Over the years, I’ve had countless clients come to me wondering if their on again, off again relationship is leading anywhere, how they can get their partner to commit, or how to break the cycle they seem to be stuck in. I have even had clients who have been in on again off again relationships for 10 years! By far, the most common questions I get revolve around the natural desire of my clients to want to know the future of their on/off relationships. Well, as a love and relationship expert here at Happily Committed I’ve seen my fair share of clients trapped in cyclical relationships, and I’m happy to say that there is always a way forward towards a more stable future. But there’s a catch! Before you get to work building that future, you need to know whether you’re better off moving forward with your partner or moving on by yourself. And in order to figure that out, you have to ask yourself one surprisingly difficult question: is my on again, off again relationship healthy?
Ultimately, the trajectory of your on/off relationship depends completely on your honest answer to that question. That’s why, in today’s article, I want to focus on helping you answer it! We’re going to go over how to check if you’re in an on again, off again relationship, how to know if it’s healthy, and then finally, I’m going to tell you where things between you and your partner may lead to from here.
What is an on again, off again relationship?
Before we go any further, it’s worth taking a second to make sure you’re actually in an on again, off again relationship! Although this might seem obvious at first, the reason why I bring this up is that I have had plenty of clients who use the word “relationship” to describe something that is not actually a relationship at all. Here’s what I mean: Does your relationship seem to only be “on” at the convenience of your partner? Is it “off” as soon as something else comes up in their life, leaving you high and dry? Often, I have to break it to my clients that they simply care about their partner more than their partner cares about them, and that’s why tolerate being tossed out and brought back in over and over again. Even worse, sometimes that care they have for their partner blinds them to the fact that they’re being used. This is toxic, plain and simple. In my opinion, it can’t even be called a relationship at all: a relationship takes two people’s effort to deserve that title. When your love and vulnerability are being taken advantage of by someone who doesn’t value you as much as you value them, you’re not in a relationship, you’re being used.
If you’re in this position, I’m sorry. I know it feels terrible. Most of the time, my clients in this situation have become trapped by a so-called partner who knows exactly how to exploit their weaknesses and insecurities. The good news is that, once we can see the root of this dynamic, we can also see the best way out of it: strengthening those exact weak spots and confronting our inner insecurities can help us escape exploitative situations like this. That’s precisely what we specialize in here at Happily Committed, and the experiences I’ve had helping people move on from this cruel cycle give me the confidence to tell you that you can, too. You can always check out our courses in confidence building, or reach out to any of us here at Happily Committed for help by clicking here.
So then what actually is an on again, off again relationship? You’ll be surprised to learn that plenty of people don’t even realize that they’re even in one! Cyclical relationships can take many forms, but some of the most common signs include you and your partner going through ebbs and flows in your respect for each other, ups and downs in your interest in maintaining the relationship itself, and of course constant cycles of breaking up and making up. Plenty of people in these situations are in long term relationships, or are even married to each other already! I’ve had some married clients bristle at being told that they’re in an on/off relationship, because they simply didn’t believe the term could be applied to them. However, while some ups and downs are completely normal, when they start to become extreme like this, it’s time to call it what it is: an on again, off again relationship. If this sounds like you, don’t worry, there are ways to put an end to this cycle! As always, the first step towards solving any problem is knowing what you’re dealing with.
There’s also a third category of on again, off again relationships I’d like to bring up: the kind where the energy and interest in maintaining the relationship is always the same between the two partners as it ebbs and flows. This is rare, but it does happen, almost always in casual ‘friends with benefits’ kinds of relationships. If you’re in one of these kinds of relationships, you’ve probably found yourself seeing someone, drifting away, and then drifting back together with no hard feelings in between. Typically, in situations like these, neither side is looking for commitment, and their relationship is only ‘on’ when it’s convenient for both of them. As long as there is a healthy degree of respect and communication between the two sides, there’s nothing wrong with this relationship dynamic! However, this kind of relationship always leads to a moment of reckoning, when you need to determine whether to bring the relationship to the next level or to move on for good. Being prepared and open with your partner can help avoid causing pain on either side when that moment finally comes.
As you can see, not every on/off relationship can even be called a relationship, not everyone realizes they’re in an on/off relationship, and not every on/off relationship is negative! It can be overwhelming to know what to think if you find yourself in this kind of situation, but that’s why I’m glad you’ve found this article. We’re going to help make sense of what can happen next. Plenty of people have turned their on again off again relationships into more stable, committed ones, and plenty of people have found far deeper happiness by simply walking away from them altogether. What they all had in common was this: they knew whether their relationship was toxic or not. Before you take your next step forward, you’re going to need to know too.
How to figure out if your on again off again relationship is toxic
A lot of on again, off again relationships suffer from unhealthy dynamics, in which both parties are left unsatisfied and their deeper desires are unfulfilled. Of course, no couple imagined a marriage full of near-misses with divorce when they took their vows! And anyone who’s had a partner suddenly withdraw knows how lonely and isolating it is to suddenly feel alone in your relationship. But I want to make an important distinction: there’s a difference between being in a relationship that is on again, off again because it has problems that need to be solved, and being in a relationship that is on again, off again because it is toxic.
A toxic relationship is when your very emotional well-being is under attack by your partner. For people unlucky enough to find themselves in one, it’s best to make peace with it now: your best move is to get out. The reason I bring this up is that most on/off relationships aren’t actually toxic, they’re just the result of some underlying issues that need to be addressed. But for everyone wondering where the road leads with their cyclical relationship, it’s important to rule out a toxic dynamic, so that you don’t waste your time trying to fix something that can’t be fixed!
