On again, off again relationships can have long-lasting negative impact on couples’ mental health

They had agreed to take a break from their relationship.

At least, that’s what Ross Geller thought about his relationship with Rachel Green when he ended up at another woman’s apartment in the hit ’90’s television show Friends. His action resulted in a breakup with Rachel, but that wasn’t the end of their relationship. The two young adults spent the next six seasons getting back together and breaking up in an on-again, off-again relationship.

Kale Monk

While many TV fans rooted for the two characters to get back together, a new University of Missouri study, led by MU Assistant Professor Kale Monk, says that over time, relationships similar to Ross and Rachel’s can have a lasting negative influence on the mental health of the people in these relationships, with negative effects sometimes lingering on for more than a year.

“We’re seeing several consequences associated with remaining in these relationships, such as less relationship satisfaction, poorer communication, less commitment, more intimate partner violence, and in this particular study, finding that it’s associated with depression and anxiety symptoms over time,” Monk said.

Monk and his colleagues surveyed 545 individuals who were in relationships. Approximately 34% of partners reported relationship cycling, which means they had experienced at least one cycle of breakup and reconciliation in their relationship. He used established measures of depression and anxiety symptoms to analyze the mental health of the individuals in the relationship.

In an earlier study, Monk found that on-again, off-again relationship cycling was associated with psychological distress and that those who cycled more frequently – in and out of the same relationship– also reported more distress symptoms. However, in this most recent study, he found that these same debilitating effects can last much longer.

“We followed these people over time, and we found that our prior findings ring true over a year out,” Monk said. “Breaking up and getting back together previously in your relationship was associated with more symptoms of psychological distress over a 15-month period.”

While it can be distressing to be in an on-again, off-again relationship, getting out of one could have well-being benefits. In fact, in a

/MU Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.