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
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 show's couples and keep viewers intrigued, as opposed 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, because of the overuse of this trope, in no part thanks to a famous nineties show that took this trope to its 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 to find a middle ground with each other's quirks, and at the end of the day, it all works out.
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 a 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, causing 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.
- 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.
- Dragon Ball: Bulma and Yamcha had a pretty rocky on-again-off-again relationship, partly due to Yamcha being a Chick Magnet and Bulma getting jealous over all the attention he kept getting from other girls. They split up for good in Dragon Ball Z, and Bulma eventually married Vegeta.
- Touko from Random Walk constantly breaks up and makes up with her boyfriend Tsukasa. However, their relationship is never given focus by the narrative (with the breakup and make-up always happening off-screen), and these ups and downs only serve to influence what sort of romantic advice she will give to The Heroine, Yuka.
- The comic continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer does this with Buffy and her two vampire boyfriends, who she gets together with again and breaks up with again throughout the 6-season run. By the final season 12, she's not with either of them and remains single, though a Maybe Ever After is implied with Spike.
- 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 that surfaces every so often, sometimes leading to a break-up, whilst other times bringing the pair together.
- In Scott Pilgrim, Steven Stills and Julie Powers break up with each other then go back out with each other constantly, although as they're not a focus of the comic it's downplayed. By the end of the series, Steven realises he's gay and ends up in a relationship with Joseph.
Knives: Sex Bob-Omb broke up?!Stephen: What? No. Me and Julie broke up.Knives: For like the fiftieth time.
- Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me: The titular Laura Dean has dumped the main character Freddy three times by the time the story starts, and then proceeded to insert herself back into her life and act like they were together again without so much as an apology. Deconstructed, as the relationship is toxic in more ways than one, and Freddy's friends cannot figure out why she keeps taking her back. Freddy, for her part, is constantly walking on eggshells, paranoid that Laura Dean will dump her yet again. The story ends with Freddy breaking the cycle by breaking up with her for once, and outright telling her, "You're a shitty girlfriend."
- Blood and Honor: "On, off, on again" is roughly the pattern for Quinn and Sanguis. They're attracted to each other almost from the start, but Quinn isn't willing to act on his feelings until Sanguis is about to leave the planet he's stationed on. Once he decides to transfer to her crew, he asks that they end their short relationship, and she (more or less) agrees. It takes him some time to change his mind again, but they remain together once he does.
- Triptych Continuum: Stile has one with Allie Way. They're described as having breakups as regular and nearly impossible to reconcile as a seven-ten split.
- 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, much to his friends' irritation.
- 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.
- Ross and Rachel's relationship epitomized the trope for almost all ten seasons of its run and was the show's primary focus. All told, they were only really together for about one season, with everything else mainly being Ship Tease before they get back together for good in the Grand Finale.
- Chandler had an on-and-off relationship with Janice 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, setbacks, and at least two notable breakups. 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 [JD]?
Turk: He slept with Elliot last night.
Carla: [bored voice] Oh, that time of year again.
- Oz: Tobias Beecher and Chirs Keller. First, they're new cellmates with loads of UST, then they confess their love and kiss, but, once Keller returns from the hole, he claims not to be interested in Beecher. It turns out he was working with Beecher's abuser and Arch-Enemy, the nazi rapist Schillinger, and the two of them break Beecher's arms and legs. This would end any chance of romance, right? Well... Keller realizes that he really loves Beecher and wants him back. After a season of tension and several dead bodies, they get back together. Their happiness is short-lived, though, when Beecher mistakenly believes Keller had Beecher's children kidnapped. Once Beecher leans the truth, he wants to reunite with Keller. Keller, however, hurt that Beecher actually believes that Keller is capable of something like that, dumps him. Beecher spirals after this rejection, begins hooking up with many, many prisoners to numb his pain. Keller, still in love with Beecher, kills his hook-ups. When it finally looks like they can be together, Keller confesses to a crime Beecher committed to save him, then was transferred to a prison in Massachusetts. However, he returned when he was found not guilty. Before the Meadow Run reunion can occur, Keller is put on death row, and thus cannot see Beecher. Beecher eventually takes a job in the mailroom, so he can visit Keller when he delivers the mail. When Beecher is up for parole, he begins seeing his attorney, while maintaining his relationship with Keller. The attorney and Keller even meet, when Beecher asks her to represent Keller to get him off death row. Ultimately, Beecher and the attorney break up, partly because of Keller. When Beecher is paroled, he begins dating a school teacher, all the while seeing Keller, and working to get his death sentence overturned. Keller, unable to live without Beecher, sets Beecher up to violate his parole so they can be together. Beecher rejects Keller, despite still loving him, and Keller commits suicide, making it look like Beecher killed him, so they'd be reunited in death, if not life.
