On-Again-Off-Again Relationships: How To Decide What You Really Want

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Relationships are complicated, to say the least.

When one fails, it doesn’t always mean that person wasn’t the right person for you.

It could be circumstance or a silly mistake that drives you apart, and in time, it won’t be enough to keep you from being together.

But figuring out whether or not you should keep trying with someone is not as obvious as you’d think…

You see, when you love someone, it’s easy to ignore the warning signs or put up with more than you should.

And a lot of the time, we’re simply too scared to start from scratch in our love lives to finally let go of someone we know isn’t right for us. 

The cycle of an on-again-off-again relationship is an emotional rollercoaster you need to escape from.

Yes, a healthy relationship will have its ups and downs, but the instability of a continuously on-off romance is exhausting and will eventfully burn you out.

Read on to see how you can get yourself out of that rut and decide if this person is really the one for you:

1. Ask yourself why you keep breaking up.

You said it was done for good, yet here you are back with your ex again… but why?

What is it that drives you apart? What is it that pulls you back together?

How come you can forgive them for the heartache of the breakup and yet not make the relationship stick? 

Identifying the root cause of your issues is the first and most important step to settling an on-again-off-again relationship once and for all.

You might find, looking back, that there is a common theme in your breakups. Finding this is like finding the rot in the heart of some wood. You can now focus on the real problem and begin healing the rift at its source.

At the same time, you should be frank with yourself and be prepared to face some uncomfortable truths. Because some fundamental differences can’t be patched over, no matter how hard you try.

If you know that there are issues you just can’t make work, then save yourself the time and heartache and stay away.

2. Do you still trust each other?

Breakups are traumatic – you watch someone you loved (or still love) and trusted turn into a hurtful stranger over night.

To get through a breakup takes enormous mental and emotional strength as you work at untangling your life from theirs.

To go through all of this, only to take them back again is an emotional minefield. You want to forgive and forget, but being deeply hurt by someone makes that so much harder.

When you break up with someone, it can feel impossible to come to terms with those fractured bonds. Rebuilding that trust and feeling secure that things won’t end how they did last time takes a level of energy and forgiveness that will only get harder with each on-off cycle.

A successful relationship can’t function without trust, and unless you can truly put all the hurt and anger behind you, things just aren’t going to work.

It asks a lot of both of you, to fully forgive and forget. It can be done, but you have to be honest about whether you can really let go of your past resentments, and if you can trust them enough to not hurt you again.

3. Are you putting your happiness first?

After being with someone for a while, even when it doesn’t work out, it can be hard to let that relationship go. Being on your own can be daunting, and it might seem easier to try to make things work again than facing the unknown of single life.

A lot of things can make a breakup even more complicated – sharing a house together, or having a family, might mean you can’t just walk away from someone in the blink of an eye.

But just because being apart from them isn’t easy, doesn’t mean being with them will be any easier in the long term.

The only reason to go back to an ex should be if you genuinely love them and see a future with that person.

If you’re trying to make it work for any reason other than your own happiness, the relationship will keep being on-again and off-again until it breaks down completely.

You might think that putting your happiness first is selfish, but you are the one who has to try to make that relationship work for the rest of your life, to live it 24/7. No one else can do that for you.

Yes, admitting your relationship hasn’t worked out is hard, and starting a new life without them might feel impossible. But if you know there’s no future there, be bold, be brave, and start being the author of your own happiness.

4. What is different from last time?

You’re back where you were before, with your ex, convincing yourself that it’s going to work this time.

As much as you want to believe that it will, you need to ask what’s changed since you were in this position before.

You wouldn’t have broken up if there wasn’t a reason to, so what has changed since your last breakup to convince you it won’t happen again?

You might have both had the time you needed to realize that you truly want to be in each other’s lives. But if they’re telling you “things will be different this time,” what tangible differences can you actually see, or are you putting your faith in empty promises?

If the same issues keep driving you apart, then you have to be realistic and ask yourself if things will ever really change.

If it feels like things are going the same way as before, chances are they will.

5. Are you expecting too much from your ex?

Sometimes you’re so desperate for things to work out that you keep going back to your ex in the hope that things will be different.

