When it comes to the question of whether on-again, off-again relationships a good idea, it can be easy to talk up all the pros: late-night food runs, lazy post-sex cuddles in bed, the comfort that comes with dating someone you have history with. All it takes is one wistful, 2 a.m. scroll through your Instagram archive and boom! You're out here building a PowerPoint to convince your friends (and yourself!) why it's a fantastic idea to get back together with your ex.
In the moment, it can be hard to recognize that you'd be crossing into emotionally rocky territory by getting back together with your ex. There's a reason you two broke up. And though entering a relationship on shaky ground probably isn't something you'd do with a new person, the familiarity of your ex makes seem OK this time. Still, according to experts, familiarity alone isn't enough to make an on-again, off-again scenario successful. The key is that on-again, off-again relationships can work only if you and your partner have actually resolved past issues, and are on the same page about making it work — for the long haul.
If you do find yourself linking back up with your ex or sorta ex, you're not alone. A 2009 Personal Relationships study found two-thirds of the college students surveyed have been caught up in a back-and-forth relationship. But just because it's a common phenomenon doesn't mean it's necessarily a good one.
That same study revealed that those in on-again, off-again relationships were less likely to report positive relationship characteristics and more likely to report negative relationship results. Why is that? Well, there are a number of aspects to consider in what sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr calls "yo-yo relationships." Fehr told Elite Daily, "These rounds of on-again, off-again/yo-yo relationships are destabilizing, and create a sense of uncertainty and often confusion as to what is happening."
It's tiring to be emotionally fatigued by a partnership that should bring you joy. It's exhausting if you see your relationship as a burden, but stick with it anyway — likewise for resenting your partner for breaking up with you, or resenting your partner for behaviors that lead you to breaking up with them. And finally, it's emotionally draining to be someone and not even know why the hell you got back together in the first place.
This lack of clarity and stability, Fehr said, typically leads to a lack of trust in your own ability to make a decision: chiefly, the one to stay or go. (Alexa, play "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by The Clash.) "It's difficult to truly trust someone and relax into the relationship when you do not know if they — or you — will be around," Fehr said.
As Trina Leckie of podcast breakup BOOST pointed out, on-again, off-again relationships are often unhealthy because you "keep coming back out of loneliness, fear of not meeting anyone else, and just being too dependent on the other person." Yikes. But if you've got a feeling that your ex is someone you're meant to be with — there's just some kinks to smooth out — then there is a silver lining.
In regard to addressing yo-yo scenarios, relationship expert Alexis Nicole White confirmed to Elite Daily, "There are some additional underlying issues that need to be addressed, but have been avoided by breaking up and rekindling the relationship when the smoke clears." And the fact of the matter is that if you and your partner didn't break up with the explicit purpose of working on those issues — turning more attention to school, actively prioritizing your mental health, laying a solid foundation for a career — there's a chance those challenges didn't get worked out.
If you have a frank convo about those problems and commit to resolving them, that's when your break or breakup could be the better. Therapist Nicole Richardson told Elite Daily, "It can be good for two people to take some space, reassess, discuss, and try again."
Not only is it a bad idea to hop into a relationship without acknowledging this, but it's also bad to do so while believing you and your partner were the same people from six months ago, a year ago, two years ago. You need to be super honest with your partner about just how you've changed, how your romantic needs have changed, and vice versa. "The key is to communicate and have each person’s best interest as a focus," Richardson said. That way, it won't feel like same B.S., different day."
You might find you need a good, clean break (for real, this time) to truly sort yourselves out. "To be able to see this clearly, it's helpful to take a break from the relationship — especially if it involves sex — and to evaluate this," Fehr said. She added that working with a therapist or relationship coach as a couple would be a viable option.
Bottom line: Your on-again, off-again relationship is only going to work if both you and your partner put in the work to make sure you're a good match. That being said, you also might need to extract yourselves from the on-again, off-again vortex once and for all if you're drawn together off nostalgia and bomb makeup sex alone. And who knows? Breaking up for good might end up being for the best.
It will be daunting to sit down with your on-again, off-again bae, and have those tough discussions. But the closure — whether that's confirmation that you two are gonna last or the decision to finally cut the cord — will be worth it.