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On and Off Relationship: What It Is, 16 Signs & Why It’s So Bad For You

You and your partner are happy one month, then break up the next. Then you get back together – over and over. Well then, you are in an on-off relationship.

on and off relationship

Being with someone takes dedication and passion. Whether you spent two weeks or two years living in blissful monogamy, it can be very hard to let go of someone you love, even if you know that doing so will improve your overall well-being. But what’s worse than everything else is finding yourself stuck in an on-off relationship, playing a loop of love and hate.

It’s normal to be stubborn and for the “fight rather than flight” instinct to kick in when deciding whether to give a relationship with someone you love another go.

Everyone’s goal in life is to be happy, yours included. Moving forward and into the future is all part of life. There are good times and there are bad ones, but you know better than anyone that life is a treasure trove of new discoveries just waiting to be uncovered.

Looking back will do you no good if you want to focus on your future. [Read: 15 lessons your own breakups can teach you about love and life]

However, being in an on-again, off-again relationship is not just about looking back, it is about reliving everything step by step. Why bother behaving like a boomerang when you can be a straight-shooting arrow?

Sure, there are several notable celebrities who have been through on-off coupling. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel were on-again, off-again for several years until they tied the knot. 

Even annoying little Justin Bieber practiced the on-off concept with teen queen Selena Gomez until he settled with his now-wife, Hailey Bieber. The most famous on-off couple is, of course, Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big from HBO’s hit television series Sex and the City. Sure, they may be fictional characters from a couple of decades ago, but hey, you catch the drift. [Read: Yo yo relationships and why they never work out]

What is an on and off relationship?

Before we dig deeper into on and off relationships, let’s define what they actually are. When you have a good understanding of what they look like, then you will have a lot more clarity.

So, what does “on and off” really mean?

In an on and off relationship, the two people keep getting back together after they break up. They get together, then break up. Get back together, then break up. Then get back together again, then break up. You get the picture. 

How long it takes to get back together in between breakups really varies for every couple. Regardless, it is not good for either person’s mental health.

The thing that is most common about the on-off relationships is that it’s exciting to get back together each time. It’s almost like reliving the honeymoon phase of the relationship.

As we all know, that is the best part that is full of passion. Because they have spent time apart, it feels really good to get each other back. [Read: Breakup sex – what it is and how to know if you should have it]

However, when the honeymoon phase is over again, the couple goes back to their negative patterns in the relationship. They might hurt each other’s feelings and then they both get stressed out again. After a while, they start to question why they even bothered getting back together in the first place.

So, they break up. And the cycle continues.

And while each couple is different, these kinds of on and off relationships can eventually turn toxic.

The most obvious signs of an on and off relationship

How do you know that you’re in an on and off relationship? Maybe you are in one, but you just don’t know it. Here are some signs of an on-off relationship. [Read: Breakup anxiety – how to deal with it and overcome your biggest fears]

1. The thought of being alone freaks you out

One of the reasons that the couples keep getting back together after breaking up is that one or both of you don’t like being alone.

You think that going back to your former partner will be better this time. And the thought of being with them again is better than the thought of being alone.

2. Sometimes you like them, sometimes you don’t

The relationship is like a roller coaster. You have highs when you are crazy in love and getting along great. Then you have the lows where you can’t stand each other.

So, your feelings keep changing – month by month, week by week, day by day, or even hour to hour. [Read: 25 subtle relationship turn offs that provoke and push a couple apart]

3. You keep bringing up the past

When you keep breaking up and getting back together, that means that you have a lot of history with that person. And because of that, there are a lot of hurt feelings and things that they both did wrong.

So, in an on and off relationship, one or both of the partners keeps bringing up the past and throwing it in the other one’s face. [Read: How long does it take to get over a breakup – the exact timeline]

4. You put yourself in situations where you can rekindle the relationship

Let’s say you know your ex is going to be at a party, and so you decide to go too. Then, you get really drunk and start flirting with them again.

Sure, you can blame the alcohol. But you consciously or subconsciously put yourself in a situation where you know that getting back together is likely.

5. You can’t look at the relationship objectively

Maybe everyone you know has tried to point out how you are in an unhealthy on and off relationship. But you can’t see it. You can’t stand outside yourself and look at your relationship objectively. You don’t think there is anything wrong with what you’re doing.

6. You keep hoping things will change

One of the big reasons you keep getting back together is because you keep hoping the relationship will be different this time. Or, you hope that your partner has changed and won’t do any of the things you hated before.

But that never happens. You are the same two people each and every time you get back together. [Read: The most important rules for getting back with an ex if you want to protect your heart]

Why is an on and off relationship so bad for you?

Unlike celebrities who shay in the limelight for every on and off relationship they get into, regular folk are not rolling in dough with world tours, fame, fortune, and a world of hookup options available to us.

At the end of the day, you have to hunker down and really think about how healthy having an on and off relationship is. 

If you are stumped or have too many excuses up your sleeve to justify leaving the relationship for good, here are all the good reasons why you totally should end things for good.

1. It’s downright toxic

According to a post on Psychology Today, “The more frequently couples cycle back and forth between being together and being apart, the more their relationships tend to deteriorate to involve negative interactions, less satisfaction, and less commitment.”

