Breaking up and getting back together again is linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety, a new study finds.
Here’s another reason to rethink getting back with your ex.
Couples who are in on-again, off again relationships are more likely to experience mental health issues and higher rates of abuse, poor communication and lower levels of commitment, according to a new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Researchers surveyed 545 individuals currently in same-sex or heterosexual relationships and asked them questions about their relationship characteristics, mental health and wellbeing. They found that an increase in breaking up and getting back together again was associated with psychological distress symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
“We know that breakups are upsetting, but this is considered normal and is often fleeting,” Kale Monk, co-author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science, told Moneyish. “A stressful pattern of breakup and renewal, however, might have more pervasive implications. We found that a pattern of breaking up and getting back together with the same partner, what we refer to as ‘relationship cycling,’ was associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
Waipiolani Chang, 21, from Holyoke, Mass. experienced the same strain on her mental health during an on-off relationship with her previous boyfriend that went on for three years.
“My depression got really bad,” she told Moneyish. “Because I always struggled with mental health, it exacerbated it.” Chang explained that her then-partner made her feel like the relationship problems were her fault, pushing her to resort to her previous patterns of self-harm. “I would always want to cut myself most when I was mad, so him making me think I was ruining the relationship made me take it out on my own body,” she said.
Now in a new and healthy relationship, Chang says she would never consider getting back with an ex after an initial break-up. “I learned that if it didn’t work out the first time, it’s not gonna work out the second, third or fourth,” she said.
Monk explained that depression and anxiety are exacerbated by the stressful cycle of changes and transitions that occur in these kinds of rebounding relationships. “People might expect that the relationship is going to be better this time, but if things do not actually change after renewing, it can be continuously disappointing,” he said.
And previous studies have shown that the more frequently couples break up and get back together, the more likely their relationship will have negative interactions, less commitment, and less satisfaction.
But many people continue to engage in this frustrating relationship pattern. In fact, more than 60% of adults have been involved in on-off relationships, according to the study, and more than one-third of cohabitating couples confessed to breaking up and getting back together at some point in their current relationships.
In most cases, people engage in these on-off relationships because they believe that they have to or need to. “Some people might be drawn to the dramatic and passionate excitement of this pattern,” Monk said. “But primarily, we see that people return to a relationship that ended because they have lingering feelings for their former partners. They miss them.”
But financial strains can also explain why people return to old partners. “They might have shared property or entangled finances that would be a chore to sort out,” Monk added. “There might be obligations or constraints like living together – owning a home or sharing a lease that would be difficult to break.” It’s easier to put up with them than break up with them.
And he has a point. On-off relationships with people you cohabitate with can have long term financial implications. A recent study published in the Journal of Financial Planning found that one-time cohabiters had $26,927 less net worth than those who never cohabited, and that cohabiters who’d lived with someone two or more times were worth $33,809 less.
That’s not to say that you should never get back together with someone, but Monk suggests having detailed conversations about the issues that lead to the break ups when considering rekindling the romance. “This can help partners get on the same page about what needs to be improved or repaired,” he said. “Similar to thinking about the reasons the relationship ended, spend some time thinking about the reasons why reconciliation is being considered.”
And it’s also important to remember that it’s okay to end a toxic relationship, Monk emphasized. “If your relationship is beyond repair, do not feel guilty leaving for your (own) mental or physical well-being,” he said. “Why do you want or feel like you need to get back together? Is the reason rooted in dedication and positive feelings, or more about obligation and convenience? The latter reasons are more likely to lead down a path of continual distress.”
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