From Peter Weber and Madison Prewett to Hannah Brown and Tyler Cameron, on-again, off-again relationships are just as common in The Bachelor fam as mansion drama, adrenaline-churning dates, and overuse of the word “journey.” So, why are so many Bachelor relationships on and off? The franchise's most recent two leads have returned to a runner-up after the cameras stopped rolling, while other couples (like Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph, as well as Jared Haibon and Ashley Iaconetti) have been open about breaking up and getting back together.
According to psychotherapist Dr. Gary Brown, who specializes in couples' counseling, and clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., the conditions of this reality show are a perfect storm for these cyclical romances. Here's why.
The Show Is A Breeding Ground For Obsession & Unrealistic Expectations
Despite the fact that The Bachelor is considered a reality show, the circumstances of the program are hardly realistic. Not only are contestants all dating the same person simultaneously (which can naturally spur tension, jealousy, and conflict), but they’re also cut off from the outside world — with no internet, TV, or phone (meaning zero emotional support from loved ones). It's also worth noting that since they aren't working, and the mansion doesn't have a gym, they don't have access to their typical distractions. That means that basically the only thing they can do all day is fixate on the relationship — which isn't exactly a recipe for a healthy mindset.
Plus, the extravagant dates that are planned for them are designed to trigger an intense rush — which may set them up for disappointment once their budget doesn't allow for those experiences anymore. Because honestly, how many times has your Tinder match whisked you away on a helicopter ride to a secluded picnic with bottomless champagne? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
"Unless you are dating a contestant who has a relatively high net worth, you are being seduced by a whole series of unrealistic expectations about what married life may be IRL," says Dr. Brown.
Contestants Barely Know Each Other
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the show is that it is filmed over merely six to nine weeks. Couples on Bachelor in Paradise, meanwhile, are expected to find love in an even shorter time frame, with filming occurring over roughly three weeks. Needless to say, that’s not a lot of time to figure out whether or not you’re a solid match with someone — especially when much of the competition entails vying for the Bachelor or Bachelorette’s attention on group dates. Who knows after just a few dates whether they want to spend the rest of their life with someone?
According to Dr. Klapow, relationships become more stable over time as people have more chances to delve into deeper conversations, have those inevitable healthy disagreements, and build trust.
“While there may be chemistry and attraction, the test of the strength of the relationship is its ability and the ability of each partner to adjust over time and still want to be together,” Dr. Klapow tells Elite Daily. “What feels right in the first two months may not feel right later on.”
This might help to explain why Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon, though now happily married, had to overcome a few hurdles before their romantic relationship reached a stable place.
When Iaconetti and Haibon first met on Season 2 of Bachelor in Paradise in 2015, she immediately fell head over heels for him. They went on one date, and even handed each other a few roses at the ceremonies, but left Paradise as friends since Haibon seemed to still have lingering feelings for Kaitlyn Bristowe. Over the next year, they attended numerous events together and casually posted about their hangouts on social media, and Iaconetti later revealed that things alternated between romantic and platonic during that time. During Bachelor in Paradise the following summer, Haibon connected with Caila Quinn (much to Iaconetti’s dismay), and Iaconetti soon moved on by dating Kevin Wendt on The Bachelor Winter Games. Apparently, though, losing Iaconetti made him realize his true feelings for her. She revealed on her Almost Famous podcast that she and Wendt had been dating for just a couple of weeks post-season when Haibon kissed her in an airport, and she promptly broke up with Wendt so they could finally be together.
What's interesting about Iaconetti and Haibon's relationship timeline is that their connection seemed to thrive in-between seasons of Bachelor in Paradise, when the cameras were no longer rolling. And is that really any surprise? As Dr. Klapow points out, there are fewer opportunities to form solid social, intellectual, emotional and sexual bonds during the brief period of filming — and those bonds are what give any relationship a strong foundation. Perhaps the time they spent together off-camera is all they needed to finally connect on a deeper level.
The Show Comes With Intense Pressure To "Win"
Since contestants only have a couple of months (or less) to get to know each other, relationships progress quickly and intensely — definitely moreso than they would IRL — or if there wasn’t any pressure to get engaged at the finale. Experts agree the forced constraints of the show can cloud contestants’ ability to accurately assess whether or not someone is right for them.
“More often than not, due to this pressure, you are much more likely to try and 'make it work' with someone on the show because it is better than being seen as a failure and you believe that it is better than being alone," adds Dr. Brown. "The internal and external pressures are so great that, once again, it can really mess with your judgment."
