You and Your Health
Second-Chance Romance Might Not Bring Happiness
Ex-partners should stay that way, new study suggests.
Contrary to fairy tale-like depictions in movies and books, reuniting with a former romantic partner is unlikely to make you happy, a new study shows.
Couples who break up and get back together—so-called cyclical relationships—are quite common, said study author Amber Vennum, an assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University.
“With college-age kids, about 40 percent are currently in a relationship where they have broken up and then have gotten back together. That’s shocking, especially when you factor in the outcomes of being in a cyclical relationship,” she said in a university news release.
Vennum analyzed information that cyclical and noncyclical couples provided about their relationships and characteristics. She found that rekindling a former romantic relationship was associated with problems.
Cyclical couples were generally more impulsive than noncyclical couples about major relationship decisions, such as moving in together, buying a pet or having a child. As a result, cyclical couples tended to be less satisfied with their partner, had worse communication, had lower self-esteem, made more decisions that harmed their relationship, and were less certain about their future together.
“The idea is that because people aren’t making explicit commitments to the relationship, they are less likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors, such as discussing the state of the relationship or making sacrifices for their partner,” Vennum explained. “The thought is that, ‘I’m not committed to you, why would I work very hard for you?’”
The study also found that members of cyclical couples who got married began their marriages with lower satisfaction and higher levels of conflict than noncyclical couples. Cyclical couples were more likely to experience a decline in satisfaction with marriage over time and were more likely to have a trial separation within the first three years of marriage.
“It really shows that those patterns of cyclicality tend to repeat,” Vennum said. “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.”
This and other studies offer a clear message to couples who have broken up, according to Vennum.
“Don’t get back together,” she said. “Study after study shows that when our relationships are poor, we don’t function well. If it seems necessary to get back together, make sure the decision is carefully considered by both people and that specific efforts are made to establish clarity.”
Vennum is preparing her study findings for publication. Research and conclusions should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Psychological Association offers breakup coping strategies.