It clearly shows that being in an on and off relationship is toxic. The same way you would not knowingly drink bleach, why poison your heart when you know it is going to end badly? [Read: 15 toxic relationship types you want to get away from]

2. You need time to heal

The second reason why you should not be engaging in an on-again, off-again relationship is that you may not be ready for it. You need time to heal from your breakup, and getting over this person is key if you want to move on. 

The reason you keep getting back together is that your judgment is clouded by mixed emotions. Love, anger, frustration, temptation, loneliness, and everything else come into play when you break up with someone and still yearn to be with them.

You have to take time off from this person to see things clearly. Perhaps a decade from now, if your paths cross again and you end up together, then good for you, but if you are still heavily involved in each other’s lives, you will never be able to completely heal. [Read: 24 sad signs of an unhealthy relationship that ruins love forever]

3. You need to find yourself

Being in an on and off relationship is also a sign that you do not know who you really are and what you want. Sure, you may justify this by saying that what you want is to be with this person. So then why do you keep breaking up? 

Take a step back and seriously ask yourself if doing it all again is what you want and need. Do not depend on an ex to make you feel worthy and happy. You can feel all of that without needing to be in a relationship with this person yet again. [Read: 21 steps to find your way when you feel lost and hopeless]

4. The world’s your oyster! 

A big reason why there is no point in being together, then breaking up, then getting back together, then breaking up again is because there is plenty of other fish in the sea.

Why torture yourself knowing that things could end just as badly yet again with the same person?

There’s a big world out there and it’s filled with viable options, so why not be brave and explore? Sure, you may stand the chance of getting hurt again with someone else, but at least you had the courage to head out into the unknown and see for yourself what is out there.

The only way for you to find your soulmate is if you stop cowering behind your ex.

5. You deserve better than this

Knowing that you deserve better should be enough for you to snap out of your hazy daydream, thinking that being on-off with someone is healthy.

You eat right, work out, buy sustainable products and do the whole “I love taking care of my well-being” thing, so why not do the same for your heart?

Going back and forth between being a couple and being exes can take its toll on your mind, so why keep it up? [Read: How to love yourself – the 23 best ways to find self-love and happiness]

6. It’s close to impossible to justify making the same mistake over and over again

Everyone probably has a friend who is the poster child for on and off relationships. They have probably been breaking up and making up with the same person for years. Maybe they even date people in between but refuse to let anything serious happen between them.

Every time they end things with someone new, they probably call their ex up for a booty call, drinks, a date, a movie, snuggles, or whatever they want at the time. They might even boast that being able to decide when they want to be with them again is a sign of independence. 

As fun as it is to keep heading back to their comfort zone, it is doing them no good. If you are like these people, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

This can be likened to having an addiction. Only once you look at it straight in the eye and admit it will you be able to kick the habit. [Read: 16 signs you’re just settling for your ex]

7. You need to put your needs first

Why do you keep taking your ex back even though you know that it is not going to be an easy journey? Sure, it is true that all relationships take work but considering that this is not your first time on the carousel, why keep doing it again?

You have to put your needs before your ex’s or partner’s, depending on what state you’re currently in.

Give yourself the opportunity to recover and detox this person from your system. On the other hand, if you are the one who keeps running back to your ex, think it over for a minute.

Are you running back to an on and off relationship because you see a better future, or are you running back because you’re lonely, you don’t have other options, or you’re too tired to go for someone new and potentially better? [Read: How to fall out of love when you see no future]

8. You may not even be meant to be together

Whether you believe in the universe’s plan for whatever happens to us mere mortals or you’re more of the pragmatic type, you have to ask yourself why you keep going through the same motions with the same person.

Maybe the cosmos dictated that you shouldn’t be together. Maybe the reason you keep breaking up is that you simply don’t jive.

Whatever it is that’s keeping you apart for all those times you weren’t a couple, you have to take notice, and possibly accept that there are forces beyond your control that tell you to just let your ex go.

9. You’re recycling your mistakes

Aren’t you tired of breaking up over and over again for the same reason? Whether he is a cheater or she is a mean hag, think about why you keep breaking up in the first place.

It is easy to justify why you keep getting back together. Sex, love, romance, companionship, and all that jazz easily overshadow the reasons why your on and off relationship keeps ending, but why put yourself through the same bullshit?

Remember that people may change, but they don’t change much.

So if you think it is going to be different the seventieth time around, think again. People talk about needing to wait for the right time to properly be with someone. [Read: How to stop thinking about your ex – 21 ways to forget about them for good]

Whether you had to break up because she wants to focus on work or he has to move across the country to be close to his family, it should be crystal clear that you are not the priority. 

What makes you think that things will be different the next time around and that something more important than you is not going to crop up again?

10. Put a little more faith in your gut than your heart

The final reason why you should not be engaging in an on and off relationship is that your gut says so. Do not deny that this is true. Your gut probably freaks out every time you run back to this person since our instincts are borne from our experiences.

If you keep following your heart towards the spiral of doom that is your relationship, you’re just hammering home the point that your gut may be right whenever it tries to warn you not to go through the whole thing again.

[Read: How to get over the one you love by hating them]

How many more cycles do you want to go through before you let go of this on-off relationship? When you finally realize that you want it to be over for good, you may look back and kick yourself in the head for wasting time with someone who’s just going to drag you back into a vicious relationship cycle!

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