Is It Ever A Good Idea To Get Back With An Ex?
The Debrief: Getting back with an ex isn't always the big 'no-no' everyone seems to think it is.
It’ll never work. Been there done that. Onwards and upwards. These will all be familiar phrases to you if you’ve ever considered getting back together with an ex-partner. Usually they come from well-meaning loved ones. Friends who don’t want you to go back there. Because to return to an ex is to emotionally, and metaphorically, go backwards, right? At least, that tends to be the assumption and whilst I don’t deny that some past relationships are best left well alone, like don't-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-pole kind of alone, but there’s also some worth salvaging.
I’m no stranger to attempting to rekindle a relationship. My ex-boyfriend and I tried it. Twice. Both began the same: with a lot of hope that something had changed, that things would be different now. But they also ended the same: that nothing had and, probably, never would. Turns out that it's this ‘hope’ which sealed our fate.
‘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,’ Susan Quilliam, a relationship therapist and expert in the psychology of relationships, tells me. Instead, you need solid proof that something has changed: perhaps you were in a bad place, and now you’re not, or they lived on the other side of the country, and now they don’t. These are all tangible things that may have changed and could give your relationship a good foundation for a re-start. If you don't have that, don’t bother. ‘If you’re doing what you did before, then it won’t work. If you’re doing something different then it might,‘ says Susan. ‘Something has to have changed, either in you or your ex-partner, or the situation as to be different.’ The phrase ‘if you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done’ springs to mind.
Milly, 27, learnt that when she and her boyfriend of a year and a half broke up then tried again. ‘After five months, we gave it another go and both agreed to make changes: I’d be less dependent on him and he’d be more understanding. In the end it didn’t work, it was never going to because he brought those things out in me. It was who we were when we were together.’
Typically getting back with an ex will draw a lot of criticism: you’re weak, unimaginative, cba to find someone knew. Sure this might be true of some, but definitely not all. Far from stunting emotional growth, the breakdown of a relationship can actually improve it. ‘Often if people come to me having ended their relationship and they’ve made huge changes because they’ve realised that will happen,’ Susan explains. ‘Therefore getting back with somebody could well be the trigger: “I really have to step up this time, otherwise I’m going to blow it the second time around.”’ Jess, 29, and her boyfriend of five years broke up and took a three month break before getting back together. ‘We were both taking each other for granted and a feeling that “the grass was greener” so I ended it,’ she tells me. ‘Three months later I realised that I wanted him back - but I had to work for it! That was about two and half years ago now and everything’s been good since. That time apart definitely made us realise how good we have it.’ Sometimes time apart is exactly what you need and doesn't have to spell the end.
There’s also knowing when not to try again. ‘It’s not wise if you’re simply trying to recreate the past or if you’re going back because of loneliness or despair or “I’ll settle for this relationship,”’ says Susan. Falling back onto a past relationship for the wrong reasons will never end well, but it’s hard to remember that when they’re such familiar territory. It’s comfortable, relaxed, you know each other inside out. But familiarity and history doesn’t equal a healthy relationship and it’s key to understand the reasons you are returning to somebody, and know that they’re valid.
‘The question I often ask clients is 'If I promised you that in a year's time you would be in a happy settled relationship with someone else, would you want your old partner back?” It’s a real crunch question,' says Susan. Answering this question with as much honesty as you can muster will immediately set your intentions straight, and could lead to some uncomfortable truths.
It takes a lot of strength to know when it’s time to walk away from a relationship. That it’s run its course. That it probably doesn’t deserve another chance. ‘If you’ve gone out with somebody for 3 months and in that time there’s been two or three separations, you’re not talking about a viable relationship. That’s an emotional rollercoaster,’ says Susan. But only you know when it’s time to call it a day, and everyone's relationship is different. Getting back with an ex comes with some risks, but there could be a load of benefits too so don’t be quick to write something off because you ‘shouldn’t look back’. Sometimes it’s good to look back. Sometimes things are worth looking back at. Just don’t do it so much that you end up with whiplash.
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