On Again, Off Again: Five Reasons The Wrong People Stay Together


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This is an interesting topic that was posed to me earlier during a discussion. A discussion not about breaking up and getting back together again for a second chance, but that of trying over, and over, and over (and over) again. Couples who seem to gravitate back towards each other no matter how bad or ugly things get.


First, I need to give a disclaimer: Invariably any time I write an article like this people attempt to educate me on the psychology of abusive relationships and why people do not leave. It is very important to note that those are not the situations I am talking about here. This article is about the people we see all the time who seem to bounce back and forth to each other like ping pong balls when everyone else around them knows the relationship will never work. I am not (I repeat, am not) discussing emotionally or physically abusive relationships, nor the in-depth psychology that goes along with it.

Are these two people who are ‘meant’ to be with each other (if such a concept exists)? Or are they horribly wrong for each other but addicted to each other’s comfort and familiarity?

Moving forward, I think in order to tackle this issue we need to open up room for both of these possibilities to fit. But at the same time, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the concept of being right for each other yet unable to form a stable bond, sort of seems to dispel that theory altogether. That is to say: If you are really meant for each other, then it should work out the first or maybe second time. If you are on and off more often than a light switch, there is likely a big compatibility issue there.

I understand people have their issues. I understand timing can be off in someone’s life. I understand that circumstances can pull people apart who eventually find their way back to each other. Those are not the couples I am referring to in this article.

I am referring to the couples who have more issues than Time magazine. The ones who, for as long as you can remember, have been at each other’s throats and have decided to ‘take a break’ or just break up multiple times, but for some reason always seem to pull each other back in again.


And guess what? Nothing ever seems to change.

I think there are multiple reasons for this. Possibly the biggest of all is just the lack of recognition that this person is, and will always be, wrong for you. This is a recognition we refuse to see because of the years of emotional investment put into this person. Maybe you’ve been with them for two, three, five years, or even more. How can you possibly quit and start over again from scratch with someone else?

The first mindset to get past is that of ‘quitting.’ People associate quitting with weakness. They think holding on is a sign of strength. The reality is that sometimes what strength really means is being able to let go of what you know cannot be fixed. Always, always keep this in mind.

Secondly, familiarity. Familiarity is the bedfellow of comfort, they go hand in hand to keep you where you are. It is better to be in a negative situation you are familiar with rather than venturing out into the world and risking finding something worse, right? Wrong. Any step away from an already negative situation is a positive one – just make sure you ignore this familiarity in the future.

If you find yourself gravitating towards someone new because they are familiar (in other words, just like your ex it didn’t work out with), run.

Thirdly. Self worth. This is a big one. I think people continue going back to the wrong person because that is what they feel they deserve. They don’t think they can do better (perhaps because of what their partner has told them in the past), and they might as well just stick around because it’s the best they can do.

The first step to moving past any negative situation is recognizing your own value. Only then will you be able to set the bar for what you deserve and not accept anything under it.


Fourth, there is a reliance. A reliance on each other in order to be ‘whole.’ This is where pop-culture falls short of the vision for a great relationship because they idealize the thought of ‘you complete me’ as being incredibly romantic. When in reality, a strong, healthy relationship is about two people who are already complete and come together to form a bond.

I think people who go back and forth with the same person repeatedly feel as though they need that person in their life in order to be whole. This is a problem that will never be solved if this cycle continues. They need to branch out, be on their own, create their own life, and then see if their partner will still have a place in it.

The fifth and final reason I will give for why I think things get progressively worse is one that anybody who has ever gone through a breakup can relate to (probably everyone reading this). The person you once thought was the best thing that ever happened to you can quite often show you a different side of them that you did not expect. Everyone handles breakups differently. Some are quiet, some are mean, some are insulting, some are vengeful…but these qualities are obviously overlooked if we give the person another chance.

When we see these qualities displayed towards us by someone we love, or once loved, it is natural that our entire perception of them changes (if we allow it). Often times we may push ourselves to look past it because, that can’t be how they really are…can it? Our guard will naturally be up a little higher during the second chance. Then even more so during the third. The fourth and fifth…well, you get the idea. Our threshold for their mistakes also gets progressively lower and lower as we begin to understand that they are unlikely to change who they truly are.

Trust in a relationship is like an eraser on a pencil, it gets smaller and smaller after every mistake.


Going back to someone who has hurt or betrayed you in the past is often like reading an old book and expecting it to end differently. This is evidenced constantly by the relationships outlined in this article which I’m sure we all know at least one person who has gone through. Each ‘time around’ a couple needs lowers their chances of long term success.

Should you give someone a second chance? If the reason for your first breakup was not abuse or any harm towards you but more circumstantial or related to where you were in your lives, then I say go for it if you know this is someone you want to be with.

The takeaway here is that if someone continues to make the same mistake over and over again, an apology means nothing, and you need to stand strongly enough to not accept their unwillingness to change. The first time it is a mistake, the second time it is a choice.

There are seven billion people in the world. You deserve better than the one who has needed five chances to show you they are willing to do what it takes to build a relationship with you. Never accept anything less.


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1 Comment

  1. Chanel on January 6, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    This has got to be one of the best articles that I have ever read about why you stay in a relationship that you know isn’t working. Thanks so much for the insight!

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