If you’ve ever considered getting back with an ex, you’ve likely had to deal with literally all your friends taking a firm stance against the idea. You’ve probably heard the phrases “look forwards, not backwards” and “an ex is an ex for a reason” about a million times.
But with a 2016 survey revealing that 54% of Brits end up getting back with an ex, perhaps you’re wondering if this is the best option for you too. It’s drilled into us that getting back together with an ex-partner is an unequivocally bad idea – but, in some cases, is it actually the right thing to do?
Ask yourself why you miss them
If you’re contemplating suggesting to your ex that you give things another go, first consider why you miss them. Ask yourself if you’re missing your ex specifically, or the comfort of a relationship in general. It could just be that you’re lonely and missing the familiarity and intimacy of having someone around – in which case, you might be better off leaving your ex in the past.
Jill Whitney, relationship therapist at Green Tree Professional Counselling, explains that familiarity is one of the main reasons we feel compelled to rekindle things with an ex. “An old partner is comfortable and familiar,” she says. “Being back with someone you know can look really appealing when the dating scene gets old.”
But if you truly believe that you’re missing things specific to your ex and genuinely feel as though you had a relationship worth fighting for, it might be worth reaching out to them and opening up a dialogue.
Respect your ex’s wishes
If you do choose to reach out to your ex, you have to be prepared to accept that they might not take kindly to your message. Don’t feel entitled to a kind response – or even a response at all.
Shan Boodram, author and intimacy educator, explains that you have to be prepared for radio silence if you do choose to get back in touch with an ex. “Reach out when you are ready but don’t expect a response,” she explains. “Everyone is entitled to their own method of mending. If you want to attempt to close the relationship together, reach out and keep the request as general and as pleasant sounding as possible.”
If your ex turns down your suggestion or blanks you completely, take the hint and move on. And try and empathise – perhaps the break-up was particularly hurtful for them and they’d rather not open themselves up to hurt again.
Assess if your previous relationship issues are genuinely fixable
If your ex does reply and is open to the idea of trying things again, both of you must assess whether anything’s changed. Keep in mind that you broke up for a reason – and there’s no point getting back together if there are still issues between you that need resolving.
“You can’t go back on the understanding that they will change, the only way you can do that is go back on the understanding that something has changed,” says relationships expert Susan Quilliam. “If you’re doing what you did before, then it won’t work. If you’re doing something different then it might. Something has to have changed, either in you or your ex-partner, or the situation has to be different.”
Perhaps one of you was going through a rough patch emotionally when you first broke up, or maybe you struggled with long-distance but now you live closer together. Essentially, if you broke up because of a temporary problem that’s now been resolved, you’re probably justified in wanting to give things another go. But if things ended because you were fundamentally different people or you had clashing core values, that’s likely a more deep-seated issue that signals long-term incompatibility.
Have a couple of brutally honest conversations
Once you’ve established that you’re both on the same page, it’s time to have some brutally honest chats with your ex. Depending on the circumstances of your break-up, it’s likely that you both have a lot to say to each other. And if you’re serious about making things work, you’ll have to get everything out in the open before drawing a line under your past relationship and embarking on a new and healthy one.
Boodram advises listening to your ex without interrupting and trying to empathise with them – even if you disagree with what they’re saying. “When they are finished, acknowledge what they said and validate their right to their perspective,” she says. “If you can, apologise for something they were hurt about – then go into your side of the story and hope they offer you the same things you just gave them.”
Try not to fixate on any issues that your ex has already sincerely apologised for, but if you can’t stop dwelling on their past mistakes, it may be a sign that you’re not ready to rekindle things. The key to making a relationship work with an ex is forgiving and forgetting, and there’s no way you can do that if you’re still full of pent-up resentment for their past behaviour.
Arguably the hardest part of getting back with an ex is admitting that you were at fault too. If a relationship breaks down, it’s very rarely the case that one person is solely to blame.
Listen to your ex and apologise for your actions where necessary. This doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat – feel free to challenge anything they say which you don’t think is fair or accurate – but try and view the discussion as a learning experience. Nobody’s perfect, after all – including yourself!
Dolly Alderton, journalist and author, puts it well in her autobiographical work Everything I Know About Love: “The big myth about therapy is that it’s all about pointing the blame at other people; but as the weeks passed, I found the opposite to be true. [My therapist] rarely let me pass the accountability on to someone else and always forced me to question what I had done to end up in a particularly bad situation.” Taking accountability is liberating and empowering, too – once you realise and acknowledge your shortcomings, you can begin to work on them and take better control of your future relationships.
Listen to your gut
Perhaps after all this, something still doesn’t feel quite right. If you’ve got a bad gut feeling about it, it may be worth listening to your intuition and nipping things in the bud before either of you get hurt again.
That said – sometimes your gut feeling will be good. As they say: “when you know, you know.” Be careful not to confuse a general ‘good feeling’ with the safety and comfort that you’ll likely feel with someone you’ve known intimately, but if you’re getting good vibes, why not go with the flow?
Relationship psychologist Mariana Bockarova believes there’s no reason why couples shouldn’t be optimistic about getting back together. “Although it will take some work to rebuild trust, this is your opportunity to form an even deeper bond,” she says. “But that can only be if you speak up to your partner about what you like and dislike, when you feel hurt and when you feel happy, and how you’d like to be treated.”
So, is it ever a good idea to get back with an ex? In short: it depends. If you’ve dealt with your past issues, are willing to totally commit to each other, and let bygones be bygones – in theory, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work.