Stream Insights | 10 March 2012 03:00 CET

Never date your ex

By Phoenix Miles

We all know the rule: don't ever "try again" with an ex because it's just not going to work. Yet time and again, we do it — in the vain hope that this time it will be different.

To set the records straight, scientists have gone out of their way to show that the success rate of partnering up with an ex isn't good.

If you're in what Amber Vennum of Kansas State University calls a "cyclical relationship", you might want to pay attention.

Vennum and her team of researchers studied how couples ended their relationships, as well as their reasoning behind getting back together. Often this was because one or both partners felt the other had become a better person. Other participants said that their reason for reuniting was because the relationship hadn't ended properly to begin with.

"So it can be unclear to one or both partners if they broke up and why they broke up, which leads to them continuing the romantic relationship. Other times the break-up won't be unilateral, so one person pursues the other until they get back together."

While popular films and stories might romanticise the on-off relationship, Vennum found that in reality, the opposite is true. They tend to communicate poorly, frequently make bad decisions, have lower self-esteem and generally feel more dissatisfied.

They're also more impulsive about major steps in relationships such as moving in together or having kids. The reason for all this, says Vennum, is a lack of genuine commitment by both parties. "The thought is that, 'I'm not committed to you, why would I work very hard for you?'"

Marriage can also prove more challenging for a couple who has endured several break-ups and make-ups. Often these couples were more uncertain about getting married and were also more likely to show lower satisfaction in their marriage. Most notably, couples who went through a few break-ups before getting married were most likely to go through trial separation in the first three years of marriage.

"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," she explained.

Her advice to couples who undergo a break-up is to avoid getting back together as being unhappy in a relationship often results in poor performance in other areas of our lives.

"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 concludes.

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