Coming Out and Getting Back In: Relationship Cycling and Distress in Same- and Different-Sex Relationships

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To examine the role of on–off relationship cycling in psychological distress for individuals in same- and different-sex relationships. Background: Relationship processes have a robust effect on individual well-being, and dissolution is associated with psychological distress that is normative and typically short-lived. A prolonged history of terminating a relationship and then reconciling (i.e., on–off cycling), however, may facilitate more pervasive symptomology. Moreover, researchers have indicated that instability is similar for individuals in same- and different-sex relationships, but cycling in same-sex relationships has yet to be studied despite existing disparities for sexual minorities. Method: Data from 545 individuals in same-sex (n = 279) and different-sex (n = 266) relationships were used to assess the association between on–off cycling and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Results: The occurrence of cycling was similar across relationship types, but a greater frequency emerged in male–male relationships compared with female–female and different-sex relationships. Regardless of relationship type, we found a positive association between relationship cycling and distress while controlling for known correlates of mental health. Conclusion: Patterns of breakup and renewal were linked to increased symptoms of psychological distress, indicating the accumulation of relationship transitions can create added turmoil for individuals. Implications: Due to the potential distress associated with this relational pattern, practitioners should assess for on–off instability. We also provide suggestions for encouraging individuals in distressed on–off relationships to make informed decisions about stabilizing or safely terminating their partnerships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-538
Number of pages16
JournalFamily Relations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Couple relationships
  • mental health
  • relationship cycling
  • relationship instability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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