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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Breaking Up Back Together

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Breaking Up Then Getting Back Together

Quick Access:
Is Breaking Up and Getting Back Together Good or Bad?

Me and my girlfriend keep breaking up and then getting back together. Does this mean the relationship is just not meant to be and that we should split up for good?


The answer depends on the particular circumstances involved. If break-ups happen because a couple can’t successfully resolve expectations and reach mutually accepted understandings, then on and off cycles are a huge red flag. If break-ups happen because one or both individuals in a relationship fly off the handle at the first sign of conflict or disagreement, then on and off cycles again are a wake up call. On the other hand, a couple could also experience on and off cycles due to intimacy issues that can be resolved with some openness and truthfulness.

One of the most pervasive issues related to intimacy is Fear of Commitment, which is an ambivalence or lack of desire to commit exclusively to a romantic partner. Commitment itself is a psychological state that involves a combination of long-term orientation, intention to persist, and psychological attachment (5). One important study (1) reported evidence for the power of these factors to predict relationship satisfaction and relationship stability in dating couples. Long-term orientation, in particular, consistently predicted relationship persistence, thus figuring heavily in the maintenance of relationships over time. Participants who left a relationship scored significantly lower on measures of long-term orientation, while those who stayed in a relationship scored higher on long-term orientation but not on the other two factors. In contrast, a study of the link between commitment and forgiveness involving dating college students (4) found that the intent to persist factor was more relevant than either the long-term orientation or psychologicalattachment factors. However, all of these findings boil down to two particular questions that couples should ask themselves: “Can you envision yourself with this person in the long-term?” and “What am I willing to do to make things work out with this person?”

It seems to be an assumption in our culture that men are afraid to commit. Well, that could be called an urban myth. One interesting study (7) found – contrary to previous research and theory on male experience – that few men mentioned fear of intimacy or fear of being controlled. Moreover, about the same number of women reported these feelings as did men in the study. Men do experience fear in relationships, and this is often related to the perceived need to be the dominant partner and to be in control of and responsible for making decisions in the relationship, according to social customs. In other words, men are sometimes reacting to unrealistic social pressures.

Similarly, one cross-cultural study6 examined the “dismissing” form of adult romantic attachment. Dismissing attachment orientations are defined by an avoidance of close personal relationships and the tendency to prevent romantic disappointment by maintaining independence and emotional distance (2,3). A major finding from this provocative cross-cultural study was that “Men are more dismissing than women in almost all cultures, but these differences are usually quite small in magnitude” (p. 322).

You see, men and women experience intimacy issues. On and off cycles can simply be two people experiencing these normal intimacy issues at different times. As such, it’s the responsibility of both parties in a relationship to be open and honest with each other about any apprehensions being experienced. In this way, the couple can get on the same page, stop the commitment roller coaster and manage expectations for the future – assuming they both want the same future and are willing to do what it takes to achieve it.

Related Links:
» Breaking Up and Resentment
» Dealing with a Break Up and Relationship Closure
» How do I Break Up for Good?

1Arriaga , X. B., & Agnew, C. R., (2001). Being committed: affective, cognitive, and conative components of relationship commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1190-1203.

2Bartholomew, K. (1990). Avoidance of intimacy: an attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 147-178.

3Bartholomew, K, & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles in young adults: a test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.

4Finkel, E. J., Rusbult, C. E. , Kumashiro, M., & Hannon, P. A. (2002). Dealing with betrayal in close relationships: Does commitment promote forgiveness? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 956-974.

5Rusbult, C. E., & Buunk, B. P. (1993). Commitment processes in close relationships: an interdependence analysis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 175-204.

6Schmitt, D. P., Alcalay, L., & Allensworth, M., et al. (2003). Are men universally more dismissing than women? gender differences in romantic attachment across 62 cultural regions. Personal Relationships, 10, 307-331.

7Sweet, H. B. (1995). Perceptions of undergraduate male experiences in heterosexual romantic relationships: a sex role analysis. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Counseling, Developmental Psychology and Research Methods, Boston College: Boston, MA.

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