Experts Explain How To Break The Cycle Of An On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
Normal People

As Marianne and Connell demonstrate in Hulu's Normal People, on-again and off-again relationships can be emotionally exhausting. Otherwise known as yo-yo relationships, on-again, off-again relationships never feels like they're completely over because you somehow always find a way to come back together, even if it's for a short period of time. These types of connections are so common, and experts say there's a psychological reason why they're hard to quit.

"Often the dynamic I see is that we're tied to someone in an unhealthy way because we are, consciously or unconsciously, seeking their approval," Amy McManus, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. Regardless of how you feel about your ex, it can feel good to know they still want you. If they're throwing you "crumbs of kindness," you may tend to stay right where you are because there's always that hope they'll continue to treat you well.

That being said, being in an on-again, off-again relationship might not leave you better off, especially if you're hoping for a long-term, committed relationship. In fact, according to a 2018 study of 545 people published in the journal Family Relations, on-again, off-again is linked to an increase in psychological distress. So, if you're stuck in the endless cycle and you feel like it would be healthier for you to end it for good, here are ways experts say you can finally break out.


Start Writing In A Journal

The best way to break the chain is to first start writing in a journal. As Anna Morgenstern, relationship coach, tells Bustle, write out exactly why each breakup happened and how that made you feel. After, write about your dream relationship and partner. "Compare these two writing assignments and see if this person you've been on and off with can fulfill your needs," Morgenstern says. "If you realize they cannot, make a conscious decision to end things once and for all." Basically, you deserve better than what your on-again, off-again situation can give you.


Hit "Delete" On Everything That Reminds You Of Them

There are many reasons why people stay in on-again, off-again relationships. But according to Morgenstern, these relationships never tend to really work out in the long-term because the reason for each breakup is usually the same. Conflicts don't typically get resolved because what people want doesn't always change, she says. So, if the reason you keep breaking up is because they're constantly choosing their friends over you, that reason will likely always be there. If that's the case and you really don't think you can live with it, hit delete. Get rid of their number, unfriend and unfollow on social media, and delete all their photos from your phone. "You have to make a clean break," Morgenstern says.


Get A Little Help From Your Friends

Chances are, your friends know all about your on-again, off-again situation and have their opinions about it. If you need help keeping away from a specific ex, Morgenstern says, ask a close friend to keep you accountable. Let them know you are "going cold turkey" and to make sure you don't fall off the wagon — again.

"Remember that there is someone out there who will fulfill your requirements for a relationship," she says. "Believe that you deserve the best and it will happen."


Be Open To A Game-Changing Epiphany

An epiphany is something that you’ve never realized or disclosed before. According to Jill Sherer Murray, relationship coach and author, we have epiphanies all the time. These are things that tell us when to stay and when to let go, especially when it comes to our relationships.

"If you’re going back time and again to a relationship that’s not working, you’re on deck for an epiphany that changes the game for you," Murray says. "Chances are it’s happening, you just may not be aware of it because we tend to remain closed off when we’re not ready for change." So, be open to the signs and realizations that your relationship really isn't giving you what you deserve. Afterwards, don't be afraid of change.


Take Ownership Of Your Mistakes Without Judgment

Getting mad at the other person is unproductive and might just keep you engaged in the drama of a yo-yo relationship, Murray says. We can also get mad at ourselves for staying too long and falling into the same trap, but that’s also unproductive. Instead, the most productive thing to do is use your emotions is for growth. "That involves taking an honest, but non-judgmental account of our role in the relationship and own our mistakes," she says. "That way, we’ll be less likely to make them again."


Identify And Change Any Limiting Beliefs You May Have

As you probably know, many of the beliefs we use to make decisions as adults were given to us from childhood experiences. But according to Murray, not only are these outdated belief systems not serving us, but they’re also not necessarily true. "If we don’t believe the love we want is out there, we’ll never find it," she says. We're prone towards those types of self-fulfilling prophecies. That's why it’s so critical to understand our beliefs and how they’re defining and derailing us in love.

The good news is, you can change your beliefs once you know what they are. Practicing meditation is one great way to get rid of those self-limiting beliefs.


Know Yourself And Know Your Partner

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

People sometimes get into these types of relationships because they hope things will finally change. They hope their partner will have that epiphany moment and realize it's time to settle down. While the fairytale may happen for some, it doesn't happen for all.

"For those in a yo-yo relationship that want out, the best way to break out is to really know who you are as a person, know what you want, know what you deserve and realize that you have control of the situation and it is up to you to put an end to it by saying enough is enough," Jane Reardon, licensed therapist and founder of RxBreakup app, tells Bustle.

According to Reardon, these relationships don’t typically pay off because it’s a rotation of taking someone back who is just not that into you or not willing to make the necessary changes to be with you.

Again, every situation is different. Some people may end up together after so many times and some people will move on and find someone better. Leaving an on-again, off-again relationship has nothing to do with how much you love the person. It's about leaving a situation that won't make you happy in the end. The good news is, if you're finally ready to cut the cord, there are ways you can do it so you can move on with your life.

Study referenced:

Monk, J.K., Ogolsky, B., & Oswald, R.F. (2018) Coming Out and Getting Back In: Relationship Cycling and Distress in Same‐ and Different‐Sex Relationships. Family Relations,


Amy McManus, licensed marriage and family therapist

Anna Morgenstern, relationship coach

Jill Sherer Murray, relationship coach and author

Jane Reardon, licensed therapist and founder of RxBreakup app

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