Seemingly, it was this intense pressure that contributed to Cassie Randolph’s swift and dramatic exit from Colton Underwood’ season of The Bachelor. Randolph felt that her feelings weren't as strong at that point as Underwood’s, and knowing that a proposal was imminent, she opted to self-eliminate. This turn of events led Underwood to make the infamous fence jump, and although they reconciled shortly thereafter, that wasn’t the first time they broke things off. Underwood recently revealed in his book, The First Time, that they actually split up a second time in August of 2019 because they “weren’t communicating as well” as they once did.
While this breakup only lasted a few days, it shows how Bachelor relationships can go through some serious growing pains once the cameras have stopped rolling and couples are thrust out into the real world. Not to mention, they are still very much in the spotlight, and that fame comes with all its own pressures.
There Are Tempting Incentives That Mess With Decision-Making
It's next to impossible for contestants to make sound dating decisions because according to Dr. Klapow, the show's conditions create a cognitive filter that makes contestants likely to ignore the negatives and exaggerate the positives of their love interest. Since leaving the show alone is equated with "losing," the contestants are super motivated to mold all their interactions to fit a narrative in which they find "The One."
"When you are looking for love as your goal then your ability to accept not finding it is diminished," explains Dr. Klapow. "This results in contestants becoming far less critical of thoughts, statements, habits, and world views that might otherwise give pause in a relationship."
Not to mention, the longer you stay on the show, the more you likely have to gain — if not a Neil Lane ring, you could potentially snag a spot on Paradise or even star on the next season of The Bachelor/Bachelorette. At the very least, sticking around usually guarantees you can rack up more Instagram followers (which translate to more money for sponsored content and other professional opportunities). All of this is to say: Contestants have countless incentives for ignoring any red flags.
Case in point: Weber and Prewett's on-again, off-again relationship, which involved not one but two breakups due to their undeniable differences. Their first hiccup happened when Prewett decided to leave the show seemingly because of their misaligned values regarding sex before marriage. Weber later broke off his engagement to Hannah Ann Sluss to pursue Prewett. However, following a super tense live reunion show in which Weber's mother, Barb, expressed disapproval of their relationship, he and Prewett announced they were ending things again just two days later.
It's Tricky To Be 100% Authentic On Camera
Keep in mind, too, that while the season is filming, cameras are on contestants 24/7 (except during Fantasy Suite dates, of course). Research has shown time and time again that people definitely behave differently when they know they're being watched — in fact, there's even a term for this phenomenon: The Hawthorne Effect. According to Dr. Klapow, this phenomenon can lead to "artificially bonded relationships" that only work in the context of the show.
“The presence of cameras undoubtedly has an impact even if it is subtle on the words, the mannerisms, and the interaction styles of the participants,” says Dr. Klapow.
If contestants aren't able to be their authentic selves on the show, it makes sense why couples might suddenly realize a glaring lack of compatibility once filming has ended. In essence, the couple has to get to know each other all over again without the cameras, and determine if their chemistry is still there once they’re no longer "performing."
There's no better example of this phenomenon than Kelley Flanagan and Peter Weber's relationship. While Flanagan was sent packing before the hometown dates, she and Weber rekindled things shortly after he and Prewett parted ways. However, in an interview on Iaconetti and Ben Higgins’ podcast Almost Famous, Flanagan revealed that she actually felt producers on the reality show prevented her from forming a stronger bond with Weber during his season of The Bachelor.
She told the hosts that when she finally had a moment alone with Weber off-camera, she expressed her frustrations. She reportedly told him, "They locked me up in a closet for three hours last week, and they won’t let me see you ... You clearly know they push some people forward and they don’t push others forward." In her podcast interview, Flanagan also alluded to the possibility that he "wasn't able to make his own decisions," perhaps because producers were "getting in his head."
“When the cameras are gone, the relationship must make a major shift in how it functions and it is possible that what brought the relationship together and what resulted in the attraction no longer exists when the environment changes," explains Dr. Klapow.
In Weber and Flanagan's case, this change in environment seems to have worked in their favor — while the conditions of filming proved too stressful for their relationship, the real world was far more conducive to them forming a connection. Even Chris Harrison admitted that "the show just wasn't right for them," and "didn't help them foster that relationship."
The conditions of The Bachelor pose many challenges to forming healthy, lasting relationships. Yet many of the couples who met on the series have withstood these tests and survived — even if they did have to break up once or twice before finding their happily ever after. You know what, though? One might say that their ability to overcome the uniquely intense circumstances of finding love on a reality show only makes their success even more impressive.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist
Dr. Gary Brown, licensed psychotherapist