Kristin Turney

“Depending on your generation, you have your own quintessential examples of relationship churning. Gen Xers asked whether Friends’ Ross and Rachel were really on a break. Millennials sang along to Taylor Swift’s “We are never, ever getting back together” and parsed whether Khloe Kardashian had gotten back together with Tristan Thompson (she did, but they broke up again). Yet, research on romantic relationships all-too-often treats couples as easily categorized as together or separated. This ignores what we all know from real life and the headlines of People magazine. There’s a reason Facebook offers the relationship status option “It’s complicated.”

Our research explores the frequency, characteristics, and associated family dynamics of relationship churning—that is, having an on-again/off-again relationship. We find that, among young adults, nearly half report having broken up and gotten back together with a partner in their current or most recent relationship, with an average of 2.5 churning episodes in the relationship. We also find churning doesn’t just occur among young people who are dating. We have learned that churning can happen in dating, cohabiting, and marital relationships, and that partners do not always agree that they had broken up and gotten back together (that was Ross and Rachel’s whole problem!). Our analysis of new parents shows that although more than 40% of couples were in stable romantic relationships by their child’s fifth birthday, about one in six couples endured at least one churning episode.”

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