If you still have feelings for an ex, you might wonder if breaking up was the right thing to do. You might even consider getting back together with them. But attempting to rekindle an old flame can be complicated, and sometimes not the healthiest decision depending on why things ended in the first place. But, for some people, getting back together with an ex feels right. Perhaps you’ve both grown since the relationship ended. Maybe life circumstances changed and now there is more time and resources to invest in each other. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right at first, but it feels right now. Whatever the reason, it is possible to get back together with an ex if it’s what you both want.
Here are some steps you can take to help ensure a healthy, safe reunion. You might even find the second iteration of your relationship to be stronger than the first.
Consider why the relationship ended initially — and if it can be salvaged
It’s important to consider why your relationship didn’t work out the first time around, before you attempt to piece it back together. There’s a myriad of common reasons why relationships fizzle out or skid to a halt. A significant life change such as moving, losing a job, welcoming a baby, or exploring sexual orientation can change who you are or how you show up in your relationship. Infidelity or betrayal can alter trust in the relationship or change your perspective on a partner. “All of these ruptures are possible to repair and heal,” couples’ therapist Jennifer Chain, PhD tells O.school. “I have seen couples in each of these situations overcome incredible adversity and odds to reestablish a strong relationship.”
But resuscitating a relationship is more than just identifying a cause of death. “Couples that I have seen come back and go on to create extraordinary bonds together are willing to dig deep in themselves to be vulnerable, to change, and to heal,” says Dr. Chain. “They are willing to be humble about their areas of growth, apologize for any past hurts they caused, and to transform who they are through the breakup and the repair.” Give some thought to whether you have the space in your life to put energy into these repairs.
Identify when to walk away for good
While there are plenty of breakup catalysts that couples can bounce back from if they are willing to put in the energy, there are also instances where a previous relationship should not be revisited. For example, if your relationship ended due to physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or substance abuse, it is best to seek personal, emotional resolution, and move on from that partner.
According to psychologist Dr. Marny Lishman, who was quoted by the HCF on identifying toxic relationship patterns, there are a few signs to look out for to indicate abuse, manipulation, or gaslighting in a romantic partnership. These include putting you down, attempting to control your actions, being passive aggressive, giving you little to no credit for achievements, and disrespecting your boundaries. "Usually our intuition works it out early on in the relationship, but for many reasons we tend to ignore it,” says Lishman.
If you’re hoping to embark on a second try at the relationship, remember that issues can only be resolved if there is a desire to fix them on both sides. Communicate with your partner about any toxic cycles or behaviors that would be deal breakers for you should they arise again. Then, pay close attention to ensure that you address these actions as they come, snuffing out any unhealthy habits before they become a cycle.
Ask yourself if you’re ready to get back together
The factors that determine a successful reunion resemble the factors that determine a successful relationship. It will hinge heavily on the willingness of both partners to evolve together. If your relationship didn’t pan out the first time around, wait to reinitiate contact or attempt to rebuild until you’ve reflected on whether you’re truly ready for that. Guide your reflection by asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I willing to commit to working on myself and becoming a better partner?
- Do I have the time and resources to prioritize my relationship?
- What feedback did my ex give me while we were together that I need to integrate and work on?
- How did this relationship help me understand my needs, wants, and desires better?
- Was my partner able to meet my needs? If not, am I able to accept my partner as they are? Am I able to get my needs met by myself or by others?
- Do I have better tools and skills now to resolve conflict? Can I better manage my feelings while listening to my partner’s thoughts, opinions, and needs?
- If we broke up over a particular condition that was not met (“Think: emotional intimacy, geographic location, mental health concerns, differences in whether we wanted children, etc.,” says Dr. Chain), has that changed? If not, can I accept that?
- Have I owned the ways that my actions and words were hurtful, or contributed to the first breakup?
4 tips for approaching an ex about getting back together
No matter what spurred your breakup, it’s normal to want to rebuild and also worry you’ll never have the same emotional bond. Especially if your breakup involved conflict, hurt feelings, or fighting words. If you’ve made the decision to approach your ex and try to restore that bond, go by the following tips to ensure a healthy reconciliation:
- Be vulnerable about your intentions. Reaching out to an ex and risking rejection all over again can be intimidating. This is someone you trust, and whose opinion you respect; it can be daunting to wonder if they might not still care in the same way you do. Even in the face of this fear, honesty is still the best policy. Express that you’ve thought things over, maintain strong romantic feelings for them, and would like to demonstrate how you’ve changed since the breakup.
