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On and Off Relationships – Definition, Causes, Impacts, How to Fix Them and Everything Else 

On and Off Relationships – Definition, Causes, Impacts, How to Fix Them and Everything Else 

Updated on Aug 11, 2023

Reviewed by Katina Tarver, MA (Mental Health and Wellness Counseling) , Life & Relationship Coach

On and Off Relationships – Definition, Causes, Impacts, and More

So, you’re here either because you want to know about on and off relationships or because you’re already in one.  

Well, I’m really sorry for the confusion that you feel but I am so happy that you finally want to educate yourself about it.

Though your relationship is a really tough topic for you, I’m so glad to say that things WILL get better. In this think-piece, you’ll learn everything about your situation and a solution for probable issues.

So, let’s hope for a healthier life together here…

On and Off Relationship Meaning

Romantic partners in on and off relationships repeatedly break up and makeup. They think they can’t stand each other during breakups and mistake their excitement for yearning for love during reconciliation which puts a lot of mental stress on both.

In on and off relationships, partners often break up and reconcile repeatedly. The time gap between the breakup and makeup differs for every time and every couple.

The main feature of these kinds of relationships is their cyclic nature. Usually, you feel mentally taxed because of the erratic nature of your relationship.

Initially, partners feel excited when they get back together thinking they’re a bond made in heaven or they’re meant to be like the honeymoon stage of a relationship… but eventually the honeymoon spell wears off.

This is when partners hate themselves for giving each other another chance, feel hurt and stressed, and finally split once again.

However, not all on and off relationships are bad. So, let’s take a look here…

Are on and off relationships healthy?

On again, off again relationships are of two types, so you can’t judge both of them together. Depending on the category, let’s find out if they’re healthy…

1. Capitalized-on-transitions type

In this kind of on and off relationship, couples break up for personal growth. While they’re away, they try to understand what’s missing in their relationship and how they can fix it. Since partners try to keep a positive take with this type of relationship, it’s healthy.

2. Gradual separation type

This type of on and off relationship is super complicated, to say the least. They break up because they’re dissatisfied and makeup because they’re still not over each other and believe they still care… then they realize it’s not worth it. In the end, it’s an incessant cycle.

This is unhealthy because these couples hardly get any work done despite the cycle of breaking and making up.

Since there are both healthy and unhealthy kinds of on and off relationships, let’s know if either can last here…

Can on and off relationships work out?

If you’re in a gradual separation type on and off relationship, it won’t work out. But if you’re in a capitalized-on-transitions type on and off relationship, it might.

Whether your on and off relationship will work out or not, totally depends on your intentions, expectations, and your perception of the connection and the cycle of breakups and patch-ups… which all boils down to the type of on and off relationship.

So, when you guys break up and reconcile, what do you think?

If you took the time to return after becoming a better person (Capitalized-on-transitions type), you can make the relationship work. If you guys think that you both think you changed for the better during your time off and can treat each other better, that’s great news!

It shows that you’re both dedicated and ready to put more effort into the relationship later.

But if you felt that you can’t live without them (Gradual separation type), it might not. In this case, you might get back together only because you miss your ex. Deep inside you know the issues are still there and you might be ticked off again.

Wondering why people even return? Here’s the secret…

Why do people have on and off relationships?

If a loved one is in an on and off relationship, you probably tried to talk them out of it and suggested many ideas for breaking the cycle… but they probably didn’t listen and you’re so pissed. Well, it might have a reason like any of these…

1. The relationship priorities and ideals change

When people spend time with their partners, they focus on their positive traits.

Nobody wants to have an on and off relationship knowingly, but when they notice a set of good qualities, they naturally start compromising on their ideals.

So, a person might stay in a toxic on and off relationship just because their partner has a good sense of humor.

2. They can’t bear to invest resources once more

Some people just can’t stand the thought of starting from square one. They think that they already tried so hard with all that flirting, romantic gestures, and emotional and financial investment in one person… so, it’s a waste to give up so early.

Instead of a fresh start and finding a more compatible person, they just don’t wanna waste their efforts. This kind of thinking style can keep anyone in an on and off relationship for a long time.

3. They lack self-esteem

If one can’t respect themselves, that’s another reason behind staying in on and off relationships. Since they don’t respect themselves, their partners think it’s okay to treat them the same way.