So how do we rule it out? In the context of on/off relationships, here are three questions that you can ask yourself to spot the red flags of a toxic relationship:
1. Is someone else coming between your relationship?
It happens all the time: people are stuck in an on/off cycle with someone who is already in another committed relationship. If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you already know when your ‘partner’ appears back in your life that they won’t stay, and when they stop seeing you, you know they’ll be back. The ups and downs of a situation like this are agonizing, and unfortunately, if you’re in a relationship like this then you have to face it: your emotional well-being simply isn’t being considered, or worse, it IS being considered but it simply doesn’t matter enough for them to make up their mind. That is toxic! We all deserve to be treated with respect, especially by the people we love.
It’s tempting in a situation like this to try to dissect your partner’s other relationship to figure out why yours is so up and down. However, I want to make something clear: it’s not worth it. Whatever is happening on the other side is not under your control, nor does it need to be for you to know what to do. The only thing you need to know is that the person you’re involved with is showing you the same disrespect they’re showing their spouse. The minute you accept that your feelings aren’t being respected, you’ll see it’s time to move on.
2. Do you have nasty break ups all the time?
In every relationship, it’s normal to have disagreements or even arguments from time to time. You may be surprised to hear me say this, but often they can actually be signs of a healthy relationship! However, that’s only true when a couple’s respect and love for each other never comes into question. For couples like this, an argument is never “me vs. you”, it’s “you and me vs. the problem”, which allows them to actually improve the strength of their relationship each time they have a disagreement.
However, if you’re feeling belittled, demeaned, or insulted every time you argue, you couldn’t be farther from this dynamic. Arguments become about asserting power and putting you down when they lack respect and love. If this sounds like your situation, you’ve probably contemplated leaving the relationship each time you have another nasty argument. You may have even tried, only to have your partner change tone at the last minute to keep you from walking away. The root of this cycle is toxic: it comes from a place of insecurity and weakness on behalf of your partner, which is expressed through putting you down when you’re together, and preventing you from leaving when you’re finally done. Unfortunately, in a situation like this, you need to accept that it’s emotional abuse, and that the relationship can’t go on.
3. Is your relationship all on their terms?
As I mentioned earlier, when your partner holds all the power in deciding whether you’re together or not, it’s hard to even call that dynamic a relationship. But how do you know if this is your situation? The most common thing to keep an eye out for is a big difference in the willingness to reconnect after a period of being “off.” Here’s what I mean: Are you always, without fail, open to starting the relationship again, even though your partner seems to be willing to far less often? Do you go through long periods of waiting for them to make contact, because you know it’s useless for you to try initiating? This is one of the most typical red flags I see my clients struggling with, and unfortunately, you have to face it: if you care more than they do, it’s unhealthy for you to stick around. Even worse, if they know you care more than they do, and they keep you hanging around for their own convenience, then it’s a toxic dynamic.
I’m in a toxic on again and off again relationship, what now?
So, what if you’ve checked for the signs of a toxic on/off relationship, and come to the uncomfortable conclusion that you’re in one right now? First things first, don’t worry! There’s a way towards a happier future. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but you can do it. As always, you can always click here to work with me or a member of my team. We can ask you specific questions to help analyze your specific situation and provide you with a tailor-made action plan.
As a general rule, your best bet right now is to ask yourself some hard questions about what’s stopping you from walking away. Most of the time, some of our deepest fears and insecurities keep us stuck in unhealthy situations like this, and we have to face them if we want to live a more enriching, happier life without a toxic partner. That’s a very difficult process, so make sure you have a support network as you embark on this journey! Keep your friends close, spend time doing what you love, and actively practice self-care, because all of these things remind yourself of who you really are. With a strong sense of personal identity and self-respect, you can overcome those fears that keep you stuck in this rut, and you’ll feel confident walking away from a toxic relationship.
Can on-again off-again relationships work out?
If you’ve taken a long hard look at your relationship and found that, while it is on and off, it’s not toxic, then there are plenty of ways for it to work out. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do! Ups and downs in relationships always come from some root problem, and if you’re both interested in finding a way to make your relationship more stable, you’re going to have to both work on identifying it and addressing it together. The first step is being open with each other, and for people in on/off relationships, sometimes that can be a big obstacle. Honest communication is a skill you may not have had time to learn with a partner who isn’t around consistently. I’d recommend checking out our course in communication so that you can coach yourself at home and gain the tools that you need to start this journey together! With patience, respect, and love for one another, even the process of working through the root causes of your on again off again dynamic can be the bedrock of an extremely healthy and happy relationship.
With that being said, let’s recap the steps you should follow to figure out whether you’re better off working on taking your on again off again relationship to the next level, or better off walking away.
Your first step is to make sure you’re actually in an on/off relationship! An honest look at the defining elements of your dynamic already tells you a lot about what’s possible and what’s not. After that, you’re going to want to make sure you’re not in a toxic relationship. The best way is to check for some of the most common red flags:
- Is someone else coming between your relationship?
- Are you having nasty break ups all the time?
- Is your relationship on their terms?
Once you’ve done all that, you’ll have a clear view of which path is best for you. I know it’s not always easy, and this can seem like a very daunting task, but I know you can do it. As always, feel free to reach out to any of us here at Happily Committed for help getting started on your journey towards stability. I sincerely wish you all the best.
Your coach when you’re wondering whether your on again, off again relationship is healthy,