- Be respectful of their boundaries. If your ex responds by saying something like they aren’t interested in trying again, they’d like time to think about a reunion, or that they need to take things slow, honor their needs even if it’s painful for you. “Know that you can do your best to reach out, but how your ex responds is out of your control,” reminds Dr. Chain. Trying to convince them to do something they aren’t comfortable with is counter-productive and may even drive a wedge further between you. Respect their boundaries, wants, and needs.
- Be gentle with yourself. “Reunions are wonderful opportunities to make significant changes and start anew,” Dr. Chain tells O.school. “As with any major transitions, this can take up a lot of your emotional energy and time.” As you and your partner begin the process of getting to know each other again, going on dates and building in quality time, practice self-compassion and take good care of yourself.
- Seek support. Just as with everything else, you don’t have to go through this process alone. Rely on friends and family for guidance or wisdom as you navigate this change. Don’t shy away from professional advice. Seek help from an individual therapist or, when both parties are ready, even a couples’ therapist to create a safe environment for reestablishing love, trust, and communication.
Know what to watch out for in your “new” relationship
Breakups can be arduous and being back with that partner can alleviate some of that pain. However, a quick fix for breakup-related heartache isn’t a reason to reestablish your relationship. Take care not to let giddiness blind you to any of the following red flags that may pop up as you explore the partnership again.
- Feelings of loneliness or insecurity. If you believed these emotions would be mitigated by reigniting your relationship, you might be pursuing this person as an affirmation of your worthiness. This could mean that no amount of dating will make this person the right fit, and that it’s time to go back to the drawing board on your relationship with yourself.
- Nostalgia about the good times, without much forward progress. You can skate by for a while on the high of a “new” relationship or nostalgia for the good times you once had, but if you haven’t done the work to address the problems that ended your relationship, you’ll find it impossible to move forward.
- Unwillingness to admit faults. In order for a new relationship to work, you and your partner will both need to get real about how your toxic behaviors might have created old patterns. If you or your partner won’t own up to the hurt caused, consider this a red flag.
- Unwillingness to accept your partner where they’re at. Encouraging growth and change in each other can be good for the relationship, but you will recreate unhealthy patterns if you can’t accept your partner where they’re at now. Try not to resume demands that can’t be met now or ever. Don’t try to shape your partner into the person you loved from the first iteration of the relationship. If they have certain characteristics you perceive to be as “limitations,” you have to decide within yourself if you can accept those things as they are.
- Triggering or painful interactions. Pay attention to your emotions. If you start to feel like you’re on a roller coaster of emotions without positive change, these are signs that you might have been better off ending the relationship the first time.
- Repeating toxic cycles. If manipulative, controlling, or belittling behaviors start to crop up in your relationship, they can be incredibly inflammatory to your mental health and might be a reason to walk away for a second time. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “some negative relationships can be repaired, but both people in the relationship need to be committed to working on it. If you are in a toxic relationship and you both agree to work to change this dynamic, there are a number of resources available.” These include seeking additional support from a professional, who can help both parties work through a harmful relationship pattern.
Learn to navigate the “We’re Getting Back Together” stigma
While reconciling with an ex is a joint experience, it will require sifting through and reflecting on your own experiences to make sure the relationship is staying on the track that’s right for you. This may mean dealing with the stigma and shame attached to breaking up and getting back together with an ex.
“Our society tells us that reuniting is abnormal or makes you a failure, even though it’s a common experience,” Dr. Chain explains. “Social media absolutely fuels the stigma by only showing photos of other couples who seem happy and in love.”
The best antidote to stigma is to talk through it. If your family and friends don’t support the idea of you rekindling your relationship, take time to hear their concerns, express your appreciation for their concern, and ask them to trust you in making your decision.
With your partner, you can work on creating meaning in your relationship that is larger than any stigma. “Share the story of how you struggled, grew and transformed as individuals, and ultimately overcame the odds to create a loving relationship,” says Dr. Chain.
She also recommends looking to successful reunions as a model or inspiration for your own. Project Everlasting by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller and The Marriage Map by Barbara and Michel Crossman are great reads if you’re looking for a healthy reunion success story.
The bottom line
There are plenty of genuine reasons why a relationship needs to end a first time in order to work even better a second time. Knowing the steps to reconnect with an ex can help make the process successful and healthy. But it’s also important to know when a relationship should be left in the past. Even if your reunion seems to be going swimmingly, pay close attention to any warning signals that you’re not rebuilding in a way that’s healthy or sustainable. If you find yourself coming up against the same issues that corroded your relationship before, you’re unable to accept your partner for who they are, feel triggered in an emotionally unstable situation, consider ending things for good. It may be what’s best for you and your ex-partner in the long-run.