On-and-off relationship: 7 reasons why it is toxic

On-and-off relationship may be toxic for you. So, learn to break the cycle for your mental health.

An on-and-off relationship, which can go on for years, is a type of relationship where two people split up and get back together repeatedly. It may take them a few weeks or months to reunite. But these cyclical relationships are negative, and can be damaging to mental health. People in such a relationship may experience all things negative. Right from emotional fatigue to disappointment to frustration, there is nothing positive about an on-and-off relationship. Read on to know why an on-and-off relationship is toxic.

What is an on-and-off relationship?

An on-and-off relationship is characterised by a couple breaking up and then coming back together again because they yearn for the safety of familiarity and intimacy. When they get back again, they realise as to why they broke up in the first place and part ways again. This becomes a cycle that a lot of couples find it hard to break away from. While there is an excitement and a predictability in this volatile relationship pattern, it is deeply distressing and toxic, says relationship coach and psychotherapist Rohini Kesavan Rajeev.

Woman supporting her partner
Couples break up then come back together repeatedly in on-and-off relationships. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the signs of an on-and-off relationship?

To know if you are in an on-and-off relationship, here are some signs:

  • You and your partner call it quits, but never stay fully away and in a few months make amends and get back together, only to result in recurrence of the previous problems in the relationship leading to a break-up again.
  • Couples in such unhealthy relationships are on the edge most of the time. They are sensitive to the other’s comments and actions, and experience extreme mood fluctuations, especially when they are together.
  • Couples experience extreme mistrust in one another.
  • Unhealthy communication patterns.

Why is an on-and-off relationship toxic?

People in an on-and-off relationship are more likely to report negatives about their relationship, like uncertainty and communication problems, as per a 2009 study published in Personal Relationships. It was also found that such couples are less likely to report positives such as love and understanding from their lover. Here are some reasons why an on-and-off relationship can be toxic:

1. Increased self-doubt

Such cyclical relationships are negative, and can be damaging to your mental health. Instability in your most intimate relationship can result in increased self-doubt and intense emotional outbursts which are detrimental to mental health.

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2. Emotional fatigue

Couples in on-and-off relationships experience intense doubt, emotional fatigue, volatility, disappointment, anger and frustration, says the expert. It is necessary for couples to engage in open dialogue to develop a deeper understanding and empathy, laying the groundwork for a more resilient and fulfilling relationship.

Also read: 7 signs you’re in a healthy and fulfilling relationship

3. Violent fights

Fights between people in an on-and-off relationship can often get abusive as well as violent. So, great care needs to be taken to identify and avoid extreme patterns.

A man and woman pointing fingers at one another
Fights tend to get violent in unhealthy relationships. Image courtesy: Freepik

4. Deep insecurity

One or both partners struggle with commitment issues, which could be a result of unresolved past conflicts in close relationships. Commitment avoidance can lead to a feeling of deep insecurity among the partners.

5. Distressing

On-and-off relationships are unstable and distressing for those experiencing it. They can create a sense of dread in the partners about any other future relationships.

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6. Unhealthy attachment style

On-and-off relationships are hard to break away from, as partners get too attached to one another. This unhealthy attachment style in itself is toxic, says Rohini.

Also read: 10 telltale signs of attachment issues you should never ignore!

7. Increases vulnerability

An on-and-off relationship increases a person’s vulnerability and reduces the ability to trust another person fully. Vulnerability does not imply weakness, and is the foundation of authentic connection and intimacy. But vulnerability may be abused in such relationships.

How to break this cycle?

Seeking out professional help is critical to break off from an on-and-off relationship. That’s because such relationships often create a false sense of familiarity and comfort (in the pattern of on-again/off-again), codependency and feeding off of one another’s insecurities. You need to gain clarity of thought, and be able to reach out at least to a friend or family, if not a therapist. Openly and honestly share with a friend or a therapist on how this relationship makes you feel. You should focus on what you really want from an intimate relationship and which of those needs are being met by your current partner. You can process your feelings (guilt, anger, disbelief, fear), and have the courage to admit to the toxicity in the relationship.

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