Self-esteem issues stem from past relationship trauma, childhood trauma, and so on… so, unless you treat yourself professionally, you can’t get yourself away from this.

4. They feel helpless

Sometimes, people just make other people a habit in their life. When they say they can’t live without their partner, it actually means they can’t get over the habit.

They feel uncomfortable with an unfamiliar life where their ex isn’t around. They think if the danger is known, they can deal with it… but an unknown safe zone scares them.

They can’t get over this schedule and assume there’s nothing better than the current situation.

5. They’re afraid of loneliness  

In this world, people are judged by their relationship status. Singles are shunned because they’re undesired. Obviously, nobody wants to be the laughing stock of prom or Thanksgiving. So, they’re naturally afraid of that grand public shaming.

To save themselves from that disrespect, people think it’s better to stay with a toxic ex than face the world’s judgment.

6. Open communication is not their cup of tea

If either of the partners has poor communication skills, they might feel breaking up is better than explaining what’s wrong.

They feel expressing their feelings is too overwhelming and take the shortcut. But when either person feels they can’t stand it, they give the relationship another shot and it just continues like a never-ending cycle.

7. They use their ex as a backup

Sometimes, couples break up and seek new romantic relationships or more causal connections. They give it a try, they can’t work it out, and regret it big time.

They feel that their ex was better and try to get back to them. Whenever one of the partners wants to go astray, this cycle repeats.

8. They feel uncertain

Some couples have a lot of fun together… they know they’re a good pair, but they wonder “should I really be satisfied with this much? Or, do I deserve more?

That’s how the greed to find more makes them leave their partner and seek more people. When they don’t find anybody that suits their desires, they come right back and the saga of uncertainty continues!

9. They’re simply incompatible but have good chemistry

Yeah, chemistry and compatibility aren’t the same… just to clear the confusion. So, this is when a couple has lots of sexual fun and their body agrees with each other.

However, they aren’t emotionally or mentally aligned. Their interests, likes, dislikes… everything being different they can’t spend quality time. They get fed up with each other and give up. But eventually, they miss the sex and return.

You’ll find them spending more time in the bedroom than anywhere else.

10. They can’t deal the blow of life

When life treats you like $#!t, people can’t give 100% in their relationship. These people call it quits because they feel they’re being unfair to their partner as they’re always busy with life.

These kinds of people get back to their partner after they feel they’re done dealing with the troubles. This usually falls under the Capitalized-on-transitions type on and off relationship.

Anxious about what an on and off relationship can do to your health and life? Let’s find out here…

What are the impacts of on and off relationships?

On and off relationships lead to stress, anxiety, and undermined peace and joy. Studies proved that on and off couples hardly focus on root issues

On and off relationships impact both partners’ mental health. They feel stressed with the pressure of feeling undesired, incompetent, or inadequate for their partner. This can even lead to borderline anxiety and depression.

In a relationship, breaking up twice can still be bearable and at this point, you can still work on your issues. But when it goes beyond that… the relationship might not be repairable, yet couples try hard to fix it. People end up undermining their peace and joy in the name of working on the relationship.

Studies show that people in on and off relationships experienced so much mental distress that they hardly try to deal with real relationship issues.

If you’re curious if there’s even any chance at all when an on and off relationship works, let’s find them out here…

When On and Off relationships work?

On and off relationships have a bad name in the market because of the toxicity they can bring to your life. However, sometimes it might actually work out for the better. For instance, here are some realistic scenarios…

  • You both won’t live in the same city or nation for 6 months. None of you wants a long-distance relationship, so you patch up whenever you spend time together.
  • Your life is a mess and you just can’t invest enough energy to make your partner feel appreciated. You decide to reconcile once you deal with the ongoing issues.

In both of these scenarios, if you guys communicate and feel satisfied with the decision, the on and off relationship might work out.

However, there’s a catch!

If anything like your behavior or the reasons hurt or stress your partner, it might not work. Moreover, if your partner agrees only because they’re scared of losing you and not because they love you… that also won’t work.

However, there are many more situations when it might not work like these…

When on and off relationships don’t work?

