Why Cyclical Couples Should Usually Call It Quits

There might be nothing more to say other than “well, shit” when your cyclical, on-and-off-again relationship fails once more.  You knew that was a strong possibility going back into the relationship, but you got sucked in by the powerful force of the attraction that drew you to this person in the first place.  Many times, the partners we choose time and time again offer us the promise of filling a void or healing a wound, usually from childhood.

I craved stability, safety, and beauty; my ex who I returned to several times is a workaholic and definitely OCD when it comes to cleanliness and keeping a beautiful home.  He was protective in many ways, and I needed to feel safe.  I grew up extremely poor, like Wal-Mart was too good for us kind of poor, like I rolled up white bread and ate this late at night when the hunger pains hit me as a kid.   My ex provided more beauty than I had ever experienced—art for the home, new furniture, travel, luxury cars, and most of all a promise of stability and a life together.

We had countless things in common, and we had many wonderful moments together. I loved many things about him, and I deeply appreciated the fact that he didn’t drink much. However, the stability I longed for never materialized in an emotional sense because of his anger and rage, and my fear of commitment, certainly enhanced by his anger and control issues.

Whatever our romantic situations, our brains become habituated to our partners, and it is extremely difficult to imagine life without that person, even when unhealthy patterns exist.  From experience, I know that breaking up with someone who you own a pet with is traumatic.  I can’t even imagine having to co-parent with someone, but people navigate this situation successfully when they understand the importance of boundaries.

What I have learned is that it is much healthier to address the wounds inside of us instead of gravitating to partners who may or may not help us attend to these wounds.  Obviously, having things in common like hiking, movies, music, theater, and keeping an orderly, beautiful home can be important in a connection, but why not simply give yourself what you desire in life?

Whatever your needs might be, you can work to address these needs yourself and simply find beauty in the individual journey of another. Other people can dance with us on this journey and add incredible joy to our lives, but we are not put on this earth to suck another person dry or to be depleted of all of our life energy and optimism by another.

Co-dependence is common and frequently mistaken for love, cosmic connections, and all kinds of ridiculous terms.   What I found through research is that couples who broke up and got back together while dating, often continued to do this once they were married.

Vennum suggests that “Cohabiting and married couples who had at one point been on-again/off-again have more uncertainty about their relationship’s future, and are less satisfied in their relationships than others (as Cited in DiDinato, 2014)

This makes sense.  If someone is so easy to love that we could never think of leaving this person, then the relationship has a much better probability and satisfaction rate than one that proved so difficult that we ran away in horror from this person and swore we would never return.  Even when science confirms that rekindling a relationship with an ex will most likely end in tears, people continue to do this.

Why?  Familiarity?  The desire to “get it right this time”?  The desire to avoid the ups and downs of dating and stick with the known vs. the unknown? Laziness?  Immediate intimacy? Property?  Kids? Pets?

I’m sure there are exceptional couples who have accessed deep forgiveness and created a strong relationship after several breakups.  However, this isn’t the story we hear frequently.  I’ve mainly heard about couples who have made a difficult relationship work when one partner learns to acquiesce frequently to the needier, angrier partner.

I’ve heard about women and men who deal with an angry partner by simply staying calm and disconnected.  Both men and women have learned to sit on a couch and nod their head while someone is losing their mind. I can’t imagine much love or respect in that situation. It seems like a huge sacrifice of life energy to simply endure the injurious behavior of another for the sake of a long-term relationship, but people do this for decades, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Some patterns might calm down over time, but they don’t disappear completely.  These patterns create a reverberation.  You might create lots of other music together, but you never lose that one tone that made you cover your ears and scream for relief.  Maybe you learn to live with it, like the rumble of a train outside your home.  That doesn’t sound like a successful relationship to me, no matter how you spin it.

Most of all, staying in a relationship that hasn’t worked out many times prevents you from being free to meet someone who might connect with you in the ways you have always longed to experience.

The light-bulb can come on for people when they realize that if even the most amazing of marriages built on great stability sometimes crumble, then one that had an assortment of major problems will have even more challenges to overcome.  These challenges might be too much in many cases.   Wouldn’t it be better to free yourself?





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Tricia Barker

Tricia Barker experienced a profound near-death experience during her senior year of college, and this experience guided her to teach overseas, in public schools, and at the college level. National Geographic and A&E’s I Survived: Beyond and Back covered Tricia’s story. Currently, Tricia teaches English and Creative Writing at a beautiful community college in Fort Worth, Texas. Tricia’s memoir in-progress, Healed, chronicles the moment of her accident, her near-death experience, and other moments of trauma that affect many women. The book focuses on being of service to the world as one way to heal from trauma. Tricia’s poetry has been featured in The Binnacle, The Paterson Literary Review, and The Midwest Quarterly.

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