On-Again-Off-Again Relationships – How To Break The Cycle

Dating experience | | , Content & Creative Strategist
Updated On: December 16, 2023
on again off again relationships

Are you in one of those situations when someone asks you if you are in a relationship, you say yes, but then after a month when someone else asks you if you are committed to someone, you are not sure what to say? If you believe that happens to you often, then you are in an on-again-off-again relationship.

You can imagine the roller coaster such relationships turn out to be. Not only do they make you question your rationale and instinct, but they also prove detrimental to your overall well-being. Your sense of stability is severely affected, and you don’t feel mentally safe in the relationship since you keep wondering when the next fight or separation would take place.

And then, there’s the desperation and the longing to get back together even though it’s clear to everyone except you that it’s not working out. In some on-again-off-again relationships, couples do manage to see the light and work on their issues amicably and together. But some are recipes for disaster, and they take more than they give.

What Is An On-Again-Off-Again Relationship Like?

When two people begin going out, they either click really well and enter into a relationship. Or they don’t. Also, in many cases, a couple breaks up eventually when the spark dies off. All of these situations are normal. However, when a couple gets together, breaks up due to certain issues, gets back together again when the spark reignites, and then breaks up again, that is what an on-again-off-again relationship looks like.

According to statistics, approximately 60% of young adults experience at least one on-again-off-again relationship. This pattern can be extremely toxic and distressing. On the other hand, let’s take the example of Jessica Biel, actor-model, and Justin Timberlake, singer-songwriter. They had a breakup in March 2011 but they got married in 2012 and have been together ever since.

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After their breakup, Timberlake, in an interview, had called Biel “the single-handedly most significant person in my life.” He added, “In my 30 years, she is the most special person, okay? I don’t want to say much more, because I have to protect things that are dear to me—for instance, her.” How precious. Their love prevailed in this on-again-off-again relationship, and we couldn’t be happier for them. 

What Causes On-Again-Off-Again Relationships?

We want our partners to provide everything for us, to be our everything, and fulfill all our needs. This is unrealistic, and sometimes one of the reasons for an on-again-off-again relationship. Clearly, one person can’t be your personal bank for your specific wants, desires, and unfulfilled fantasies. You have to let some things go and remember that this person is not just here to be your partner, but to be their own individual person as well.

Also, there are times when two people are perfect for each other sexually but have the toughest time maintaining peace in other areas of their relationship. They can’t imagine being bereft of something so passionate, so they come back together after every breakup, as unhealthy as it might be. It’s not all dark though. We have for you the best on-again-off-again relationship news from the celebrity world.

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“If you love something let it go, if it comes back….?” – JoJo Siwa, in May 2022, captioned this under a romantic photo with Kylie Prew on Instagram, and sent us all into a frenzy. Siwa and Prew are back together 7 months after their breakup! After nearly a year together, Siwa and Prew had broken up in November 2021. During this phase, they remained “best friends” and as Siwa put it, they “would take a bullet” for each other.

She also added, “I’m really lucky that I didn’t lose her completely because, you know, even though relationships end, friendships don’t have to end.” We’re so glad this adorable couple, who gives us friendship goals as well as relationship goals, is back together. A strong base of friendship definitely helps couples take control of an on-and-off-again relationship.

There are times though when it doesn’t work out, and you DO have to separate from each other – permanently. When you truly love someone, it’s not easy to let them go. Cutting ties is even more difficult when one or both of the people in a relationship are not happy with each other but they are also not ready to move on. There are various reasons behind an on-again-off-again relationship. Here are some of them:

1. The inability to balance relationship and life

Navigating life is hard. One has to take care of a lot of things that might take them away from their romantic love. In such a situation, a person might not be able to focus on the relationship. So they break up but get back together with their partner when life gets easier.

This happened with a celebrity couple. The pandemic fixed an on-and-off relationship between them! Ben Stiller, actor-producer-director, and Christine Taylor, actor, were married for 17 years. They separated in 2017 but stayed a family because of their kids. Then, to the pleasant surprise of everyone, Stiller announced this in February 2022: “We were separated and got back together and we’re happy about that. It’s been really wonderful for all of us. Unexpected, and one of the things that came out of the pandemic.” They certainly knew how to take control of an on-and-off-again relationship.

