Can a relationship work in the longterm after several breakups?

By Lea Rose Emery

Getting back together after a breakup is always a tough decision. It’s easy to feel like you have unfinished business and just need to give it one more shot. You might say it’s “to get it out of your system” or “because they’ve changed”. And, sometimes, it actually works. You break up and get back together and everything is fine. But other times, you just break up again. And again. And again. 

I should know. For about 10 years, all of my relationships were basically yo-yos. We’d break up, we’d get back together, we’d break up — it felt like a never-ending cycle. And, after about four or five breakups, it would finally stick...we’d be broken up for good. But it was exhausting. And each time we went through the cycle, it felt like it chipped away at our relationship, just a little bit. And then a little bit more, until the end we were just going through the motions of being in a relationship. Can a relationship ever survive all of that? If you’ve been through several breakups, can you actually make a relationship work— or, at some point, do you go past the point of no return? 

Well, a lot of it is down to the circumstances around the breakup and your individual relationship. Here are the questions you need to ask yourself— because it’s better to be brutally honest now and save yourself some heartache. 

Why did you break up? 

First of all, you need to look at why you broke up in the first place— and every time after that. If you broke up because one of you needed more time before they settled down or you were in different cities, those are circumstances that could easily change. But if you broke up because of fundamental issues, like values or what you want out of your life, those issues probably won’t go away. Maybe one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t. Maybe one of you needs to live near their job and the other hates it there. Maybe you just want to spend time in totally different ways. If you broke up because of big issues, those will still be hanging over your relationship— no matter how many times you get back together. 

What’s changed? 

It’s all about what’s shifted. Like I said, some issues will always be there, no matter what. And if that’s the case, the relationship may be doomed. But if something has shifted, then your relationship may have a real shot. Every time you get back together you should ask yourself If things will genuinely be different this time. So, what’s changed? If you're just going to put yourself through another break up in a few weeks or months, then it's really not worth it.

Are you both taking responsibility? 

One issue that people often overlook is how much damage the breakups themselves have done to their relationship. It’s not just about the underlying issues— breakups can be traumatic. We say things we don’t mean, we hurt each other, things happen that you can’t take back. How scarred is your relationship from these breakups? You need to both be in a place where you’ve taken responsibility for what’s wrong with your relationship and what happened during the breakups. You need to both be ready to heal and move on. If not, then the breakups themselves will haunt your relationship just as much as the reasons you broke up. 

Can you take them as they are?

Ultimately, you need to be ready to take this person as they are now. If circumstances have changed, that’s great, but people don’t change so easily. A leopard’s spots may fade— but they don’t go away. If you’ve been through break up after break up and you’re still waiting for them to change, it’s time to stop waiting. It may be that you realize you want to be with the person they were all along— and then getting back together can work. But if you’re doing it because they promise it’s going to be different, then you’re just putting yourself through hell for no reason. Be brutal, be realistic. It will hurt but, ultimately, you’ll be able to move on and find a relationship that really works for you. 

It’s really easy to end up trapped in a cycle of breaking up and getting back together. And sometimes, things are better for a while— and then they go right back to where they were before. So next time you’re thinking about getting back together, you need to think about whether the relationship will work in the long run. Ask yourself the tough questions, think about whether circumstances have changed (and remember that your partner probably won’t). It may be tough, but getting back together over and over again is ultimately a waste of your time and your energy. Being honest is about protecting yourself. If this relationship can’t work in the long term, you can find another one that will.  

Image source: Matt Crump

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