Thinking of getting back with an ex? Here are some questions to ask yourself (as well as to discuss with your ex boo) before hopping back into a relationship.
1. Why didn’t it work out the first time around?
When your ex begs for you back or you decide you made a mistake, it’s essential to remember exactly why it didn’t work out the first time.
In many cases, the thing that caused your breakup is likely still going to be a problem—misaligned core values, poor communication skills, mental health issues, a lack of attraction, or sexual incompatibility.
Reflect on why you’re considering getting back together. If it’s out of convenience, to make other people happy (like if your family loved him and you’re sick of hearing about it), or because you fear no one else will love you, these reasons will lead to a second breakup.
Some follow-up questions to consider are:
What did each of you learn about yourselves as individuals and as partners the first time around?
What has changed since your breakup that leads you to believe it will be different the second time around? What are you now willing to compromise on? What are your firm deal breakers? How do each of you envision your future together? Why are you stronger as a team? Don’t shy away from these difficult conversations, and don’t put pressure on yourself to make an immediate decision.
2. What are some reasons you should definitely not get back together?
The obvious reasons are if your ex was emotionally or physically abusive. Sometimes people with low self-esteem convince themselves or believe that they are not worthy of love, so they settle for someone who doesn’t respect or value them.
Another reason you should not get back together is out of jealousy. After a breakup, the natural process is to begin dating again. And this can be a challenging experience, especially if your ex hits the dating scene before you’re ready.
Remind yourself it’s normal to be interested again when another person finds your ex attractive— that’s human nature. However, do not misinterpret this pang of jealousy as a sign that you made a mistake.
Notice that I didn’t include infidelity as a reason not to get back with your ex. Though this may be a common reason for a breakup, in my counseling practice I help couples repair their relationship after an affair.
In fact, many couples come out stronger together. People’s capacity for forgiveness varies wildly, so it’s all about what you define as a relationship deal breaker.
3. What are good reasons to get back with an ex?
Often times, successful reconciliation occurs when the initial breakup was due to timing or long distance. For example, maybe you met when you were young, but you wanted more life or dating experience before making a lifelong commitment, so you went your separate ways.
Perhaps you studied abroad in college or took a job that required a lot of travel or a big move. These types of breakups may have been mutual because neither partner had the time nor energy to invest in a long-distance relationship.
You need to be able to prioritize your relationship in order to get it off the ground running, and it requires a ton of nurturing along the way. Sometimes, you need to step away and get your life in order so that you can get to a place where you can treat someone the way they deserve to be treated.
The bottom line is that if you want a successful long-term relationship, you need to make it a priority every day. So unless you’re in a position to do this, there’s a good chance it still won’t work.
4. Should you spend time apart before thinking about getting back together?
I get it, you miss your ex—in fact, you’re obsessing about this person and can’t seem to stop thinking about the breakup. Of course, you miss each other! It’s normal to miss someone that was entwined in your life, especially if you dated for years.
But before you can even contemplate getting back together, you need to create space, set up healthy boundaries, and take time apart so that you can clear your head and make a rational decision.
A breakup impacts you on a neuropsychological level similar to drug withdrawal. Researchers have actually found through brain scan studies that people who report being deeply in love have the same brain regions activated that are linked with addiction. Basically, you are addicted to our partner!
When you experience a breakup, you are withdrawing from your ex, and you even go through symptoms such as depression, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, physical pain, and changes in appetite, similar to drug withdrawal.
You can also be triggered by people, places and things that remind you of your ex, which can lead to a “relapse” when you might compulsively text, call, or even show up at your ex’s apartment.
This helps to explain the obsession and rumination about your ex that takes over early on in the breakup process.
You need to get through these withdrawals before you can rationally decide if you want this person in your life. That’s because your dopamine system, which is the reward center, is still active and sustaining feelings of love, even though you’re no longer together.
You need time and space to heal, which means no more communication. Creating an ex-free environment is a must. Taking this time to let your brain chemistry and emotions return to baseline can help you make a more realistic and sensible judgment call about reconciling.
5. How do we move forward together into a new relationship?
In order to create a happy and satisfying relationship, you have to forgive, trust, and move forward together. Forgiveness means accepting what happened in the past and no longer holding it against your partner. Forgiveness requires you to let go of the things that have hurt you, and to trust your ex with your heart again.
Trust is created when each of your actions match up with your words. Words lack meaning when behaviors don’t back them up. This means over time the two of you have built up a sense of safety and security in the new relationship.
You—collectively as a couple—need to know that you can rely on each other for support, protection, and a sense of belonging. You both need to put each other first before friends and work to meet each other’s needs.
In thinking about this, do you honestly believe that your ex will be able to provide these foundational relationship requirements? In the right relationship, your heart and head will align.