Dome-building volcanoes, where long-term eruptive episodes can be interspersed with periods of intra-eruptive repose, are particularly challenging for volcanic hazard assessment. Defining the end of eruptive episodes is vitally important for the socioeconomic recovery of affected communities but highly problematic due to the potential for rapid transition from prolonged, seemingly low-risk repose to dangerous effusive or explosive activity. It is currently unclear what constitutes the end of repose and an eruptive episode. We show that analysis of surface deformation can characterize repose and help define an eruptive episode. At Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, the long-term post–2010 deformation at 12 continuous GPS stations requires the pressure in the magma system to have increased with time; time-dependent stress relaxation or crustal creep cannot explain the deformation trends alone. Continued pressurization within the magmatic system during repose could initiate a renewed eruption, qualifying as sustained unrest and therefore continuation of the eruptive episode. For Soufrière Hills volcano, persistent magma pressurization highlights the need for sustained vigilance in the monitoring and management of the volcano and its surroundings, despite the last eruptive activity ending in 2010. Our results show promise for application to other dome-building volcanoes.