- 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 a while, 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...
- Sweets and Daisy. They dated in season 5 and he proposed,but they broke up when Daisy went with Brennan to Maluku. They started season 6 as Friends with Benefits, insisting they werent back together. Eventually he considered proposing again but decided not to. Then they were together in season 7 and part of 8, breaking up when Daisy wanted to move in together and Sweets still didnt want to think about getting married. They still couldnt stay away from each other and she got pregnant and they were married in the beginning of season 10, when Sweets was killed.
- 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.
- A standard Soap Opera trope. It's impossible to name a single Super Couple that hasn't gone through multiple breakups and reconciliations (which often include marriages).
- Van and Earn from Atlanta are a more downplayed example of this, although they do have a child together. They live together off and on as well, although, for the most part, they aren't together.
- Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold."
We fight, we break up / We kiss, we make up
- "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson is about a couple getting back together after yet another break-up.
- "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" was inspired by Taylor Swift's relationship when she and her boyfriend broke up and reunited several times.
I say, "I hate you," we break up, you call me, "I love you"
- Popeye: Popeye and Olive Oyl. Though in this case, the breaking up and getting back together is solely on Olive's side, breaking up with Popeye for often arbitrary reasons, then "taking him back" equally randomly. She does this so rapidly, often they're back "on" before Popeye can figure out what he did wrong.
- Sam & Max: Freelance Police: In Sam and Max Save the World: Abe Lincoln Must Die!, Sam and Max trick Sybil Pandemik into thinking a giant animatronic Abraham Lincoln wants to go out with her, as part of an attempt to bust Abe's presidential campaign. In "Bright Side of the Moon", Sam and Max help Abe's giant disembodied head score a date with Sybil, and the two start dating as of Sam and Max Beyond Time And Space. Then they break up in "Moai Better Blues" after Sybil catches Abe getting distracted by a lady Moai when they're supposed to be on a picnic date. After trying to find a new boyfriend in "Night of the Raving Dead", Sybil decides to get back together with Abe, and by the time of "What's New Beelzebub?" the two are planning to get married.
- Eerie Cuties exemplifies the trope in its two main "couples":
- Layla and Kade are known for repeatedly breaking up, due to Kade's habit of cheating on her. So it's a wonder that she ever takes him back. Even once she swears she's off him for good, she still takes him back.
- The signs of Ace and Brooke's soon-to-be on/off relationship were seen as early as the "War Dance" arc. Since then, they've dated and broken up several times for various reasons. In fact, they've even been compared to Ross and Rachel!
- 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."
- 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.
- Fry and Leela from Futurama at first their relationship is a one-sided crush on Fry's part before Leela confesses her feelings for Fry in the fifth season finale—they have an on-again-off-again relationship during the sixth season but have settled into being a more stable couple in the seventh (and final) season.
- Bonnie Rockwaller and Brick Flagg from Kim Possible had this kind of relationship for most of the second and third seasons before eventually breaking up for good in the fourth season. This trope is lampshaded by Kim in the So the Drama, "How many times can a couple break up and get back together?!"
- Zuko and Mai in Avatar: The Last Airbender. They get together at the beginning of season 3, but Mai calls it off in a fit of anger about a third of the way through. They patch it up before the episode ends, but Zuko breaks up with her again after another third, when he leaves the Fire Nation to join Aang and his friends in defeating his father. They get back together in the series finale, only for Mai to leave him again in the comic book continuation, The Promise, when Suki tells her he's been asking his imprisoned father for advice and not telling anyone. Five more comics and they haven't gotten back together, although Aang was hopeful they had the first time he saw Mai and Zuko in the same room together again.
- A common complaint of The Legend of Korra's first two seasons. First Mako is dating Asami, and then, after much Love Triangle drama, he presumably breaks up with her and gets together with Korra. They break up partway through season two, then he kisses Asami, then puts off telling Korra about their breakup when she gets Laser-Guided Amnesia, with Asami annoyed in the background. Thankfully the season ends with them all deciding to forego romance, and they remain single until the comic continuation.
- Marco Diaz's parents, Rafael and Angie, were apparently like before they committed to a more serious relationship and eventually got married. Angie claims in "Sad Teen Hotline" that she and Rafael broke up "literally a hundred times," with one such breakup occurring shortly after Valentine's Day.
- 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.