If you’re waiting for your ex to change in some way to make your relationship work, have you ever considered that you might be asking too much of them?

There is only so much someone can and should change for someone else and it works both ways. If someone is asking you to change or give up something you care about in order to make things work with them, then consider this a wake up call that maybe you just aren’t the people you want each other to be.

As much as we try, when it comes down to it, our personalities rarely change and as adults we are often stuck in our ways. If there was a fundamental issue with your ex the first time around, it’s likely that it hasn’t and won’t ever completely go away no matter how hard they try.

The belief or hope that someone can and will change is one of the key drivers of on-again-off-again relationships, but it’s not fair on either of you. 

Some people are 80% perfect for each other, but still missing that essential 20% – if that’s the case for you, give yourselves the chance to meet someone who will love you 100% the way you are.

6. Are you fully committed?

Once that initial trust in a relationship is lost, it’s hard to fully commit yourself when you give it a go the next time around.

You’ve been hurt by them before, and you don’t want to be hurt again, so it’s natural to feel like you’re holding back a small part of yourself from the relationship.

It’s normal to feel cautious or even a little disconnected when you’re giving an on-again-off-again relationship another chance.

A part of you might not want to fully shut away from opportunities with other people because you have the nagging fear at the back of your brain telling you it might not work out with your ex anyway.

Feeling like this is understandable, but it’s not healthy for either of you. If you find your eyes wandering away from your partner, then it’s most likely a sign you shouldn’t be with them.

Getting back with an ex means that you need to leave all old resentments at the door and commit to making things work despite the relationship ending badly in the past.

You’ll need to be prepared to be vulnerable again, letting go of everything that might have happened before so you can have a fresh start.

It’s hard to admit when things have become too broken to be fixed. But if you can’t break down those emotional barriers, you’ll end up self-sabotaging any hopes of your reunion ending up as your happily ever after.

7. Talk to your friends and family.

It’s not just you who goes through a breakup – it’s your friends and family too. They’re there through the highs and lows, and to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

Getting an outsider’s perspective from someone who cares about you could give you the clarity you need in order to make the right choice.

Friends and family want what’s best for you and will know if getting back with your ex again is really the right thing to do.

If things are always on-again, off again, talk to your closest friends and family and ask them to share their thoughts. If a relationship is really going to work, then you’ll need their support.

If they are able to accept your partner as a permanent part of your life, it might be the boost you need to make things work for good.

8. Are you prepared to be hurt again?

It’s the thought you try to push to the back of your mind and, as pessimistic as it may sound, you can’t ignore the fact that if you and your ex have broken up before, there is the chance it could happen again.

If you’re seriously thinking about trying again with an ex, ask yourself: can I handle another heartbreak from this person if this goes wrong?

Know your own worth. If you keep getting hurt in the same relationship, save yourself the pain and find the strength to be the one to break the on-again-off-again cycle.

Show yourself some love instead, rather than spending your time and energy on someone who you know deep down isn’t right for you.

Becoming independent is the first step in becoming a bolder, more confident, and happier you, and you’ll thank yourself for it in the long run.

9. Cease contact with them.

You’ve tried giving it a go time and time again. You’ve been stuck in an on-again-off-again relationship cycle for too long and it never seems to work out.

It’s time to cut ties and cease contact.

When you’ve given the relationship more than a few chances and it still hasn’t worked, there has to come a point where you show yourself the self-respect you deserve and walk away from it for good.

If you’ve been tempted to see each other again before, then this isn’t the type of relationship where you can break up and remain friends. You both need time to accept that things are over for good, without the temptation of getting back together.

It might be rough, but cutting contact, deleting their number, and blocking their social media might be the only way you can give yourself enough time and space to truly get over them and move on.


People change over time, and sometimes breakups are as simple as finding yourself with the right person at the wrong time. Time apart can offer you the chance to value what you had and give you the opportunity to work on yourselves to become the people you always wanted each other to be.

But if things keep failing, take some time and space to really understand if this person is the one for you or if they are quicksand, drawing you into something familiar but destructive.

Be honest and realistic with yourself when you ask if you can really see them in your future. If not, do both of you a favor and find in yourself the determination to walk away for good.

Still not sure what to do about your on-off relationship? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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