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On-Off Relationships Positively Affect Friendships, Study Finds

Individuals in on-off relationships are more likely to openly discuss their dating relationships with their friends, according to a communication studies researcher.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Individuals in “on-off” dating relationships — relationships involving couples who break up and get back together — are more likely than others to communicate frequently with friends outside the relationship, according to a study from The University of Texas at Austin that provides new insight into such relationships as Americans prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day. 

The study, “Friend support of dating relationships: Comparing relationship type, friend and partner perspectives,” found that individuals in on-off relationships are more likely to openly discuss their dating relationships with their friends, who in turn are more likely to report a positive influence on the friendship.

The study compares on-off dating relationships with “noncyclical” dating relationships — relationships involving couples who have not broken up and gotten back together. It finds that friends of individuals in on-off relationships are more likely to interfere in the friends’ romantic relationships and discuss alternative partners.

Authored by Rene Dailey, associate professor of Communication Studies in the Moody College of Communication, the study appears in Personal Relationships, a journal of the International Association for Relationship Research.

“Because partners in on-off relationships report lower support from their social networks than do noncyclical partners, we might conclude that on-off partners would communicate less about the romantic relationship than would noncyclical partners,” Dailey said. “But on-off partners might desire more social support in navigating their transitions — adjusting to breakups and determining whether to renew — which could result in more communication with friends about the relationship.”

For the study, researchers surveyed individuals 18 years or older who were currently in a dating relationship or had been in a dating relationship within the past six months.

They asked participants to describe their current or recent dating relationship and identify the friend who was most familiar with the romantic relationship. Researchers then also surveyed the friend with similar questions and compared perspectives.

Previous research has found that on-off partners perceive less approval from family and friends for their relationship than their noncyclical counterparts and perceive decreasing approval with each time they get back together with a partner.

In this study, on-off partners perceived more negative influence from friends about their dating relationship than did noncyclical partners. However, the friends of on-off partners reported experiencing the greatest positive influence on the friendship.

“Although friends appear to view the on-off relationship less positively and try to interfere and present alternatives, there might be some advantages for friends of on-off partners,” Dailey said. “The data indicated that the dating relationship affected the friendship more than the reverse.”