Do on-again off-again relationships work?

Young women with long blonde hair and an off the shoulder jumper sits beside her on again off again boyfriend

Ahh the frustratingly familiar experience of on-again, off-again relationships. We’ve all been there, right? You’re with someone, everything’s great, life’s perfect and then suddenly, they go cold and distant… you break up, you make up, you have great sex, everything’s good again… until it’s not, and you find yourself in an endless loop of hot and cold, on and off. Ugh. I feel your pain. 

On-again, off-again dynamics are one of the most confusing to experience, and the hardest to know when to put an end to. While on and off relationships can have a happy ending for some, they are often extremely challenging, volatile and come with a heightened level of stress compared to a relationship that doesn’t combust every few months.

When I think back to some of my own timewaster on-and-off relationships, I think of them as massive deep pimples on my chin. It felt good to squeeze them in the moment, but I know I should have just ignored the damn things.

So, before you decide to navigate the turbulent on-again, off-again rollercoaster with your ex, here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether you should go for another loop, or if it’s time to get off the rough ride (and run in the opposite direction).

Why the repeated breakups?

No, seriously. Why do you keep breaking up? What is the cause of your on-and-off dynamic? When you argue, is it always about the same thing? Does unresolved conflict from past fights always manage to trigger a break up? Are either of you harboring resentment over something that you're not talking about? Is there a lack of trust or fidelity? Are there external life factors like work or family pressures putting a strain on your relationship? Or are you just dating someone who can’t talk about their feelings?

The first step to figuring out whether your sometimes-cold, sometimes-hot ex-partner is worth pursuing is understanding the cause of repeated breakups. It might be a lack of communication, differing expectations or a case of simply not wanting the same things.

What’s your communication like?

How well do you communicate with each other? Do you talk about the big stuff? Or does your partner shut up shop emotionally when you try to talk about the tough stuff?

Being able to talk through your issues is the GPS for any relationship, and it’s non-negotiable in on-again, off-again relationships. Both partners need to be willing to front up and have the tricky conversations in order to resolve conflict and work on problem solving. 

If your relationship keeps breaking up because that’s your ex’s default move when it’s time to talk, then you’re going to find yourself in an endless loop of having your time wasted if your partner can’t level up.

Are you on the same page?

Be honest with yourself – how compatible are you? Do you both want the same things? Ask yourself whether you and your on-again off-again partner share the same fundamental goals. If your partner is cyclically going cold on you and ending the relationship because they "don't want to hurt you”, is that actually code for “I don’t want what you want but I don’t want to admit it because I don’t want to lose you”? 

While great sex is fantastic, it shouldn’t be the sole reason to keep you coming back for more.

If you’re always breaking up because you’re on different paths and don’t share a common view of where you’re headed, you might have some great orgasms, but you’re never going to get much further than that. 

How are YOU feeling?

Outside of the relationship, how do you feel? Sometimes low self-esteem, stress, changing priorities and a fear of being alone can lead us into old patterns and situations that don’t serve you in the long run.

When’s the last time you focused on your own personal growth and development? Sometimes, the time spent apart can tell you exactly what you need to know about yourself, and can lead to a whole lot of juicy self-discoveries, which may have you questioning why you are flogging a seemingly dead horse cold-ass boyfriend/girlfriend.

Are you sticking with this rollercoaster of heartache because you’re scared of being alone? Are you afraid of being vulnerable with someone new? Make sure you’re not using the relationship as a crutch to avoid personal issues. 

Is Couples Counselling an option?

If you are compatible, share the same goals and both genuinely want to put the work in to make the relationship work long term, finding a therapist or couples counsellor might be your saving grace. 

Working with a therapist can be helpful in understanding some of the underlying issues causing the relationship to be on-again off-again. A therapist may be able to help you work through your issues as a couple, improve your communication and discover if your relationship has a solid foundation.

Couples counselling isn’t a magic cure though. It only works when both partners are willing to participate, and are both equally committed to working on the relationship outside of the sessions.

Is the drama worth it?

Constantly breaking up and getting back together again can be beyond emotionally draining. The stress of fighting, ghosting, gaslighting, social media blocking sprees and just general conflict, can put a lot of strain on your well-being, your friendships, your family and your job. Is the relationship worth it?

Ultimately, whether an on-again, off-again relationship works depends on the willingness of both partners to put in the effort and communication to understand and address the issues that led to the breakups. If your relationship is one characterised by mutual respect, good communication, shared goals and a solid foundation, it’s worth pursuing. However, if there’s a common theme of toxic patterns, constant conflict, abuse, or a lack of growth, then maybe it’s time to break free of the exhilarating and exhausting rollercoaster ride that are on-again, off-again relationships and instead try to understand why you’re in this cycle.

So the next time your ex asks you to go for another loop, as yourself if the ride is truly worth it.


Have your say! Login to comment.
  • IVAONE60


    More than a month ago

    Great article I have a saying you never go back because things and people don't change. Sure the sex might be fantastic but at the end of the day ask yourself is it really worth the heartache.

  • QuietBrett


    More than a month ago

    Good article... my answer to the question in the title is no

  • KinkyGirl101


    More than a month ago

    I had this happen with a partner over a 6 month period. We would spend the entire weekend together, have an amazing time, amazing sex, he would leave on Sunday afternoon with plans to catch up during the week. Then Sunday night I would get a call "I can't do this". Then a week later it was back on again. Lots of tears from me in the meantime, some confusion, utter frustration. He confessed the last time that he was bipolar (I should have picked it) so the highs were fantastic but the lows hit hard. I just couldn't do it any more and it was me who had to make a clean break.

  • phoenix1323


    More than a month ago

    I don’t do the on/off thing. I watched family members do that over the years, and I swore that if I couldn’t work things out with a partner, then I’m done. It’s not healthy to be bouncing in and out of something that’s supposed to be meaningful and loving. Yes, sometimes it works out, and yes, maybe I would give things one single last shot.. but they’d have to be a damned special person for me to do so. Communication and honesty is the most important part of a relationship, if you can’t be totally honest and open with each other, then why stay?

    • IVAONE60


      More than a month ago

      I totally agree with you're comment communication is the key. If you can't communicate honestly then there is no point banging you're head on a brick wall.

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