What Goes on During Repeated Relationship Breakups and Reconciliations?

Often when couples are in a troubled relationship they break up and get back together again many times. There are good aspects of the relationship that keep couples coming back to each other. Once they are reconciled the issues or problems of the relationship come to the foreground and the couple, still unable to resolve them, break up again. In the April 2008 issue of Psychology Today, the article On-again, Off-Again states the reason for this pattern stems from relationships that deep down are probably not right. Fundamentally, there are differences in standards and values that the couple cannot resolve such as dishonesty, irresponsibility, unfaithfulness, abuse and life-style. Or, there are differences in wants and needs such as sex, intimacy, companionship, comfort and security.

Temporary separations are not necessarily a bad thing. Many couples have separated over the course of their relationship at some time or another. Sometimes the separations are overt and other times they are disguised as holidays (sometimes as short as a couple of days), visits to extended family, or work related. A temporary separation can help a couple reorganize their relationship.

Couples develop dynamics between each other over time. When that dynamic is troubled separating can throw the dynamic into chaos. Out of the chaos partners, who still care about each other, can develop a new dynamic that works for them. This means that each partner changes permanently. For example: A couple break up because their fighting escalates to the point where an incident of physical abuse occurs. Then they reconcile with the agreed premise that physical abuse is crossing the line that neither want to ever cross again. Each changes in how they fight and resolve issues.

Most couples in troubled relationships break up and reconcile one or more times before the final break up. This stems from the emotional pain caused in breaking up. Often, each is in such pain that they reconcile to stop the pain. Then once they are back in the relationship the intolerable problems of the relationship push them to separate again. The emotional pain in ending a relationship and breaking up a family unit can be excruciating. Some couples stay together to avoid this pain.

There are couples who love each other passionately yet cannot live together. They cannot find a way to resolve their differences. There are celebrity couples who demonstrate this. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married and divorced twice. Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee also married and divorced twice.

Reconciliation often occurs because starting over is difficult and uncomfortable. Very few relationships are all bad. Partners often hang on to the good aspects of the relationship because they cannot face starting over or they cannot tolerate being alone.

Often partners confuse the emotional pain of separation for love. One or both partners may think, “If I am in so much emotional pain it must mean I still love my partner”. This can be true and a separation may make this realization possible. If it is mutual, the couple reconcile with renewed commitment to each other. However, often it is grief, not love, that is experienced when couples break up. Grief for the loss of the bond that forms when partners live together and marry as well as when they form family units. Grief for the loss of the good parts of the relationship that they may never find again with anyone else. Grief for the loss of the hopes and dreams that once were a part of the relationship.

It is healthy to grieve the losses. They are significant. It is important to grieve because individuals who grieve recover fully and are able to engage in life again.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do It Yourself Relationship Help at B-Sort.com

4 Responses to “What Goes on During Repeated Relationship Breakups and Reconciliations?”

  1. IEG says:

    I was searching for help, but not until I read this, did I found the light bulb moment, which put things into better perspective for me. It is not that I must really love him and that’s why I have emotional pain, but for the loss, separation, and the hopes and dreams we had. When there are no faces to the grieving, I find it easier to deal with the facts vs a person. The face of love could be of anybody’s.It really doesn’t matter who’s face we are separating from. It is not him that is important, but the loss, the grieving is what matters.

  2. Susan says:

    What if the break-up(s) / separation(s) were due to depression / mid-life crisis experienced by one partner, with the other not knowing how to react / cope? This does not mean the end of love surely? What if one or both partners lacked the skills (or feared the outcomes) of communicating openly? What if “being clear” became synonymous with “being cruel”? Isn’t it the case that most people can learn to be compatible with another, and that it requires consistent work from both sides? Why do people give up so easily?

  3. Katherine says:

    I was never married to my midlife crisis guy… I dated him for three years… We broke up for a few reasons… He was 34 and I was 27 when we started dating. Everything was great, but he wanted to quit his job. He was working for a pharmaceutical company and was depressed because all the drugs and treatment could not save his father from dying of cancer… Without listening to my dad’s advice he quit his job.

    At first we could handle the long- distance relationship, but eventually his mother and siblings who needed him tried to break us up and encouraged him to date a blonde girl who eerily sounded like them… He remained faithful to me for two more years until an ex started contacting him all the time and fit the profile of what his mom wanted….oh important to note mom owns his house and their family ranch or retirement plan… We broke up because I could handle the mood swings but I couldn’t handle this betrayal when we broke up we were constantly talking about marrying each other and how he should handle his mom’s disowning him and refusal of acceptance of our relationship… After the break up there were mood swings and then some. He’d cry, he’d yell that he wanted to marry me… He’d find out through a mutual friend where I’d be, then stare at me… Mutual friends would say he talked about me all the time… Still referring to me as the love of his life…

    Well his mom described the ideal mate for her son… Older, blonde, independent, European… Guess what while we have remained friends throughout this time until he started dating this woman… Actually, best friends… This woman has come to my business and spied on me she’s cold and mean… But exactly what my ex’s mother wanted. They look unhappy together… His friends have told me I am still referred to as the love of his life… All of the sudden he has made a purchasing decision like buying a house he probably cannot afford, a month after telling friends he still loved me got engaged, I have also seen him coming to my work… When I called him on it, as a friend if nothing else… Avoiding your fiancĂ©e is stalking me, I’ve seen you atmy work, no your guy friends are worried about you and can’t be making things up because you have been saying the same stuff to me numerous times… I kept it cautionary like this is what I heard your friends are concerned you are not happy i a concerned that you are not happy do not do any rash decisions…. He denied everything we are all liars and he never loved me….

    Now I have read numerous things on a midlife crisis. He was 39 when he finally stood up to mom and bought his own house… He never wanted to live in the city for two decades now he’s living downtown sf, he blames the people he loves the most for his problems, usually the wife but I was just hispartner of half a decade he was 40 when he got engaged he’s not appearing to be happy hasn’t made any plans of setting a date or anything and they have been engaged for six months and she continues to stalk me…

    All I can do is wait for the train wreck to happen and try to be there for him when it happens because I miss my ex, more importantly I want my best friend back but I need support from people who are going through what I am going through… Most likely wives ( or sometimes husbands) whose spouses either have gone through this depression and midlife crisis or mood swings or who’ve gone through this themselves

  4. bea says:

    The question is which came first the depression or the break up. The depression may be because the relationship is not working well and the partner has given up trying but has been too scared to end the relationship. Depression can stem from living in a state of limbo- not engaged in the relationship but not moving on either. It can be the same with midlife crisis. Mostly it is how the couple handles what events/situations occur in their lives – positive and negative. When a couple is working well together they are able to talk things through and support each other. Often people do not have good communication skills and they do not do what it takes to find and learn them. They often do and say the same thing over and over, expecting and hoping for a better outcome. When I do couples counselling I coach partners how to access what they are feeling/thinking/believing and how to express it kindly to their partner. I have developed a handout Effective Communication Skills for Everyday Life (available on my blog). When couples learn how to handle double messages, reflective listen, clarify and repair, they are able to connect with each other more easily. As for being clear or being cruel – there is a saying: Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t be mean when you say it. I hope you found this helpful. Thanks for contributing. Dr. Bea