One day things are blissful with bae — you’re spending your whole Sunday in bed and excitedly planning a romantic getaway for the spring. The next moment, you’re sobbing on your bathroom floor, feeling devastated and despondent. You've been on this emotional rollercoaster for a while, and now you've finally reached your breaking point. But the truth is, ending one of these tumultuous relationships is a lot easier said than done. If you're scratching your head over how to end it with your on-again, off-again partner for good, experts say that it will take some soul-searching, serious will power, and lots of support.
According to board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman, when partners keep breaking up and getting back together without addressing their issues or setting and sticking to new boundaries, they get trapped in a toxic cycle. Since nothing changes, they run into the same problems over and over again, only to repeatedly re-live the highs and lows.
“They are disappointed and doubtful about the relationship, yet they get back together because they have lingering feelings, miss the companionship or comfort and familiarity, or can't find anyone else,” she explains.
No matter how much of a toll your on-again, off-again relationship may be taking on your mental and emotional well-being, however, it can still be rather difficult to break away. If you’re the kind of person who often gives others the benefit of the doubt, you may be hanging on to a false hope that your partner will change. Also, licensed clinical psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. LeslieBeth Wish explains that a fear of being single can also factor in.
“The power of being with someone can be so strong that it can squelch your good judgment,” she tells Elite Daily. “Being alone can be one of our greatest fears — so, you stay, and settle."
Not to mention, Dr. Wish notes that breaking up and getting back together can add some major excitement to your life — a kind of excitement that you can easily get addicted to.
“Some couples say that getting back together gives them the best high — and the best sex. You feel alive — but it doesn’t last. And then you're back in another emotionally-charged state of doubt, fear, longing, and turmoil.”
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach and podcast host of Thank You Heartbreak, adds that some people who end up trapped in this dynamic become blinded by the illusion that they are meant to be together simply because they keep ending back in each other’s arms. Thus, they feel all too optimistic that things will eventually work out.
So, in order to finally put an end to this cycle, Trescott says it’s crucial to shift your focus off of the future potential of the relationship, and on to the reality of the here and now as well as the previous track record instead. This also requires digging into the deeper issue that may be preventing you from leaving an on-again, off-again relationship: shame.
“For some people, there’s this suspicion that they were never really worthy of committing to, or that they are unlovable," she says. "This creates a lot of shame — in fact, that shame often causes people to end up trapped in the cycle to begin with. In order to escape the shame of not being good enough to commit to, a person will try to prove themselves to the person they are seeking validation from. Then, on top of that, the shame of being in a relationship that is unstable and undesirable will provoke a person to fight for security and desirability in the relationship so to prove that it the fight was worth it in the end.”
Given that the on-again, off-again relationship often entails a codependent dynamic that can confuse things, Trescott's main advice is to communicate clearly and independently that it is over — once and and only once.
"In other words, the breakup should be a statement, not a conversation," she explains. "This will require courage, distance, and an air of certainty — mannerisms that you have not been known for within the relationship."
Trescott also notes that ending an on-again, off-again relationship is one of the rare situations in which she can condone breaking up over the phone or email, as you're less likely to back out due to guilt or other conflicting emotions.
"State that this relationship has played itself out and, because of your history, you see where it’s headed and can no longer afford to invest yourself or engage with this person at all," she says. "Think of the breakup message as a promise you are making to yourself and your future."
Once you’ve ended the rollercoaster ride once and for all, Dr. Edelman suggests keeping a journal to remind yourself of why you shouldn't get back together with your ex, as well as explore your wants and needs for the future.
“Be honest with yourself about the kind of relationship and partner you desire," she adds.
She also recommends cutting off all contact with your ex — that means no calling, texting, or liking their social media posts. It can be helpful to unfollow them on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. so that you aren’t constantly bombarded with reminders of them. While you’re at it, consider looping your besties in on this effort. That way, they can talk some sense into you (or full on swipe your phone away) the next time you’ve had a few glasses of wine and you feel tempted to reach out to your ex.
"Because these relationships have a history of turning back on one's initial promise and the high often comes from revisiting what was considered lost, it’s probably in your best interest to either outsource a friend or hire a professional coach who can act as your accountability partner," says Trescott. "Freeing yourself from an on-again, off-again relationship will require you to cultivate new habits and to gain closure without your partner’s input. A third party can help you navigate any lingering disappointment, overcome shame and resentment toward your ex as well as yourself, help you excavate the lesson so the relationship helps you grow beyond your current situation, and help you begin showing up for yourself with consistency so you can be your own source of love, security and predictability."
If you're struggling to end this pattern on your own, both Dr. Wish and Dr. Edelman recommend seeking out a therapist to help you explore why you’re stuck in this cycle. Once you address why you ended up in this on-again, off-again situation, you can work on resolving any related fears and issues, which will then allow you to function differently in your future relationships.
Most importantly, however, don’t give yourself a hard time if ending your on-again, off-again relationship is proving more difficult than you thought. These kinds of relationships become much like a habit, and as the old saying goes — old habits die hard. Hopefully, with a little soul searching and strategic moves for cutting off communication, you’ll finally be able to step away from this relationship once and for all. And if you do not succeed, then you can try leveraging more support from your friends and/or a therapist. Ending an on-again, off-again relationship that’s been harmful to your well-being may not be easy, but the effort is well worth it in the long run. Once you break free from this chaotic cycle, you’ll finally have the breathing room you need to find the kind of love you deserve.