6 reasons why you keep going back and forth in a relationship

Finding yourself stuck in an on-again-off-again relationship, or even situationship, can be utterly exhausting.

Constantly going back and forth is emotionally draining and you don’t know whether you are coming or going half the time.

But the truth is that many people, or couples, are secretly getting a thrill from this dynamic too.

It can become addictive.

How can you tell if you are stuck in a back-and-forth relationship? What is causing it? And importantly, how can you stop it from happening when you want to break free?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know when you keep going back and forth with someone.

What is a back and forth relationship?

First things first, what do on-again-off-again relationships mean?

Perhaps nothing so eloquently sums it up quite like the wise words of Katy Perry:

“You’re hot then you’re cold

You’re yes then you’re no

You’re in then you’re out

You’re up then you’re down

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You’re wrong when it’s right

It’s black and it’s white

We fight, we break up

We kiss, we make up

You don’t really want to stay, no

But you don’t really want to go

You’re hot then you’re cold

You’re yes then you’re no

You’re in then you’re out

You’re up then you’re down”

A recent study focusing on on-again-off-again relationships found that over 60% of young adults have experienced a relationship that broke up and renewed at least once.

So it’s pretty common.

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Some hallmarks of back and forth relationships are:

  • Breakup’s and makeup’s
  • Good times followed by recurring arguments
  • Returning to an ex (or someone else on the scene)
  • Hot and cold behavior
  • A “love/hate” dynamic

When you find yourself in an on-again-off-again relationship, there’s usually an underlying reason for it.

It means there is an issue in your relationship that is triggering this pattern.

That could be a specific problem you two have to work through together or something about your other half that makes them behave in this way.

You might be struggling to get your head around it all. Wondering ‘why does she keep going back and forth?’ Or frantically searching for answers to understand ‘why is he so back and forth with me all the time?’

The next section of this article will look at the reasons this problem arises in a relationship before moving onto what exactly you can do about it.

We keep going back and forth: 6 reasons why

1) You are not compatible but you are still attracted to one another

Being sexually attracted to somebody is magnetic in drawing you together in the beginning.

But without stronger foundations to build upon, it’s rarely enough to cement a relationship long-term.

You may realize that although you find one another physically desirable, you just can’t seem to get along.

Differences in your values, personality types, or wanting different things may all be contributing factors that make you incompatible — despite still wanting to rip each other’s clothes off.

2) They’re just not that into you (or you’re not that into them)

If this is the case, it is always going to be a tough pill to swallow. But take comfort in knowing it has happened to everyone.

The reason why he comes and goes could be because he is keeping his options open.

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This person does like you, but ultimately not enough.

When they are with you the grass starts to look greener elsewhere. But when they realize it’s not, they are tempted to come running back.

The problem is it’s not too long before they start peering over the fence again and see those vibrant shining colors off in the distance which catch their eye.

In this scenario, they will always return to you until they find something better.

They’re hoping to keep hold of one relationship while still shopping around for another.

If they truly appreciated what they had, they would stay and focus exclusively on you. But their wandering eye tells you that probably isn’t the case.

3) You crave the drama

Some people would characterize their relationship as the fiery kind.

Often we can see “fiery” as being synonymous with passion.

When some couples (or individuals) feel like things are “getting a bit boring”, they intentionally try to shake things up.

They think that an argument or drama will inject excitement back into a relationship. They get an adrenaline rush from triggering and then feeding off this suffering.

They may not even see anything particularly wrong with it, and tell themselves things like “at least I keep him on his toes” or “at least I never get bored with her”.

But this artificial injection of drama to keep things interesting in a relationship is not without its costs. Relationships that feel like a constant rollercoaster ride take their emotional toll.

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4) One (or both) of you is emotionally unavailable

Toing and froing in a relationship is a good tactic to avoid getting too close.

As soon as it starts to become a little bit too intimate you can back away to keep the other person at arm’s length.

When shit gets real, you take a big step back to try and sidestep it.

If you or your partner feel scared of commitment, then going back and forth prevents things from getting too deep or feeling too serious.

5) You’re scared you won’t find anyone else

A big reason why couples keep getting back together— even when they know deep down the relationship isn’t right— is because they’re scared of life after.

They worry they won’t find anyone else. The thought of being single or being alone scares them. The relationship, no matter how dysfunctional, is at least familiar.

We are hardwired to avoid change as human beings, as we see it as risky.

That can mean we keep going back, even when we wish we were moving forwards and leaving someone behind for good

6) You don’t know to deal with conflict

Relationships are hard. Away from the fairytale endings we so desperately want to believe in, in the real world, things are often far messier.