An on and off relationship mostly isn’t because partners aren’t on the same page and have different expectations from the cyclic breakups and patch-ups. So, here are a few situations when it definitely won’t work out…

1. You sacrifice something important

Suppose you guys argue about your dream house, when you want to settle down or when you’ll have babies. You prioritize your desires and you break up. A few weeks later you think it’s a silly reason to split. You alone sacrifice your dreams and take your partner back.

While you think everything is okay, your heart wants something else. Due to a lack of communication, you feel frustrated and resent your partner for not understanding you.

When you feel your partner didn’t value your sacrifice enough, you break up again and it keeps happening.

2. There’s abuse and toxicity

If your partner abuses you or has a toxic personality, even when you break up from your end, they’d keep pursuing you. They do it because they have the twisted desire to torture you and feel better about themselves.

However, you mistake that as their love for you when they say “babe, I swear I’ve changed… I learned my lessons”.  Obviously, you still feel a glimmer of hope due to their manipulation and return to them. Your self-esteem takes a big toll due to this one which makes it even harder to leave.

Wondering how it feels to be in an on and off relationship? Let’s show you here…

What is an on and off relationship really like?

A healthy on and off relationship is full of communication, openness, honesty, understanding, and respect. But when it’s about an unhealthy on and off relationship, lots of chaotic situations and feelings arise like these…

1. It’s full of red flags

In an unhealthy on and off relationship, there will be red flags from the first day. You may not notice them with them so long the rose-tinted glasses are on. But if you try hard, you’ll notice these…

  • Your partner makes decisions on your behalf
  • They control how you speak and act
  • They stop you from socializing, working, spending time with loved ones, or even seeking your healthcare provider
  • They threaten you with your pet and kids
  • They damage your property
  • They say you’re responsible for their behavior
  • They won’t let you access your money
  • They don’t allow you digital privacy
  • They force you for sex
  • You feel unsafe so you do as they desire to keep them happy and yourself safe.

If any of these happens, you must seek help from 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

2. You understand whether they’re THE one or not

The best couples always get a gut feeling about their relationship. They always have a small voice inside their mind that tells them that their partner is the one they’d be happy with.

On the other hand, in on and off relationships, you’ll always doubt your partner’s feelings. Yes, during the patching up, you’d feel that it’s true love, but other times you’ll be always anxious and uncertain.

3. You blindly build the bond on love

On and off relationships depend on love or passion alone. It hardly has other important parts of a relationship like respect, faith, open communication, common ground, desire to compromise, loyalty, and more.

You often discount these important parts because you feel love is enough and that you’d be too greedy to ask for more. You compare your relationship with loveless ones and console yourself that you’re lucky to be loved.

But what is love? It’s never just a kiss or an “I love you”. Love includes all the mentioned traits that go unnoticed.

4. You feel stressed

In on and off relationships, when the breakup and patch-up become a ritual, you can’t help but feel stressed. Even when you spend quality time and your partner talks romantically about having a long-term relationship with you… in the back of your mind you know you’ll break up within weeks.

You can’t focus on the relationship and during the times you must feel good and confident, you feel like trash. The fear affects you mentally, emotionally, and even physically.

5. You slowly learn your needs

Every time you break up in an on and off relationship, you learn your needs and limits from scratch. Especially if it’s a long-term relationship, you know exactly how much pressure can break you.

You might learn this in any other relationship too, but in on and off relationship reality hits much harder because of the recurring emotional pain. You understand what you truly desire in your partner after you break up from one for good.

You realize that you can bend a lot for love but you must not do that.

6. You break up even after the good sex

Most on and off relationships patch up because of good sex and chemistry. So long as you and your partner feel sexually attracted to each other, you won’t see anything wrong with it the first few times.

But eventually, the emotional and physical trauma will help you realize that you were blinded by your carnal desires alone. It was only lust and no love because even after having good sex you split repeatedly. You notice that good sex can’t sustain your relationship.

7. The problems never get solved

The greatest highlight of an on and off relationship is that the actual issues hardly get resolved. You split for a reason, you crave each other for sex or out of loneliness… and then you forget the actual issues because of the craving.

You put the problems on the back burner every time you reconcile and it never ends.

8. You feel a lack of commitment

In on and off relationships, you’ll also notice that your partner won’t be as committed. When the cycle of breaking and making up kicks in, your partner tends to take you for granted more often than not.

