What To Do About On-Again Off-Again Relationships

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating, Relationships by Debra Fileta

“How long have you been dating?”

“Two years…well, that’s if you don’t count the 3 months we broke up in the fall, and then the 1 month we broke up again the following Christmas…and the 2 months we ‘took a break’ last summer.”

Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t make this stuff up!! In my years as a professional counselor, I’ve had many conversations with people whose relationship status seemed more like a roller coaster ride than a dating relationship.

But what do you make of these on-again off-again relationships, and what do you do if you find yourself stuck in the ups and downs that come with the kind of relationship where you constantly feel like you need a “break”.

When it comes to taking a break in a dating relationship–is it  helpful, or simply prolonging the inevitable?

I addressed this important question a while back in this post–and one observation was this:  Most relationships that display a pattern of on again/off again interactions are probably riddled with unhealthy patterns of interaction.

Healthy relationships aren’t defined by drama- but by consistency, development and growth.  

But for those who are genuinely stuck in a relationship- a one time break can be used as a way to set aside some time to work through some problems and make important decisions.  But it has to be used as just that– a deliberate time for growth, change, and healing.

Otherwise it’s simply hitting the pause button– and that will never change the outcome of the story.  There has to be work, healing, and change involved in the equation.

If you are considering taking a step back from your current relationship, the following is a list of guidelines to remember as you work toward the potential of a productive and useful break:

Once is more than enough.  In order for a break to be beneficial in a dating relationship–you have to see it as a one-time thing.  Relationships that are in the habit of on again/off again are likely made up of negative behaviors that aren’t just going to disappear with a simple break.  If you’re in a relationship that’s made up of this kind of break, after break–maybe it’s time to reevaluate and think about moving on.  If you’re going to try to take sometime apart- make sure that you set it up as a one-time thing.  An opportunity for reflection, for growth, for change, for prayer, and for clarity.

Set some boundaries. Decide what this break is going to look like and stick to that.  Communicate about why it is that you’re taking this break, and discuss the things that need to happen.  Set limits regarding the type of interaction you will have (and will not have), and the time you will spend together.  I know of many couples who’ve decided to take a “break” from their relationship- but then continued to rendezvous for weekly make-out sessions.  It’s easy to use the word “break”, and then not actually take a break at all.  If you have any hope for working things out- than actually use this time heal and to grow- otherwise you are simply prolonging the inevitable.

Work on change.  Taking a break shouldn’t be seen as just “taking a breather” from the relationship.  A productive break has nothing to do with the amount of time you spend apart- and everything to do with what you do during that time.  Set some personal and relational goals, seek out change, and pursue healing in your personal life.  Acknowledge your problem areas– and then work to correct them.  Seek out mentors and friends to be praying with you, investing in you, and helping you grow during this time.  As in all relationships, you can’t control or change how the other person lives their life- but you can always choose better for yours.

Decide on a final answer.  As with everything in life-there should always be an end.  Don’t go into a break ambiguously with a “we’ll see how things go” kind of attitude.  This can cause more damage in many ways by leaving one or both individuals involved lacking closure- and inhibit them from moving forward.   There’s got to be a time of re-evaluation and decision making…a choice to either makeup, or break up once and for all. Here are 3 things to consider before getting back together.

Healthy relationships don’t just happen- they take work, time, and a whole lot of good choices.  But for those who have the courage and strength to do the work up front–they’ll find themselves in relationships filled with life, joy, and peace.  And that’s always worth it in the end.

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

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