Thinking About Getting Back with Your Ex?
Some important questions to ask yourself before jumping back with an old flame.
Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP
“Never go back to an old love. It’s like a book you’ve already read. You know how it will end.” -Unknown
Do you have a former love that you can’t quite get over? Are you considering getting back together? Many of us do. In a study of almost 800 young adults around age 20, about half reconciled with an ex after an initial breakup (Halpern-Meekin et al., 2013). In addition, over half continued to have a sexual relationship with their ex after breaking up.
If you’ve recently gone through a breakup, it’s really common to think about reconciling with your ex. You may find yourself reminiscing about the blissful moments you shared. Missing them. Thinking about them. Struggling to find your identity without them. Even selectively forgetting why you broke up! Much of this is because of the nature of breakups—they can shift your lifestyle, self-concept, or even your home in the blink of an eye. Even if you wanted to end the relationship, breakups can be emotionally heartbreaking and lead you to question your choices (Field, 2017).
So, should you reach out to your ex? Is it time to get back together and try again? Can you rekindle with an old flame? Is there really such a thing as “starting anew” with the same person?
Although the answers to these questions are complex and depend on your specific situation, it’s really important to ask yourself some direct questions about your motivation to get back together. Here are a few to get you started:
1) Why did you break up?
There is a reason that your relationship didn’t work the last time you dated—maybe many reasons! So, before getting back with an ex, honestly think about what led to your breakup. What caused the split? Why did your relationship ultimately not work? Try to identify exactly what led your relationship to end the last time you dated.
2) Has anything meaningful changed since your breakup?
If your next relationship with your ex is going to work, it’ll only be because something has changed. One or both of you must have shifted and evolved with regard to the issues that broke you up in the first place (as in, your answers to question 1 above must have been addressed!). So, have you changed in ways that lead you to believe it will be different this time? Has your ex changed? Have you adequately addressed what didn’t work the last time you were together? If you haven’t, I would think twice before you try to reconnect.
3) What’s motivating you to get back together?
Since breakups can be so jarring and disruptive to your life, it’s really important that you understand why you want to get back together. What’s your motivation to rekindle this relationship? Is it because you really love your ex? Because you think they are a great person and you want to make it work? Is it because you’re lonely? Bored? Feeling lost without them? Don’t know who you are or what to do with your life now that they’re gone? If your desire to get back together is coming from an unhealthy place in you, like you’re struggling to overcome early childhood attachment issues (Cope and Mattingly, 2021) or don’t think you could possibly find anyone else, I would pause before you try to get back together.
The Naked Truth is This: Like all relationships, navigating love interests—current and former—can be very tricky. If you’re hoping to start anew with an ex, remember that it’s not really like starting a new relationship because you have an understanding and history with your ex that will influence your dynamic in the future. That said, it’s possible to develop a new relationship with your ex that’s functional and healthy as long as something has shifted. If you do try to start anew, start by being clear about what didn’t work in the past and clearly shift your expectations, behavior, and lifestyle to address it.
Cope MA and Mattingly BA. 2021. Putting me back together by getting back together: Post-dissolution self-concept confusion predicts rekindling desire among anxiously attached individuals. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38, 384-392.
Field, T. 2017. Romantic Breakup Distress, Betrayal and Heartbreak: A Review. International Journal of Behavioral Research and Psychology 5: 217–25.
Halpern-Meekin S, Manning WD, Giordano PC, Longmore MA. 2013. Relationship Churning in Emerging Adulthood: On/Off Relationships and Sex with an Ex. J Adolesc Res, 28:166-188.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP
Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.
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