Cyclical relationships common in college, often hard on marriage


We’ve all been subjected to the trials of helping friends in relationships that are not stable. We have all coached friends through the lonely first few days of singledom, only to see them run straight back to their former partner when the chance comes around.

While I have been that friend, I have also been the sad, confused soul curled up in bed because of another break-up with the same person.

Research done by Amber Vennum, assistant professor of family studies and human services, shows that this is not an uncommon form of dating. According to the research, about 40 percent of people in college are currently in a cyclical relationship.

“As researchers, we feel that is a decently large number simply because we didn’t realize that people were doing this as frequently as they were,” Vennum said.

The common reference to cyclical relationship is ‘on-again, off-again.’ The parameters for defining a cyclical relationship are more simplistic than people think.

“At this point, the definition that we have been using and researchers have been using is that they break up and get back together at least once with no further parameters on that,” said Vennum.

One time is all it takes to become another member of the cyclical relationship club. But Vennum did say that the average people in cyclical relationships break up two to three times.

Alexandra Chaffin, junior in human resources management, said that breaking up once is normal but thinks the time frame in which the break-ups happen is important.

“If you break up once and get back together, I think that is normal for everyone to have a little fight. It depends on how often, too. If you break up three times in a month, that’s a little different than three times in 15 years,” Chaffin said.

Part of Vennum’s research focuses on what brings about break-ups in early romantic relationships.

“One of the related concepts to this is sliding through relationship transitions. Which means you are just not considering the implications of them and making a decision based on that,” Vennum said.

In her research, Vennum cites Scott Stanley, Galena Rhoades and Howard Markman’s relationship model which finds, “sliding through relationship transitions creates risk for future relationship distress by increasing constraints in the relationship without necessarily increasing partners’ dedication to one another.”

Relationships are often affected by sliding.

“Partners who had been cyclical prior to marriage entered marriage in a state of lower relationship quality than those who had not had that previous history of instability. They were more likely to experience trial separation during the first three years,” Vennum said.

Tracy Orchester, licensed psychologist in Missouri and Kansas, said that cyclical relationships can feel like a roller coaster.

“When you find yourself back in the same boat you jumped, or were pushed out of again and again, it may mean that you are repeating a pattern that is ultimately dissatisfying to one or both partners,” Orchester said.

When I see my friends struggle with cyclical relationships, I can’t help but think about their health. Orchester said that for most people, living a balanced life and trying to stay away from extremes is important.

Orchester’s advice is simple.

“Sometimes making a positive change feels like bungee jumping. If you stay too long on the platform thinking about it you will psych yourself out. If you want to improve the relationship, it’s important to talk about it,” Orchester said.

Orchester also said that it is important for people in relationships to remember that you can not be responsible for the other person’s behavior.

“You can’t change your partner, but you can ask for change,” Orchester said.

Caroline Sweeney is a senior in English. Please send all comments to