So, in this case, what do you think? Is an on-again-off-again relationship healthy? We think that for them, it certainly is. They took time off because of their problems, never harmed each other’s dignity in public, always maintained that they are a family first, and when it came time to heal and be together, they did that with grace as well. In their on-again-off-again relationship, they had compassion and empathy for each other all the way.

how to fix an on and off relationship
You may want to sort your life before committing yourself to your partner

2. Incompatibility

Certain couples have intense chemistry between them. They feel like they connect, but they can rarely agree upon anything. Most of their conversations turn into arguments. However, they keep going back because of the undeniable chemistry.

But how to know when an on-and-off relationship is over? Take the example of the relationship between singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus and actor Liam Hemsworth. Their dynamic basically sums up the on-again-off-again relationship meaning. It’s the very definition of an unsteady bond that also turned into an unhealthy relationship for them both. Let us elaborate.

They started dating in 2010, broke up twice the same year but got back together every time, got engaged in 2012, broke it off in 2013, remained “best friends”, got engaged in 2016 again, married in 2018, and finally divorced in 2019. Needless to say, the media had its fun, spilled the drama everywhere, and the couple suffered through it all.

In March 2022, during a performance, Cyrus brought a gay couple on stage for their proposal and said to them, “Honey, I hope your marriage goes better than mine…mine was a f–king disaster.” Theirs was indeed a classic story of an on-and-off relationship for years. 

Related Reading: When You Know It’s Time To Break Up

It’s when you’re going in loops with no end in sight to the issues at hand, and when you’ve explored every way to ‘fix’ your problems but come short every time – only to go back to the patterns of neglect, bitterness, fights, or silences. That’s how to know when an on-and-off relationship is over. 

Is my relationship over quiz

3. Lack of communication

Most issues in a relationship begin with a lack of communication. That is exactly the case with an on-again-off-again relationship as well. Breaking up appears to be an easier option until the couple cannot stay away from each other, and then gets back together over and over again. This could lead to an on-and-off relationship for years.

But what’s missing, and stays missing, is that they haven’t learned the communication styles that work for each other. They haven’t learned what’s the best way to converse about topics that are upsetting, stressful or downright triggering. So, they continue to piss each other off, or make each other sad, while also continuing to apologize and make amends.

These people may also need to understand that everyone has their own love language and apology language and that they need to learn what their partner’s is in order to communicate more effectively.

4. Long history

A couple may have been together for a really long time, and don’t wish to break up because of the emotional and mental investment. However, they don’t feel like being together either. This confusion leads to the cycle of an on-and-off relationship that could last for years.

Such couples, who have a long, emotional, and complex history together, dismiss the presence of conflicts in other areas of their lives. This is because they can’t imagine a life without each other anymore. They keep breaking up when they’ve had enough, but they can’t go far away from their roots and family, which is each other.

So, clearly, they don’t want to let go of something so meaningful but are also unable to stand the issues that keep cropping up. Even to them, it seems near-impossible to fix an on-and-off relationship like theirs, no matter what measures they take. They are fundamentally incompatible but have a hard time accepting that.

Related Reading: 7 Reasons Your Ex Is Hot And Cold- And How To Deal With It

How To Break The Cycle Of An On-Again-Off-Again Relationship?

How do you get over an on-again-off-again relationship? The same way you get over any relationship, but with tons of support from friends and maybe even a therapist, and much stricter adherence to boundaries and the no-contact rule added in for good measure. Otherwise, you’re back to the same old loop of on-again-off-again relationship.

On the other hand, it may seem like a vicious cycle, but there IS a chance for your on-and-off relationship to find success. This may involve more investment in terms of emotional and mental presence, but it all boils down to what you really want to do. If you are wondering how to break the cycle of an on-again-off-again relationship, keep reading!

Infographic on how to break the cycle of an on again off again relationship
Ways to break the cycle of an on-again-off-again relationship

1. Find clarity in what you really want to do

The first thing you need to do to break the cycle of a back-and-forth relationship is to find out the root cause of this instability. If you and your partner have been in an on-off relationship for years, then understand whether you are in it for love or for history.

On the other hand, if you attribute your on-again-off-again relationship to incompatibility or lack of communication, then you need to accept that and work on the relationship accordingly. All of it begins with finding clarity in what you want to do and whether you really want to stay.

