Relationship Revolving Door

So I cross my heart and I hope to die
That I'll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But I'll only stay with you one more night
Maroon Five, "One More Night"

One way of getting around the potential monotony of Will They or Won't They? is by getting them together... then breaking them up. Then getting them back together. Then breaking them up. This allows writers to both explore the pair as a romantic couple, but still (hopefully) avoid a Shipping Bed Death by keeping the relationship novel and keep an air of drama as the relationship isn't set in stone. Naturally, this can be Truth in Television as people can break up with a lover but find themselves back together.

While this trope was once considered one of the main ways to create drama between the shows couples and keep them intrigued, as oppose to the standard characters that genuinely do love each other despite all the wacky shenanigans they get up to, in no small part thanks to a famous show in the fifties, and thus was seen as a nice breath of fresh air, it's slowly becoming more and more of Discredited Trope with each new generation of media. Indeed, the overuse of this trope, in no part thanks to a famous nineties show that took this trope to it's Logical Extreme, this is slowly starting to be viewed as one of the ways to not write a relationship in fiction. Instead, it's often viewed better to have a couple who genuinely love each other despite their differences, and focus more on them trying find a middle ground with each others quirks, and at the end of the day, it all works out.

In other words, to paraphrase, the breath of fresh air ended up becoming a cliché itself, and making the cliché it replaced a breath of fresh air for a new generation.

Of course, writers often Take a Third Option by having a couple who's in a loving relationship, but not have it be the main focus, but that's an completely different topic entirely.

Remember though, despite it being viewed as a Discredited Trope among more recent media, this doesn't make it an inherently bad trope. This trope can be used as a fine source of drama in fiction, but it needs to be one that's handled with care. Have the couple break up too many times, and it'll end up stretching the audiences Willing Suspension of Disbelief, and it gets to the point where it's more annoying to viewers than interesting, and thus risks causing them to uttering the Eight Deadly Words that can cause a show to fall under.

Compare New Old Flame, which is usually a one-time getting back together and usually used as a form of Remember the New Guy. May result in Friends with Benefits for a while... but don't expect that to last terribly long. Sometimes starts with Sex with the Ex. This trope is a specific form of Yo Yo Plot Point.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Lupin III has the "official couple" of Lupin and Fujiko, which is usually him chasing after her, but rare examples have Fujiko trying to get him to marry her, or the two of them actually united in purpose. Their on-again-off-again relationship is best summarized in The Castle of Cagliostro, as she explains to Clarisse:
    Fujiko: "We've been allies, and enemies, too. On occasion, we've even been lovers."
  • In Jormungand, Chiquita and Lehm have been married twice (and divorced twice). The reason behind their breakups hasn't been explored.

Comic Books
  • X-Men: Rogue and Gambit have been in a constant state of ‘on-and-off’ ever since Gambit first joined the X-Men, to the extent that it's practically a permanent sub-plot. While they both have declared love and devotion for one another on multiple occasions, the relationship never lasts too long before something happens and they end up separating again, only to reconcile at a later stage. This is partially due to the strain on the relationship caused by Rogue’s mutation, meaning the pair can never make physical contact, but also both partners carry some serious emotional baggage which surfaces every so often, sometimes leading to a break-up, whilst other times bringing the pair together

