Why unstable relationships are bad for your health

On-again off-again relationships can lead to depression and anxiety. So, when is it time to call it a day?

One minute you’re in love and planning a future together, the next minute you’re fighting and going your separate ways.

Then comes a happy reunion, before the next fallout and the next split. Then the reunion, the break-up … and repeat.

New research suggests merry-go-round relationships could be bad for our mental health.

US researchers found the more couples broke up and reunited, the more likely they were to be depressed or anxious.

Why do couples have on-again, off-again relationships?

Necessity and practicality, such as financial reasons or the amount of time already invested in the relationship, are common reasons for off-again, on-again arrangements.

But experts say decisions to reunite should be based on “dedication, not obligation”.

“Breaking up and getting back together is not always a bad omen for a couple,” says Kale Monk, of the University of Missouri.

“For some couples, breaking up can help partners realise the importance of their relationship, contributing to a healthier, more committed union.

“On the other hand, partners who are routinely breaking up and getting back together could be negatively impacted by the pattern.”

Australian relationship expert and dating coach Samantha Jayne agrees on-again, off-again relationships can be hard work and stressful.

“Often there is a power imbalance with one person believing that ‘if you don’t do this or that then I will leave’,” says Samantha.

“The other person accommodates them to prevent them leaving but the demands get higher and higher. One person is constantly in fear of being left and neither person’s needs are met.”

unstable relationships

How to decide whether it’s time to leave – for good

Ask yourself what is behind the running away and do you both want to put a stop to that.

What does your future look like with your partner?

Samantha says couples should consider:

  • How happy are you versus how distressed are you? Is the relationship bringing out the best in you, or the worst?
  • Why are you putting up with your partner leaving and coming back? How would you like the relationship to be instead? Talk about this and discuss whether the changes are something you are both prepared to work towards.
  • Spend some time alone thinking about your relationship and what you want it to be like. “Figure out whether the other person really makes you happy,” she says.
  • Are you in the relationship because you love your partner and they genuinely improve your life?

“Set boundaries and decide whether each of you are in or out,” says Samantha.

“If you decide to stay and work it out, focus on things you have in common and your appreciation for each other. Reconnect and re-establish trust.”

Written by Sarah Marinos