2. Communicate your problems with each other

Like most relationship issues, on-again-off-again relationships can get toxic because of a lack of communication. The On-again-off-again relationship meaning entails going through periods of time when both parties don’t hear each other out. Therefore, you need to address the communication problems in your relationship, first and foremost.

You must sit your partner down and have an honest discussion with them about what is going wrong in your relationship. More often than not, communication solves most of the problems. On-and-off relationship success is possible if both the parties are just able to sit down and talk about the issues along with finding realistic solutions to them.

3. Ensure that your partner is on the same page as you

Sarah was in an on-again-off-again relationship with James, so she decided to talk to him and turn her relationship into one of those on-and-off relationship success stories. She convinced James that they needed to make it work, but she soon realized that James was not as invested as she was, and they got stuck in the on-off loop once again.

You may be hoping to make your on-again-off-again relationship successful, whereas your partner could be leaning toward breaking up. They might not be able to tell you that openly. To make your relationship work, you need to ensure your partner truly wants your relationship to work out, and that you’re on the same page.

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4. Take a break, if needed

There may be instances where both the people in a relationship want to make it work, but they cannot get to the bottom of the issue and are therefore unable to break away from the cycle. If you are one of those people who just doesn’t know why their on-again-off-again relationship is toxic, then you might want to take a break in the relationship and ponder over the issues.

5. Skip calling or texting them when you feel lonely

Emily and Pamela took a break because they were stuck in the loop of an on-again-off-again relationship. However, Pamela kept calling Emily every couple of days because she felt lonely and did not know how to live a life without her in it. Emily never got the time she needed to process their issues, and she broke up with Pamela even though she didn’t want to.

Do you get over an on-again-off-again relationship? You can, but it’s hard and its memories linger for a long, long time. So, we would firmly advise you to not be like Pamela. If you have decided to take a break, stick to it. On-again-off-again relationships are toxic, you do not want to make it worse by poking your partner only to find yourself going through a breakup.

Related Reading: How To Get Over Someone You See Everyday And Find Peace

6. Talk to someone you trust

Making a decision like this is not easy, especially if you are in a back-and-forth relationship. You keep going back to your partner for a reason and after a point, you stop seeing things with clarity.

For the same reason, you need to talk to someone you trust about your issues. If you feel your friends or relatives won’t understand, talk to a therapist. They will be able to provide you with a third-person perspective without any judgment.

7. When nothing works out, it is time to end the relationship

Say, you have tried talking to your partner. You have even talked to someone you trust, but nothing seems to be working out. In that case, you need to end the relationship once and for all, even if you have a history and even if you truly love the person.

The bottom line is many on-again-off-again relationships are toxic and you need to look out for yourself – nothing should come before your mental health. If you feel your relationship is a lost cause, call it quits and begin a new life without your partner.

There are multiple reasons though, that people renew their relationships with their partners. There is always a looming fear of not being able to find anyone else and ending up alone. As long as you have feelings for your partner, you will continue to try hard to make it work.

However, there are very few on-and-off relationship success stories. There may be a chance that yours could be one of them, but if you have been in an on-and-off relationship for years, then you might want to walk away because living like this is not fair to either of you. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you stick to it and break free from the cycle.


1. Can on-again-off-again relationships work?

On-again-off-again relationships can work if the underlying reason is not severe. If you are in an on-again-off-again relationship because of a lack of balance, then you can always find a way out. However, if the cause of your wavering relationship status is incompatibility, then it is not going to work.

2. How do you get out of an on-again-off-again relationship? 

To get out of an on-and-off relationship, you first need to understand the underlying cause of the fickleness. Then, you need to see if the problems can be resolved. If they can be sorted, then have a calm conversation with your partner. If the issues are greater than the relationship, then end the relationship once and for all with the firm decision of never going back to them. If it helps, reach out to someone you trust to keep you away from your ex. 

3. How to know when an on-and-off relationship is over?

When you realize that your partner has stopped putting in efforts to make your relationship work, or when you realize that you are tired of being in a back-and-forth relationship and it begins to annoy you, that is when you realize that an on-and-off relationship is over. Although it may seem like it’s the end of the world, it isn’t. Trust us!

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