You may know from personal experience that getting back together with an ex can be bad news, but now there's science to back this up. One researcher has found that couples in "cyclical relationships" tend to have more problems — and worse marriages.
According to a press release from Kansas State University (via Health on Today), family studies and human services prof Amber Vennum looked at couples who had broken up and gotten back together — she calls these "cyclical relationships" — and found some disturbing things. For example:
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.
Vennum also calls these impulsive decisions "sliding" and says they can lead to problems "because people aren't making explicit commitments to the relationship, [so] they are less likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors, such as discussing the state of the relationship or making sacrifices for their partner." If you just sort of ended up moving in together, you might not be as committed to making the situation work. Vennum also looked at cyclical couples who later got married, and found that the troubles continued: cyclical couples had lower satisfaction, higher uncertainty, and more conflict going into marriage, and were also more likely to have a trial separation later on. Says Vennum,
If you tend to be cyclical while dating, you tend to be cyclical while married. The more you are cyclical, the more your relationship quality tends to decrease and that creates a lack of trust and uncertainty about the future of the relationship, perpetuating the pattern.
We've all known (or even been!) that couple who broke up, got back together, and really made it work. And Vennum acknowledges that if a couple really addresses the reasons behind the breakup (and, crucially, if both are aware that they actually broke up), it's possible to bounce back. More common than the bounce, though, is a slow slide into discord. And the truth is, the promise of a redo is sometimes illusory. It's easy to imagine that if you get back together, it'll be just like the sweet, passionate beginning of your relationship all over again. But really, it's going to be a lot more like starting back up from the end of your relationship — after all, that's where you actually left off. And if things then were untenable, you're going to have to work pretty hard to fix them. To forestall backsliding, Vennum recommends the cold-turkey approach, at least for a little while: "Researchers have found that on days when we see our exes, we feel more feelings of love towards them than on days we don't." This is a case of science confirming what we all already know, but sometimes forget when we're lying on the floor sobbing and listening to Sea Change over and over again.
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