On Again, Off Again Relationships Damage Mental Health

What happens when we leave and return again and again?

Have you ever driven somewhere over and over again? Let’s say, from home to work. Repetitively and continuously over a long period of time.

Have you then noticed that sometimes you’ll arrive and wonder ‘how did I even get here?’

It becomes automatic doesn’t it?

Well, the same thing happens in relationships. When we leave and return over and over again. Breaking up and making up. We’re essentially creating an automatic psychological response and the outcome is a psychological, emotional, and relational price.  

“We’re creating an automatic psychological response and the outcome is a relational and emotional price”

Letting Go is Difficult!

Now, have you ever left a job and started a new one only to find yourself in your car driving and/or even arriving at your previous job?

It’s difficult isn’t it? Changing behaviors, again, is HARD! It’s even more difficult when emotions are involved.

By some estimates, over 60% of people, at one time or another, have experienced the complicated on and off again relationship roller coaster. (DiDonato, 2014)

Letting go of a relationship that no longer serves you, is a challenge for many. We may understand logically and rationally that something needs to end, but studies suggest that our emotional circuits are hard wired to discourage us from being alone and even cause us to experience debilitating physical pain (Attached).

“Brain imaging scans show that the same areas of the brain light up when we break a leg are activated when we end a relationship with our partner” – (Attached)

When Staying Gone Becomes Necessary

We know that letting go can be a painful experience. However, studies also suggest that it may be the safest option when it comes to protecting one’s own mental health and wellness.

The more frequently couples ebb and flow between make ups and break ups is psychological and emotionally toxic and damaging for both individuals. The more and more this pattern becomes an automatic response for future relationships as well. – Just like driving to your old place of work, after leaving the job weeks or months previously.

The more frequently you break up and return again, the more likely you will end up in future relationships that are similar.

Deciding to Leave

Making a decision to end a relationship is not a decision that should be make lightly. If you are uncertain if you want to continue the relationship or uncertain about how to call it quits.

It maybe helpful to seek out support of a friend, family member or a therapist in assisting you with processing the following questions.

  1. Do you find it difficult to feel emotionally relaxed in your relationships and with your partner?
  2. Do you find it difficult to feel safe and secure about your future with your partner?
  3. Have you and your partner broken up and made up more than 1 once over the course of your relationship?
  4. Have you and your partner broken up and made up more than once in a short period of time such as 3-6 months?  
  5. Have you noticed an increase in symptoms of anxiety, low self-esteem, hopelessness, fatigue, racing heart or other symptoms of depression, anxiety or trauma?

To be clear, relationships are complex. No two situations are the same. No one questionnaire or blog writing is going to give a solid answer as to what’s next for you and your partner.

At the Center of Life Counseling, our therapist are focused on the psychology of anxious/avoidant relationships and what brings people from anxious – avoidant patterns to secure committed ones.

If you are someone you know are experiencing on again and off again relationships, know that you are not allow. Our therapist, at The Center of Life Mental Health Counseling, are here to help. We understand that no two people experience relationships same and healing from loss is painful. Call us today 407-476-1432, we look forward to supporting you throughout your experience. 


DiDonato, T. E. (2014, Feb 28). Psychology Today. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201402/how-healthy-are-againoff-again-relationships

Levin, A. M., & Heller, R. S. (2010). Attached.New York: Tarcher Perigee.

Renner, B. (2019, Jan 23). Study Finds . Retrieved from Study Finds: https://www.studyfinds.org/on-again-off-again-relationships-harmful-mental-health/

Tatkin, S. P. (2016). Wired for Dating.Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. .

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