They feel you’ll return after a separation of a few weeks because you’re weak for them or because they also believe you’re meant to be.

9. There are lots of communication issues and conflicts

You can’t express yourself in on and off relationships because every time you guys get back together, you forget the real work. The important conversations get buried in lust.

Unresolved issues pile up over time, creating resentments, and it leads to many more conflicts later.

10. Your partner never validates you

In an on and off relationship, your partner won’t often validate your feelings. Validation in relationships helps couples grow closer and stronger.

But without it, resentment kicks in. It hurts your self-esteem and you think you’re inadequate or in the wrong. This is also a cause of on and off relationships.

So, you’re in an on and off relationship? Anxious regarding what to do about it? Let’s understand your steps wisely…

Should you stay or leave an on and off relationship?

It’s not easy to answer whether you must stay or leave the relationship, so it’s best to dive deep into your relationship to understand whether it’s really worth the wait. First, answer these questions…

1. What do you truly want?

Whenever you guys fall in love after breaking up, what’s the usual reason?

If you guys feel that you’re ready to handle the relationship from a more mature angle, you can stay and make it work. But if you get back together for your emotional and sexual desires, that’s a red flag.

So, list down why you reconcile and what you desire from the relationship and your partner.

For instance, if you guys break up because you want to date more people, try ethical non-monogamy. Even if it’s a straight no from your partner, try to communicate to understand your priorities and needs. To stay or to leave depends on your priorities.

2. Are you both on the same page?

In on and off relationships, couples have great chemistry but zero compatibility. So, discuss your hopes, values, morals, goals, hobbies, and even schedules.

With open and honest communication, you can make things work even if you don’t align everything. However, if you can’t work it out, it’s better to leave!

3. What are your differences?

Communicate to understand how you’re different. If it’s anything that is connected to your core identity like sexual and/or emotional needs,  it’s better to move on otherwise you’ll lose your identity and happiness.

But sometimes, the issues might be due to underlying problems like anxiety, depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and any other personality disorder.

These might make you crave a lover’s attention but feel anxious when you want to reciprocate. In the end, you might push them away which causes the cycle. In this case, seek a therapist and you might work it out.

4. What do you like in the relationship?

Some more reasons to stay in the relationship are:

  • Lifestyle: If you both like long-distance relationships or like to lead a nomadic life, it might work out.
  • Space: If you both are used to resolving your issues with prolonged space and breaks from the relationship, you can stay back and have a good relationship.
  • No commitment: If neither of you wishes to commit to each other for a long term, temporary breaks might actually be enjoyable and spike a healthy relationship. In this case, you can stay.
  • Communication: When you take your time apart, if you learn your needs better and can communicate clearly every time you return, it can actually help your relationship grow.

5. What makes the relationship unbearable?

On the other hand, consider these reasons as non-negotiable deal breakers in your on and off relationships:

  • Arguments: If you guys can’t resolve conflict, blame and scream at each other instead, fight about the same problems every day, it’s best to walk away. 
  • Addictive cycle: If you feel addicted to the cyclical pattern of breaking up and making up, i.e., if you guys only patch up to feel the excitement and passion, call it quits.
  • Regrets: Whenever you break up, do you have someone wooing you? When you patch up and the excitement wears off, do you remember the other suitor? If you answered yes to both, just leave because you missed many opportunities this way.
  • Familiarity: If you want to stay because you don’t want to start right from rock bottom and think being with a familiar chaotic person is better than the unfamiliar peace, you MUST break it off!

You might get a mixture of reasons to stay and leave. It’s your job to understand what your priority is.

So, if you want to stay, let’s help you build a better relationship here…

How to fix on and off relationships?

Though on and off relationships are chaotic, you can try to fix the situation with clear communication and some boundaries. So, let’s check how to fix the situation once and for all…

1. Set boundaries

Find out the key issues that lead to the breakup and create strict boundaries about that. Make sure nobody feels wrong because of the boundaries.

If it’s too much for your partner, try to negotiate. But if they can’t, they leave you no other option but to walk out.

2. Calm yourself in different rooms

When you have a heated conversation, don’t let the words flow. Otherwise, you guys will only attack each other. Take a moment from the conversation and rest in another room. Calm your nerves with breathing exercises and then get back to the topic.

