For many, the pain of letting go and ending a meaningful relationship is so great that they go back again and again to the same partner. Deep down, they may know that the relationship is fatally flawed, but they simply can’t bear the idea of being apart. This creates a kind of permanent insecurity: When together they feel desperate to keep things okay, walk on eggshells, and dread the inevitability of another argument, but when they are not together, they feel alone and abandoned, and experience a pervasive sense of having messed up the "one good thing" they had going in life.
The reality is that if you have been in a repetitive break up-make up cycle, it is very likely that this relationship is surviving only because of fear — the fear of being alone, of abandonment, or of never again finding love. These fears can keep people trapped in a cycle of on-and-off love. If this describes you, recognize that this is no way to live. If you allow yourself to break it off once and for all, you open up the opportunity of finding a love that brings consistent happiness and security.
Here are 4 ways to stop the break up-make up cycle:
1. Write down everything that troubles you in your relationship.
Part of what sustains the break up-make up cycle is that when you are upset, you are very upset, and may feel determined to leave the relationship. You see all the flaws clear as day, and you want out. But then the loneliness and fear begin to seep in, and you talk yourself out of all that — or your partner talks you out of it, and before you know it, you're back together. The next time you feel fed up and angry with your relationship, write down exactly what is upsetting you and how long you have felt this way. Each time you have a conflict, take out your journal and write about the event, your feelings, and efforts made (or not made) on your part or your partner’s part to fix the issue. Look back over this from time to time: You will likely see a pattern of the same fights and issues triggering the same sets of negative feelings with no real solutions or changes in behavior. Recognize that you are not going to escape these issues by making up. Next time you do break up, reread the journal to remind yourself of the repetitive issues that never seem to get better.
2. Build up other aspects of your life.
If you have been in a break up-make up pattern for a while, then you may have been living in a vacuum. It’s hard to really let friends and family in, as they will see the dysfunction of your relationship. You spend your time thrilled to be back with your partner and so you invest only in him or her. Or you spend your time apart from your partner, filled with angst and upset. It's time you let new energy in, so that if and when you break up again, you will have other aspects of your life to fulfill you. Fully invest in your friendships, revisit old hobbies, or take on a new interest. Consider yoga or some other regular wellness ritual. The goal is not to let the breaking up-making up cycle consume all of your time and energy by carving out space separate from your partner that is yours alone.
3. Work on your fear of being alone.
Two things typically make it hard for people to break up — fear of being alone, and not knowing how to break up. When in a break up-make up cycle, you may feel as if your partner is the only person on earth who will ever truly desire you or who can ever fulfill you. While broken up and lonely, you start to idealize your partner and romanticize the relationship, pushing aside the heartache and difficulties. The reality is that people have the ability to fall in love multiple times over the course of a lifetime. The reason you haven’t yet found a new love is because you're spending all of your time consumed with your break up-make up partner. Take time away to reflect and to be alone — this is a skill that can be cultivated, but you have to practice. Find things that fulfill you or make you feel safe when alone — reading, watching TV, meditating, journaling, or cooking. Show that you can enjoy yourself by yourself.
4. Let go.
Most of us are not taught how to break up or let go of a relationship. Men fear disappointing women, and women fear not being liked by their partner. As I describe in my workbook, Breaking Up & Divorce, letting go—and really meaning it—can be extremely liberating. Show yourself that you can let go of something to get something healthier or to become a healthier person. Compassionately tell your partner that this time you really mean it: You have to end the union for both of your sakes. Then agree to not speak or see each other for a prolonged period of time. If you keep in contact and keep hashing out old conflicts, then it will be exponentially harder to stay broken up.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel 'Good Enough.' For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.