What is a 'back burner relationship' – and are YOU in one?

Rise of the ‘back burner’ relationship: Dating expert reveals why more people are leaving the door open for an ex even if they’re MARRIED to someone else (and how to cut the ties for good)

  • A dating and relationship coach has warned against ‘back burner’ relationships 
  • UK-based expert Kate Mansfield says the dynamic is ‘addictive’ and ‘destructive’ 
  • She urges those finding themselves in one to move forward or seek help 

Even people in committed relationships like to feel they have a safety blanket if things go wrong, and in many case an ex partner fits the bill perfectly. 

They know what you like (and what you don’t) and there is a history of love and tenderness already shared.

Moreover, there is the comfort of not having to truly say goodbye to the past, just in case they really were your perfect match all along – and a surprising amount find solace in never moving on completely. 

The so-called ‘back burner relationship’ saw a spike during the pandemic,  according to Study Finds. 

A 2021 study from the University of Oklahoma saw 62 per cent of 397 adults studied admitting to keeping someone on the ‘back burner’, despite 93 per cent of participants saying they were in exclusive relationships.

But a dating and relationship coach has warned against such relationships – where you keep space for an ex in the background – denouncing them as ‘destructive’.

Kate Mansfield tells FEMAIL what a back burner relationship entails, why you should stay away from it and how you can end it.

Whilst most people may wince at the idea of keeping in touch with a former flame, a surprising amount find solace in the practice (stock image)

What is a ‘back burner’ relationship?

Kate Mansfield (pictured) has warned against such relationships – which, in a romantic context implies that you keep space for an ex in the background

Kate defines the phenomenon as a relationship ‘where you remain open to the possibility of an encounter, liaison or even a relationship being rekindled with someone from your past, even when in a committed relationship or marriage’.

She believes that in recent years, it’s been easier for this dynamic to develop thanks to the digital availability of former flames.

‘I think there has been an increase due to social media giving us longer term access to exes and past dates,’ the expert added.

Why do people enter ‘back burner’ relationships? 

Speaking to Stylist, clinical psychologist Dr Jaime Zuckerman added it can, for those in committed relationships, be a type of ‘insurance’ should anything go wrong with an existing partner.

Meanwhile, Kate explained that it’s much more likely that you end up in back burner relationship organically, rather than actively seeking it.

‘People do not enter these intentionally,’ she said. ‘Rather, they just develop over time.

‘The vagueness and fantasy aspect is part of the appeal, as a place to create a safety net, a back up plan if the current relationship goes wrong.’

Are there any benefits to them?

The dating expert completely denounces back burner relationships, because they lull people into a false sense of stability.

‘They are an addictive and destructive hiding place,’ Kate explained. ‘A fantasy world that gives the illusion of safety.’

She added that the lack of clarity on where you stand will cause more harm than good, and prevent you from moving forward.

Kate said: ‘The “what if” factor is highly addictive and will drain you, waste your time and keep you stuck.’

Kate explains that it’s much more likely that you end up in back burner relationship organically, rather than actively seeking it. Stock photo used

How do you get out of a ‘back burner’ relationship? 

‘If you are already in a relationship or married then absolutely, you should end it,’ the relationship expert said. 

‘Tell the other person that you don’t want to engage. Cut ties. Block if needed. Make a decision to be available to what is real and happening in your life right now.’

However, she stresses to seek professional help from a coach or therapist if you’re finding it hard to let go.

‘Try to explore if you have commitment issues or relationship aversion,’ Kate advises. 

She also says that keeping your ‘back burner’ to avoid feeling alone may be the very reason you’re not finding others. 

‘Even if you are single and have nothing else, it is likely that this “back burner” person is keeping you stuck and blocked from something fulfilling,’ Kate said. ‘Clear the space. Let love in and stop wasting your life.’

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