO BE CONVINCED TO BE WITH YOU! "Getting back together must be 100% mutual," adds Dr. Klapow. "If you are trying to sell yourself or in contrast, if they are trying to convince you the feelings are not mutual — it is not time to get back together." There will be plenty of other people out there who will be more than happy to be with you, but you'll only get out there and meet them if you're brave enough to take the risk to end your on-off.
6. You Don't Know Why You're Getting Back Together
You are an articulate and intelligent human, so ideally you would be able to state why you and your partner are getting back together. "Being able to say why you all are better together than apart is a pre-requisite for getting back together," explains Dr. Klapow. "If you or your partner can't come up with at least one reason, it is not time to get back together." Try this: what would you tell your friends if they asked why you're getting back together with your on-off? Then ask yourself, what would they think?
If you read all of the red flags above and are still uncertain as to whether you should get back together with your on-off — or you read the above and said "yeah but..." more than once — it's probably time to end things. I don't propose to know your exact relationship, but if you're not saying "Eff yes, I should be back with Jeff!" after reading this article, you're probably aware that your on-off is holding you back. Starting over requires courage, but I believe in you. Cheers to your future "on-on"!
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