Ambivalence occurs in a romantic relationship where there is a coexistence of opposing emotions towards one’s partner. This creates confusion within the partner as to whether they want to commit to the relationship or disconnect.
When a relationship is viewed in polarity, everything related to the relationships starts to be judged as good or bad. Under such a circumstance, no experience provides a complete feeling of pleasure, as there is always an opposing feeling at the back of your mind.
How much an individual identifies with one extremity of the polarity is crucial in determining if the ambivalence will ever be resolved or not.
In on-again-off-again relationships, one or both the partners, never end up resolving the ambivalence. Chronic ambivalence in a relationship can create a defensive stance in the partner, which will make the relationship completely dissatisfactory, leading to a break-up. While the positive attributes of the relationship will keep pulling one back to one’s ex.
A person, confesses “inconsistency” as one of the stressors in an on-off relationship. “You care about the person, but you can’t get along with them. You don’t want anyone else, but that person isn’t really a good partner at the time. When you break up with them, you miss them. When you get back with them, sometimes things don’t change.”
“The same sort of excitement that was intoxicating at the beginning ended up being stressful in the long run.”
4. Unbalanced expectations.
An on-off relationship is often marked by unbalanced expectations which means both the partner has unequally weighted expectations. These expectations might even be extremely distinct, opposing in nature.
Every stable relationship requires a middle ground for both the partners to settle their differences. For doing so, both of them need to compromise a little on their parts.
These unstable expectations, some of which might be unrealistic, impossible to achieve, unexpressed by either of the partners, increasingly create a huge gap between the partners, leading to indifference and disputes to surface.
It is natural to have differences in opinion, needs, value system, and expectations but a middle ground is expected to be reached to sustain stability in a relationship.
5. Doubt or disappointment.
Doubt and disappointments are quite often natural in any relationship. But the nature of doubt here is not typically that of infidelity. The doubt is regarding the expected or promised changes in the relationship after reconciliation.
One of the other partners is always doubtful about any possible positive changes which were believed to occur once they reunited. People who have been in an on-again/off-again relationship, confessed, “Each time, you think it’ll be different, but when it ends, you just feel stupid like you should’ve seen it coming again.”
“It is frustrating to always think that the other person will change, and yet they never do.”
The repeated cycle of anticipating change, trusting in the relationship to turn towards the positive, being betrayed once they re-work on it lead to the feelings of disappointment. This disappointment finally ends in breaking up of the relationship. This persistent cycle of doubt and disappointment is a salient feature of on-again-off-again relationships.
On-again off-again relationships might be a habit for a number of romantic couples out there. But how psychologically healthy is this constant roller-coaster ride for you?
This markedly depends on how the cohabiting couples negotiate their transitions, communicate each other’s needs and expectations, set one’s personal boundaries, evaluate one’s single lives to ensure that the renewal of the relationship is best thought of.
Whether the partners will be able to successfully maintain an on-again/off-again relationship depends completely on the two people involved.
1. Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Meeus, Branje, van der Valk, & de Wied, 2007
2. Dailey et al., 2010; Dailey, Pfiester, et al., 2009
3. Dailey, R. M., Jin, B., Pfiester, A., & Beck, G. (2011). On-again/off-again dating relationships: What keeps partners coming back?. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 417-440.