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Is Getting Back with an Ex Ever Right?

Couple getting back together and walking in the outdoors

You receive a message from your ex. Uh-oh. The emotional floodgates are open. Now you’re wondering if you should get back with them. Don’t worry. It’s natural. In fact, research shows that over half of us will experience an on-again, off-again relationship at some point. But what makes getting back with an ex so appealing?

For starters, it’s familiar. There’s usually a sense that fixing [fill in the blank] could make things turn out different. Sometimes that’s a story we like to tell ourselves to ease the pain. Sometimes it might actually be the truth. While the vast majority of past relationships should remain dead and buried, there are some that might deserve a second (or third) chance. 

How do you know when getting back with an ex is right or wrong? Here are some things to chew on before making that call. 

Why did you break up?

Was the breakup a matter of true incompatibility or circumstances? If you broke up because you just couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the future, or you fought a lot, or there were toxic patterns and behaviors, like infidelity and abuse, then getting back together probably isn’t a good idea. On the other hand, if you broke up because of timing (you were both too young to make it work when you first dated) or due to distance issues, or you were both in different places in your life (i.e. career, school), then maybe the relationship is worth revisiting. 

What have you learned during your time apart?

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. Meaning, if you haven’t learned lessons from your past, then getting back together won’t automatically solve past issues and triggers. Was communication an issue? Was one of you more anxious and needy than the other? Was one of you more distant and shut off? We all carry emotional baggage, whether it’s from past relationships, childhood, or both. We can’t out run our crap until we deal with it head on. It’s only when we face our wounds and take the steps to heal them that we’re able to show up better for our relationships. 

Did one of you make a rash decision?

Was the breakup mutual and well thought out? Or did one of you end it hastily? If one of you was dealing with some heavy duty personal issues and/or is still working through past trauma, then it’s easy to push away people (especially a romantic partner). The result is often knee-jerk reactions made out of fear, shame, and pain. If this is the case, then it’s a good reason to try to work it out. Of course there will be trust issues to be repaired and accountability to be taken (maybe even with a therapist’s help), but if the person who broke it off truly regrets the breakup, recognizes why they did it and how they want to re-calibrate the relationship into a more functional one, then it might be worth a shot. 

Do you have the same vision for the future?

Did you break up because one of you wanted kids, and the other didn’t? Or because one of you wanted to live in the country and the other wanted to remain in the city? Long-term goals and visions might have shifted since your breakup, especially if your breakup was long ago. It’s important to remain true to what you want and what you believe will make you happy. If your visions for the future have now synced up, and the love and compatibility remains, then you might want to revisit what a shared future together might look like again.  

Do they have the “x factor”?

When my friend reunited with her ex after years apart, she said that one of the reasons why her ex wanted her back was “the x factor.” The x factor is that thing, that je ne sais quoi, that can’t be duplicated no matter how many other people you date or how many relationships you might have afterwards. It’s the inherent chemistry, love, and compatibility that you two share that keeps you connected. However, it’s important to note that the x factor, no matter how sexy it feels, is just part of the relationship reality that you’re both willing to work on, and not a projection of a long-held fantasy. Remember that you want to date “what is” and not “what might be”. 

Sometimes you really don’t know a good thing until it’s gone. Returning to an ex is almost like any other relationship, its success comes down to commitment, communication, and hard work. However, unlike other relationships, returning to an ex means rebuilding a certain level of trust that could take time. 

Metaphorically speaking, this means rebuilding a home on brand new foundations using only the best bricks from the past, whilst focusing mostly on the new. All relationships need to be nurtured to last, and reigniting the flame of a past one is no different. Get to the root cause of the breakup and commit to moving forward together. You might just make the second time around last forever.

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