Linda Lewis Griffith

How to get out of an on-again, off-again relationship

On-again, off-again relationships can be psychologically exhausting, therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says.
On-again, off-again relationships can be psychologically exhausting, therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says. Bay Area News Group/TNS

You’ve been dating the same guy for five years. But you break up like clockwork every eight months. Each time you call it quits you’re convinced it’s over, finito. Yet the next time you meet him you’re madly in love — until you’re not.

Couples occasionally part ways then reconnect, especially in the early stages of their relationship. On-again, off-again relationships make breaking up a habit and signal deep-seated problems in both the union and the people involved.

Relationships should not play out like Dostoevsky novels. Instead, they should be emotionally and physically stabilizing, with minimal amounts of interpersonal drama.

On-again, off-again relationships, on the other hand, are psychologically exhausting. Couples routinely find themselves in the devastation of a breakup or in the giddiness of a new romance. Partners may be forced to couch surf for months on end. When the ink’s finally dry on the lease for a new apartment, they move back again with the same partner and the drama starts anew.

Why do folks tolerate these unhappy situations? The answers are complex.

Some people grapple with low self-esteem and tell themselves, “This is the best I can do.”

Others are afraid of being alone. They dread the dating process and the thought of staring over. They’re quick to point out this partner is far from perfect, but at least they know what they’re getting into.

Still others have a hard time making decisions. They constantly second themselves. They see their lover’s strengths and weaknesses and are torn about which way to go.

Whatever the cause, the results are tragically the same. On-again, off-again relationships exact a steep emotional toll. Both partners waste precious psychic energy navigating the chronic upheaval. They feel like failures because their home lives are disastrous. Yet they’re stuck, unable to break the cycle.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

How to get out of an on-again, off-again relationship

Recognize the pattern. Don’t justify your bad situation. If you’ve broken up and reconnected more than twice in your relationship, it’s time to admit defeat and move on.

Make a clean break. Don’t seek resolution or try to hash things out. That only draws you back together. Stop calling, texting or meeting for coffee. Never try to be friends.

Be firm. Inform your partner that it’s over. You’re not getting back together. Don’t succumb to their pleading or tears. Follow your head and get out.

Get emotional support. Enlist the help of friends and family. Identify the person you can call in the middle of the night.

Fill your schedule. Sign up for clogging lessons at the rec center. Join a book group at the library. Pack your days and evenings with activities so you won’t be sitting idly at home.

Plan strategies for accidental meetings. It’s inevitable you’ll bump in to each other, especially in a close-knit community. You needn’t abandon your cart at the grocery store. But don’t feel compelled to engage in a polite conversation. A cursory nod will do.

Know the pain will end. It’s dreadful now. You can barely tolerate being alone. Create a new life and hang in there. In six months things will be different.

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