Live Action Television
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Ted and his high school/college girlfriend Karen. They'd have a cycle where he'd catch her cheating, break up, then eventually get back together.
    • Ted and Natalie had apparently gotten together and broken up three times.
    • To a lesser extent, Barney and Robin. They hooked up in season three, dated throughout season 5, broke up, almost hooked up in season 6, hooked up in season 7, then got engaged in season 8 before finally getting divorced a few years after marriage. Almost every period where they weren't dating involved an Unrequited Love Switcheroo.
  • Seinfeld: Whether or not Elaine was dating Puddy or not would depend entirely on what works for the episode. Their unstable relationship was lampshaded often.
  • New Girl:
    • Schmidt and Cece. At first they were casually hooking up, then they stopped when feelings got involved, then they were dating, then they broke up, then Schmidt declared his love for her, then Cece decided they weren't working, then they were friends with benefits, then she got engaged to someone else, then she broke off the wedding because she liked Schmidt, at which point they get together again... only for her to dump him when she learns he never broke up with his ex and had been dating them both. It's been a complicated story.
    • Off-screen, Nick and Caroline. Before the series began, she had dumped him three times. They get back together and break up at the end of the first season.
  • Friends:
    • Ross and Rachel's relationship epitomized the trope for almost all ten seasons of it run, and was the show's primary focus. All told, they broke up and got back together four times.
    • Chandler had an on-and-off relationship with Janice (she of the Annoying Laugh) for several years, even after Janice got married.
    • For the first season or two Monica had an on-and-off with "Fun Bobby." The gang realized that Fun Bobby had a drinking problem and helped him quit, but then discovered that without alcohol Bobby wasn't Fun.
  • Grey's Anatomy: with almost all of the major pairing, all of which easily span over three seasons.
    • Meredith and Derek. Ever counted the times they say "Finally this is over. Completely." only to be drawn right back together episodes later?
    • Alex and Izzie. They date, but Alex doesn't kiss Izzie at the end. Then They kiss and proceed to have sex, but Alex has, uhm, problems. Then he cheats on her with Olivia. Then along come Denny, Lexie, George and Ava between them. Just as they're finally growing steady, Izzie is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. That, however, leads us to the grand wedding scene. Only to be followed by Izzie being fired from the hospital and leaving Alex.
    • Cristina and Owen. Two breakups, one divorce, interlaced with multiple "hot and cold" moments. Star-Crossed Lovers or what?
    • Mark and Lexie. The drama this pair creates really rivals their best friend/sister. The only difference being the outcome...
    • Callie and Arizona. First over the desire (or lack thereof) to have children, then over leaving the hospital to go to Africa. Most recently, with Arizona's amputation and cheating.
    • Jackson and April. Turns into a big Will They or Won't They? in season 10 with the Love Triangle involving Matthew. They will.

  • The Big Bang Theory: Leonard and Penny have this kind of relationship, full of false starts, set backs, and at least two notable break ups. As of season five they're significantly more stable, but Penny's Commitment Issues have threatened to bring them back to square one a number of times.
  • In Scrubs Elliot and JD have been on-and-off again so often that even by the third season other characters treat it as a mundane occurrence.
    Carla:"What's wrong with him[JD]?"
    Turk:"He slept with Elliot last night."
    Carla:"[bored voice]Oh, that time of year again."
  • Bones: Angela and Jack. They started off as friends, moved to UST, went on one date, decided it was too perfect and would end terribly, changed their minds, got engaged, found out she was already married, stayed together for awhile, broke up, dated other people (in Angela's case mainly) and almost got engaged again because she thought she was pregnant with another man's child. Turns out she wasn't, but this prompted a Love Epiphany that lead to a spur-of-the-moment jail cell wedding. Finally resolved now and they seem to be Happily Married. Will They or Won't They? indeed...
  • Chris and Ann from Parks and Recreation. They first broke up when Chris moved back to Indianapolis and tried to break up with her as gently as he could (which she didn't realize until a week later). For the next couple of seasons, they each try dating different people but continue to stay on good terms with each other. Then, when Ann decides she wants a baby, she chooses Chris as her sperm donor, during which they realize they still have feelings for one another, make the baby the old-fashioned way and become a committed and happy couple.
  • On The Office (US), Kelly and Ryan have this. To be fair, the relationship was largely one-sided, with Ryan pretty much dating Kelly when he was bored or not dating anyone else. There is an Unrequited Love Switcheroo in one episode when Pam sets Kelly up with a handsome Indian doctor and she has to choose between the two. Ryan then campaigns to get Kelly back, even riding in on a white horse outside the office. In the finale, they end up running off together.

Webcomics

Web Original
  • Homestar Runner and Marzipan are the Official Couple, but Marzipan claims that they have an open relationship, which Homestar doesn't agree with. They break up very often, but are usually seen back together by the next episode. Marzipan's character introduction video even reflects this, with Marzipan saying "Homestar Runner and I are one hot item when I say we are," and can follow up with either "and today, we are" or "and today, we are not."

Western Animation
  • Bojack and Princess Carolyn from Bojack Horseman are treated this way before the show moved on to focus on the more serious connection between Bojack and Diane.

Real Life
  • Doc Holliday and Big-Nosed Kate famously had such a relationship, characterised by living together for a while, having a fight, one or the other storming out of town, and then the taking back up together next time they were in town. Fictional portrayals usually retain this.

Alternative Title(s):

On Again Off Again Relationship, On Again Off Again Boyfriend, On Again Off Again Girlfriend