Neither do relationships come with a handy instruction book.

Couple’s argue, they disagree, they get on one another’s nerves.

Learning how to deal with conflict properly in any relationship is a skill.

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One that we can master but it’s not easy. It does take some time and effort.

If you or your partner don’t communicate well or know how to navigate difficult issues, you may decide to bail instead of dealing with disagreements in more constructive ways.

Do on-again-off-again relationships work?

In the short term, relationships that are constantly on and off may survive for a while. But in the long run, this is very difficult to sustain.

It becomes increasingly demanding on both parties, but especially when one person is feeding on that dynamic but the other person isn’t.

Here is why on and of again relationships will eventually grind you down:

4 reasons why going back and forth in a relationship is bad for you (and doomed to fail)

1) You feel insecure

Insecurity is like a cancer that spreads in a relationship, destroying it slowly from the inside out.

As well as slowly chippy away at your self-esteem, it also means there’s likely to be little or no trust.

Are they going to walk out the door again at the next sign of trouble?

You never know where you stand.

You can feel like you are walking on eggshells, worried that anything you say or do in the relationship is going to trigger the next back and forth episode.

2) You are always waiting for the next time

In life, it’s common to find that you get what you expect.

In this way, things become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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When we hope for the best, we usually attract more positive outcomes. When we expect the worst, it often finds us (or did we find it?)

The problem is that what we expect is heavily shaped by our past experiences — which makes sense.

If a certain action brought a certain outcome the first time, your brain might logically assume the same applies again.

But in the context of on and off relationships, this means you are usually just waiting for the next time.

You can’t fully relax because your instincts are telling you that if it’s happened before it’ll likely happen again.

3) You can’t progress

Relationships don’t grow overnight after planting magic beans.

They take time to develop, strengthen and grow.

When you go back and forth in any relationship it’s difficult for this to happen as it can be a case of one step forward and two steps back.

You never move to the next level of your connection because there is always some setback that appears to prevent it.

4) You’re not solving the real problem

Perhaps the biggest difficulty of all if you and your ex keep going back and forth is that you’re not actually solving the real problem.

If you were, it wouldn’t keep on happening.

The short-lived separations you have simply become like circuit breakers that temporarily redirect the energy.

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But that energy hasn’t gone anywhere, it still exists.

Without addressing the root causes of why you keep ending up in the same place, you will keep repeating the same pattern.

As they say, “nothing changes until you change”. 

How to stop going back and forth with someone

1) Take breaking up off the table

If you want to try and save your relationship, you need to feel safe in it.

In the heat of the moment, many couples say things they don’t necessarily mean.

They end up breaking up out of anger and frustration but come to regret it as soon as things cool down.

If you know this is an issue for you, take breaking up totally off the table.

Agree that neither of you will use this threat as the go too solution for when problems arise.

2) Learn how to communicate more effectively

It’s a cliche for good reason folks.

Relationships really do live or die based on how well you can communicate with one another.

You need to be having calm and honest talks about how you both feel.

Choosing a good time to do this is important. Of course, it’s probably going to be easier if you do it when you are in a good place in your relationship. But that isn’t always possible.

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Learning how to manage conflict and express yourself in a healthy way is key.

3) Know when to say “enough is enough”

If you are finding the strain of a back and forth relationship is becoming too much, you may decide to walk away for good.

If you’ve already exhausted all other avenues, but keep ending up in the same place, this can be for the best.

If speaking to your partner didn’t work, if setting ground rules haven’t made a difference (or you can’t stick to them) then you need to think about the strain this is having on you.

Are you getting more from the relationship than it takes from you? This isn’t always an easy question to answer.

Know that other relationships— which are a better fit—are out there waiting for you.

But first, you need to be able to walk away from the ones that are not working.

Bottom line: Is it normal for feelings to fluctuate in a relationship?

It’s perfectly normal for feelings to fluctuate in any relationship, even strong and healthy ones.

Simply knowing this can help you to avoid catastrophizing a change in feelings and any knee-jerk decisions that may follow from that.

Think of your own moods. They change daily right? (if not hourly). Relationships are the same.

How you feel in yourself often drastically changes how you feel in your relationship too. 

When you’re in a good mood, you bring that with you. When you’re in a bad mood your bae breathing in the wrong way can drive you nuts.

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Also, relationships change over time. Once you start to leave the honeymoon phase —and those rampant hormones die down — it’s common for things to feel different as the fireworks begin to fade.

But it’s important to be able to navigate these relationship hurdles you face as a team, rather than divided.

At the end of the day, a relationship is a partnership.

If you are both constantly pulling in opposite directions rather than going in the same direction — it isn’t going to work.

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