Chad and Vanessa are both on Tinder again. I saw their profiles the last time I logged on.
Wait, they’re not on the app anymore? Are they back together? Yes, yes they are. Wait — nope, spoke too soon.
If you have ever been in or know a couple that has been in a relationship like Chad and Vanessa’s, you know how frustrating it can be to see that unhealthy, cyclical love pattern. But if it’s as infuriating as it is, why do so many of us get trapped in it?
According to psychologists, our tendency to come back to our partners again and again after breaking up can be attributed to some of the following factors.
Nostalgia and remaining love
Although it is intuitive to assume that we get caught in cyclical relationships because we regret losing a high-quality partnership and feel inclined to preserve it, research reveals that relationships with a break-up history are not generally of a higher quality than other relationships.
The more likely explanation about why people return to their exes is that they look back at the past with rose-colored glasses. They start feeling nostalgic and the concern they had for their partners begins to creep back in. Once this happens, the issues that led to the breakup seem much more inconsequential, and they are willing to look past them to give their former partners another chance.
Fear of loneliness
For many, the discomfort of being alone is much greater than the frustration of being in a less-than-optimal relationship. For that reason, they are motivated to re-enter a companionship that may not have served them well in the first place, as long as it means being in a position to receive love from another person.
Attitude towards sex
Some evidence suggests that the way we think about sex can predict our likelihood to enter into a cyclical relationship. If we place a lot of importance and value on it, we are more likely to return to our partners.
This is because we might find it more difficult to be alone without them if our needs are unfulfilled, or that having sex with people with whom we are not in love leaves us feeling even more desolate and lonely.
Ironically, on-again/off-again relationships tend to be worse at fulfilling sexual and physical needs, on average.
Are these kinds of relationships unhealthy?
In short, yes. Research suggests that these kinds of separation/reconciliation patterns are toxic not only to the relationship itself but also to the well-being of individual partners. The more often these cycles happen, the more likely the relationship is to deteriorate in quality.