3. Strike a conversation only when you’re ready

If you’re tired, hungry, cranky, or just feeling a negative emotion, abort any plan of important conversations.

Otherwise, you will jump to conclusions, overreact, or even take your anger out on your partner. Just be careful and reschedule your check-ins or any discussion.

4. Practice healthy communication skills

Whenever you discuss any conflicting topic in the relationship, keep your language civil but don’t try to hide your emotions.

In other words, speak respectfully but also be open and honest. And also, use more I statements so that you don’t sound like you’re blaming them.

5. Seek a therapist

If you still have communication issues in your relationship, seek an expert like a relationship and marriage therapist for better strategies to make your relationship work.

However, if you want to get out of the relationship, let’s take a look here…

How to stop on and off relationships?

If you tried everything on the last list and the pattern still continued… or if you found more reasons to give up on the relationship instead of staying, the decision is hard but you can’t run away from it. So, let’s work on it here…

1. Seek help from your support system

Talk to your loved ones about your issue. They might have a solution if they experienced anything similar first-hand.

Moreover, you can also seek online support groups to find out how others cope with similar situations to get the best help. Sometimes, a different perspective might give you the much-needed push.

Don’t forget to have faith in their advice because you have very few options at this point.

2. Stop judging and take responsibility

Human beings are bound to make mistakes… you and I are not programmed robots to do everything correctly. So, accept that you made a mistake… but don’t judge yourself for that. I’ve been there and done the same… and trust me, it does nothing for you!

So, take responsibility for getting your heart broken and make sure to learn lessons, and don’t repeat the mistakes.

3. Understand what stops you

Find out what stops you from moving on… is it your low self-esteem or your beliefs? You gotta set yourself free from the shackles of these limiting factors.

Work on the negativity inside you before it destroys your confidence completely. Only then can you make good decisions for yourself. Broaden your horizon and see how wonderful life is.

4. Journal mindfully

Write down what you really want in a relationship… What are your deal breakers, what red flags did you see in your last relationship, how will you identify these patterns in a new relationship, and what will you do to not repeat the same pattern?

Only you can figure these out with daily meditation and mindful journaling.

5. Process your emotions 

Fix an hour or so for yourself away from any distractions. Focus on what you feel during this. Talk to yourself about how you feel. You’re probably used to shutting your emotions, so it will help you a lot if you ask yourself how you feel.

You might cry during these moments and not even understand why. But don’t stop yourself because you need to let out the pent-up emotions. 

6. Try No-contact

You can stay friends with your ex… but after a fresh breakup, it’s better to practice a no-contact period. Otherwise, you’ll forget about everything and try to get back to them.

Remember, you need time and space away from that person to understand your feelings. So, even if you feel like listening to their voice, STOP! If they contact you, let them know that you want to stay away for a while.

7. Take a break from dating

You might feel pursuing new love is the best distraction… but you don’t need a distraction right now. They’ll only be a rebound… or worse, you might again have an on and off relationship with them.

So, turn off the dating scenario unless you’re truly over your ex. Before that, every partner might remind you and push you toward your ex.

8. Learn to communicate

Since communication might be the chief issue, take your time to work on that. Buy self-help books, take free classes online on YouTube, and you’ll find expressing yourself is a lot easier than you thought.

You’re probably used to suppressing your emotions and sacrificing your needs, so it’s time to undo the damage.  

9. Focus on yourself

Do things that you love to do. Include going hiking with your friends or a relaxing resort with your parents. Indulge in self-care in any form you like… it might be painting, dancing, a simple skincare regime, pursuing your studies, or anything else.

10. Seek therapy

If you try everything but still can’t recover from the past or wish to go back to your partner, seek a therapist. Be very candid about your issue.

The therapist will walk you through several plans and routines to help you heal. If you ask them, they’ll even help you with communication issues.

A word from ThePleasantRelationship

It’s difficult to say your on and off relationship won’t ever work out because many broken couples can fix their bond with hardcore effort.

So, instead of finding one solution, try to communicate with your partner about your relationship. Find out if you have more reasons to stay or leave.

After that, give your relationship the last try. If things work out, that’s great… Otherwise, take the hard step.

Remember, you’re worth a loving relationship, so never settle for less!