What is relationship cycling?
We have all either seen, been, or heard of the couple who never “really’ breaks up because they are consistently getting back together. Well, these patterns are not just for young or finicky people. This pattern of repeated “on-again, off-again,” dating behaviors is known as relationship cycling, and anyone can find themselves in one. People may find themselves in a pattern of relationship cycling for a number of different reasons, some being history (e.g, you have been with someone for a long time), life stressors (e.g., finances), poor communication, or other harmful behaviors (e.g., infidelity). Many times people find themselves stuck in these patterns because of hopes that things have changed or timing is better. However, whether these relationships will work is very much dependent on the types of issues they are dealing with.
How does relationship cycling affect me?
In addition to being annoying or frustrating to our loved ones, relationship cycling can be detrimental to our wellbeing and health. When we enter into these stressful patterns of relationship breakups and makeups, we tend to experience low self esteem, heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition to this, people who experience relationship cycling report less intimacy and satisfaction as well as more frustration and resentment toward their partners than couples who do not report these patterns. The relationships can be toxic and abusive as they continue to develop, which can make them more difficult to leave.
How can I avoid these relationship patterns?
Though relationship cycling gets a bad reputation, it is true that there are times in which these relationships can work. For example, sometimes these breaks are necessary due to distance or another severe circumstance. Other times, people want to take breaks to focus on their needs and then try to meet up again. However, these types of breaks require intentionality and commitment. Relationships cannot work when there is poor communication, repeated injuries, resentment, lack of trust, or abuse. Essentially, we cannot continue to make the same choices and hope for different outcomes. Learning to understand patterns and how we might contribute to them is the first step in avoiding these stressful cycles. It is also important for us to recognize when it is time to move on. Regardless of how hard or painful it might feel, sometimes the healthiest decision for us in the long run is to walk away. In addition to this, working with a therapist (individual and/or as a couple) regardless of whether you want to terminate or repair the relationship, can be extremely helpful in prioritizing our needs and wellbeing.
This page is part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.
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