Falling in and out of love is a common experience that, unfortunately, frequently happens with the exact same partner. This is called “relationship cycling”, and it turns out it’s an even bigger emotional energy suck than it feels like.
A new study from the journal Family Relations examined the “psychological distress” caused by breaking up and getting back together with someone over and over, The Cut reports. Anyone who has done this can tell you how awful it is, but now we have some research confirming why.
For one, human beings don’t do well with uncertainty in our lives. If someone is supposed to be your rock, but they wobble underneath you, it’s disorienting. In fact, the study’s overall conclusion was basically that we can’t handle these types of relationships, despite constantly having them:
Patterns of breakup and renewal were linked to increased symptoms of psychological distress, indicating the accumulation of relationship transitions can create added turmoil for individuals.
Yes. Yes, I know.
The real issue is that every time you return to a relationship cycle, it gets worse. That makes a lot of sense. When we get burned, we don’t keep touching the stove. Yet some combination of nostalgia, loneliness, or an addiction to the drama of it all will draw us back to a person we love but probably shouldn’t be with, again and again.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing: If you’re willing to work on your issues, it’s possible to grow together into a new and better relationship.
According to the study, however, people are often reluctant to put that kind of effort into relationships they’re returning to. It already hasn’t worked out in the past, so why invest emotional energy in making it better? It’s like the thing we’ve been burned by is the relationship itself, but the person still attracts.
This means that each iteration of your relationship is worse than the one that came before. That may explain why it sometimes feels as though we have to break up with a person a few times before it sticks. If you really want to make it work with someone, you kind of have to treat an old relationship as though it’s brand new. That’s a pretty tall order. Maybe you’d be better off just starting fresh for real.