How To Make Your Breakup Stick (For Real This Time)

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
For many people, the term "clean breakup" is an oxymoron. And the longer the relationship, the harder it can be to completely remove themselves from it. That's why it's all too easy for couples to fall into a breakup-makeup cycle before permanently calling it quits.
These situations can manifest in different ways: Maybe you "accidentally" fall into bed with one another while exchanging leftover property, or you beg the person you jilted to take you back, only to realize you've made a huge mistake in getting back together. But if you're in the middle of this thing and you need to pull yourself out, the first thing to do is focus on yourself — not your partner.
"People have a hard time being honest with themselves about relationships," says Eric Yarbrough, MD, the director of psychiatry at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. "Part of a breakup is analyzing and figuring out what this person is giving you, what you're not going to be getting anymore, and coming to terms with that." If you've just gone through a breakup, it's fine to remember the positive aspects of that relationship, but make sure to weigh them against the negative ones, and then figure out what's best for you in the long run. By pushing yourself to weigh these pros and cons in an honest way, you'll be less likely to go back to a relationship once you've made the decision to leave, Yarbrough says.
Once your mind is made up, it's important to put up some boundaries. "It's so common to fall into the makeup-breakup cycle, because we're so hyper-connected these days," says Elle Huerta, the founder and CEO of Mend, an app that helps men and women through breakups. That's why she recommends being upfront with your former partner about your boundaries. "People are so concerned with 'winning' a breakup, and they don't want to seem vulnerable," Huerta says. "But by telling your partner that, in order to move on, you need to take some space, you'll have less of a chance of falling into a makeup-breakup cycle." Huerta also suggests blocking or unfollowing them on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media account. "This will help you move on, because you won't be seeing what's happening in their lives without you," she says.
If all is said and done, and you still find yourself itching to go back and stir things up with your former partner (despite having been through multiple rounds of making up and breaking up), Yarbrough says there might be something deeper going on. "Some people enjoy the 'excitement' of the makeup-breakup cycle," he says. "It's almost invigorating to them." Yarbrough does point out that this isn't necessarily the person's fault — if they saw this type of relationship happen with friends and family in the past, they may just think that that's how relationships go. "If that's the case, you need to get to the bottom of why you feel this way," he says. "A lot of times, that could mean therapy."
Of course, breaking up and then getting back together again isn't always a sign of trouble — plenty of couples take space from each other and then come back together stronger than before. But if you find yourself in a cycle that you can't seem to get out of, then figuring out why you fall in and out of relationships with the same person is the first step in making sure it doesn't happen again so that you can move on with your life — with or without that partner.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series