In an On-Again, Off-Again Relationship? 10 Things You Need to Think About Before the Next Date

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Heather K Adams734
Content + Copy Writer
April 15, 2024 at 2:48PM UTC
In the age of online dating, relationships can feel more confusing to navigate than ever before. As a result, on-again, off-again "situationships" are on the rise. Why? Well, you've got your ghosts, your zombies and those dirty old breadcrumbers, just to name a few. It's easy to doubt you'll ever find anyone for you... which is when you end up reaching out to that ex who isn't quite your ex, even though you know you probably shouldn't. Except, well, maybe you should.
An on-again, off-again relationship isn't one that's inherently broken. Like any other intimate situation, it's all about the setup, how you manage it and knowing what it is you really want, and need, in the end.

On-again, off-again: the good news

Maybe you travel a lot, maybe they've got a lot going on at work, and right now, neither one of you have the time to invest in a full-on relationship (at least, not all the time). Having an only sometimes partner and an on/off "thing" might be okay for you, for now. Here are a few more reasons why this set up can work.

1. You're not sure about each other.

At first you were over the moon about this woman. Then little yellow flags popped up. Not red flags, just little things. But they're enough to make you question if she's "the one." If yellow flags become speed bumps instead of opportunities to grow closer, time apart might work better than a heart to heart.

2. You're not sure you want a committed relationship.

You might fire up the old dating apps thinking, I am totally ready to be emotionally vulnerable, sensitive and intimate. Then meet someone and realize, Oops... And maybe so do they. You still care about each other, but breaks might be the breathing space you both need to figure out exactly what you want, each time you guys hit this kind of wall.

3. On-again, off-again, back-up plan.

Remember that movie where two friends promise to marry each other if they don't find love by a certain age? Maybe your setup is like that. Sort of a friends with benefits, but more committed when you're actually together, be it for a few weeks or for most of a year. Sound like an open relationship? It could be that too. The terminology is up to you.

4. Me-time is built into the cycle.

This can be about growth, for both of you, and letting each of you take the space you need to process whatever issues arise. Maybe you have a lot of baggage, or maybe you just like to take a break from the intimacy of being involved with someone. As long as this works for both people involved, why not?

5. You build stronger communication skills, each time you reunite.

If you're on-again, off-again long enough, one of two things will happen: your relationship will crash and burn a long slow death, or you'll both do a lot of growing, becoming better communicators along the way. Approach each reunion as an opportunity to improve some aspect of the relationship, and it will become stronger.

On-again, off-again: the bad news

Unless you're both mature individuals focused on personal growth and developing meaningful relationships, getting caught up in the rubber band cycle of an on/off relationship can be dangerous. Here are a few reasons this situation is often toxic.

1. Fighting isn't the same as conflict resolution.

There's discussing, and then there's screaming. If all you do is argue about the same issues every time you get together, then you're relationship isn't ever going to change. The same patterns of behavior will persist, and those same yellow flags will always be flying.

2. The breakup/makeup cycle is addicting.

The heartbreak of parting is eclipsed by the passionate joy of reuniting... until you realize all those issues are still there in bed between you. So you break up. Right up until you makeup again. These dramatic highs and lows are just fuel for an unhealthy addiction.

3. You're missing out on better relationships.

Being on-again, off-again tangles your loyalty. After all, you're not with your ex right now, but that can change faster than the weather. You might be so afraid of feeling guilty next time you and your S.O. are "on" that you deprive yourself of the possibility of meeting someone with whom you could have a steadier, healthier relationship.

4. Repeating the same mistakes is insane.

Like, literally. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting something different to happen, really is nuts. Especially when it's in an unhealthy relationship that's either unbalanced, or in which neither party is interested in doing the work they need to grow.

5. Familiar is comfortable... but it's not the same as happy

Getting caught in a toxic or even abusive relationship happens in exactly this way: the abused chooses to stay inside the dysfunctional system because they know how to navigate it, they understand it. Leaving is too scary to face. It's uncomfortable. But letting yourself stay somewhere that isn't right for you, or is actively getting in the way of you moving forward? That's the scarier option, by far.

On-again, off-again: the bottom line

Here's the thing: an on-again, off-again relationship really can work out. But only if you and your partner are willing to put in the effort to learn, to grow and to build a stronger bond, together. Maybe the cause of your on/off thing is situational, maybe it's emotional. Whatever issues you need to resolve for your relationship to be successful, both of you need to be on board with working on them.
If you're not focused on improvement and growth, you run the risk of getting caught up in a toxic situation, a rubber band roller coaster of lows and highs and back to lows. To get the love and relationship you want, you have to be willing to take an honest look at the kind you currently have and ask yourself, Is that what I really want for me? If the answer is a hard no, then it's time to break the cycle.

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