What It Means When You Keep Breaking Up & Getting Back Together, According To A Relationship Expert

Photo: Pablo Heimplatz

Have you ever been in a relationship in which you had one foot in and one foot out, never completely committing and never actually leaving? Or maybe you’re trying to leave but somehow you don’t quite get there? This was an issue a woman named Helena brought to my attention, saying, "I've been in an on-and-off relationship for six years. We have been breaking up, ghosting, and then reconnecting on and off for the last two years since he moved out. I keep trying to end it in a powerful way, but then we end up reconnecting again. What does a situation like this indicate, and how would you resolve this continuing dance?”

This is a tough one, and there are some major reasons it keeps happening. Here's what you should know.

You're holding on to hope.

One of the things that keeps partners going back over and over again is the hope that the other person will change—or that you can get him or her to change. This is especially true if each of you have professed to have changed. However, unless both of you are receiving help in dealing with your individual issues, change isn’t likely.

It may be hard to be realistic about change, but it’s important to accept that you can’t make another person change—they change only when and if they want to, and if they receive the help they need to heal their underlying issues. Without real change occurring through each of you doing your inner work, the only reason to go back is if you can accept this person exactly as he or she is, without hope of change.

You're stuck in a pull-resist system.

One of the reasons for the yo-yo relationship concerns the relationship system. If you are in a relationship in which one of you is needy and controlling and pulls on the other for attention, approval, or sex, and the other is resistant to being controlled by the needy partner, you might feel that you just have to get away. But once apart, the same system might not be operating, so you start to feel good around each other again.

But once again, unless you have each been healing your end of this relationship system, you will find yourselves going right back into the same pull-resist system, with the same outcome.

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You fear being lonely and not meeting someone else.

Often, the stress of a dysfunctional relationship leads to wanting to be alone, but once alone, the fear of being alone and lonely takes over. You might start to date, only to discover that it’s not easy to find someone you are attracted to, or you keep meeting the same kind of person over and over. You tell yourself that you will never meet someone and you will end up alone your whole life, and that it’s better to be with your estranged partner than to be alone.

Again, without doing your inner work to heal your participation in the dysfunctional relationship system, you will keep recreating the same relationship over and over. The most loving thing is to focus on doing your inner work, regardless of whether or not you go back to your partner.

You're not investing in the learning you need to do.

Perhaps there is a genuine connection between the two of you, but neither of you are doing the inner work to heal underlying problems. When this is the case, you might feel drawn to the relationship over and over, knowing at some level that this relationship could work if some healing occurred.

When this is the case, it may be worth it to give the relationship a real shot. Unless there is physical or emotional abuse, there may be no real value in leaving without attempting to heal yourselves and the relationship first. In fact, you may be walking away from a great opportunity. You take yourselves with you when you leave, and you are likely to create the same relationship problems again in another relationship unless you work to resolve them within the current relationship.

If just one of you is open to doing your inner work, this might be enough to shift the system to a more loving one, or, if you do your inner work and then realize that you need to leave, you might be better equipped to create a more loving relationship the next time.

Want more breakup advice? Here's everything you need to know.

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