526: Is it over?

When do you consider a relationship “over”?


Full episode script

There’s an official term in research for that couple you know (or perhaps have been a part of) that keeps breaking up and getting back together and breaking up again. These “cyclical relationships” account for 40 percent or more of college relationships according to one study, and some others claim up to 50 percent of adult relationships fit this mold to some degree.

From a report of the Kansas State University College of Human Ecology, quote:

“Findings showed that couples in a cyclical relationship tended to be more impulsive about major relationship transitions — like moving in together, buying a pet together or having a child together — than those not in a cyclical relationship. As a result, the couples in cyclical relationships tended to be less satisfied with their partner; had worse communication; made more decisions that negatively affected the relationship; had lower self-esteem; and had a higher uncertainty about their future together”

That same report also highlights that often times in these cyclical relationships, one partner or another is often uncertain about the status of a breakup, because it is unclear that the relationship has actually ended.

Of course, the official breakup often comes after — sometimes long after — one or both partners has decided that a relationship is pretty much over.

That period of time where something happens or something is realized that may end a relationship and when a decision is actually made. That stay/leave decision is often a time of high ambivalence — and a time that many people decide to stay in for a long period of time. Quoting from a Social Psychological and Personality Science journal article by Joel, McDonald, and Page-Gould

Across samples, the most common reason for wanting to stay in a relationship was emotional intimacy. Breach of trust (e.g., partner being deceptive or unfaithful) was commonly mentioned across all three samples as a reason for leaving the relationship.

It’s not usually clear-cut, thought. Quoting further from that same study:

Ambivalence was defined as simultaneous endorsement of the leave dimension and at least one of the two stay dimensions (approach or avoidance) with means above the scale midpoint; Between 47 and 52% of study participants met this definition of ambivalence.

In other words, if you’re not sure your relationship is over… well, you’re not alone. The research does say, however, that if you’re waffling, then getting back together again and again and again could be a sign that your relationship may not have the healthiest habits in other ways.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.