Usually, if we’ve decided to part ways with an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend it’s for a good reason. Perhaps one party was unfaithful, perhaps there was a lack of intimacy or physical affection, or perhaps things just weren’t working out.
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research(1), found that “nearly half of older teenagers and young adults break up and get back together with previous dating partners and over half of this group have sex as part of the reconciliation process.” More specifically, “approximately 44% of emerging adults who had been in a romantic relationship in the past two years had experienced at least one reconciliation with an ex romantic partner.”
So why are we so fickle? Why does what we’ve decided we didn’t want before often seem like a good idea again?
Whatever the reason, whatever age you are and however long you’ve been together, splitting up a previous relationship will almost certainly have been a difficult decision. The shared history, the interconnected families, the routines you have in common. All these things combine to make it more complicated to make the decision to part.
And what’s more, they make it harder to stay apart once the decision has been made.
Perhaps the first thing to consider is why you’re thinking about getting back together with a previous partner.
Is it that you’ve struggled to move on or find somebody new? Is it that you feel there is something unresolved about the relationship? Or do you believe you made a grave mistake and can’t live without the other person in your life?
Give yourself the time and space you need to really think honestly about your reasoning for breaking up and for getting back together. Loneliness should never be a reason to embark on a relationship. And failing to find someone different should not, in itself, be an excuse to go back.
Returning to a relationship for the wrong reasons is an invitation for trouble. You will most likely find that things turn out exactly how they did the first time.
While you’re giving yourself that time and space to think about the question we posed above, consider, too, how you felt during the relationship.
Think back to those days – post honeymoon phase – when you began to settle down a bit and think of the future.
How did you interact? Did you feel you were able to communicate with one another in a positive way? Did you enjoy spending time together? Was there a mutual and healthy respect?
If you remember your union as a toxic relationship or as a particularly abusive relationship, it is rarely a good idea to return. It’s unlikely that the relationship dynamic will change so drastically as to become healthy. No matter what your partner says, or promises you, respect yourself enough to know you deserve better.
In cases of infidelity, however, it may not be so cut and dried if you don’t want it to be. As relationship experts, we see numerous examples of relationships that have broken down because one partner or the other has been unfaithful. Of course, it can feel devastating at the time and be hard to get past but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Infidelity can happen for many reasons, often due to a lack of satisfaction about some element of the relationship or a failure in the ability to communicate effectively. So, assuming the new union is not a permanent one, there is always the opportunity for both partners to come together, explore what happened and decide whether they want to commit to a better and healthier relationship. Of course, this may be easier with the help of a sex or relationship therapist to guide you.
But in the absence of abuse or infidelity, or if your break-up was for softer reasons, there is probably still plenty to work through in order to decide if the relationship is worth re-exploring. Are you able to pin down what happened? Was it the situation or a fundamental difference that drove you apart? What is it that you need to communicate to your partner? And are you willing to listen to them, too?
Ultimately, do you truly believe that things may be able to change if you were to try again? Do you think the conditions would be different?
One thing is for sure. If you jump blindly back into bed with your ex, hoping to pick up exactly where you left off, things are unlikely to proceed well after the dust settles. Sure, it might feel great during the first flush, while the adrenaline is still pumping. But a while down the line you’re almost certain to settle back into those familiar routines and more negative relationship patterns.
It’s likely you’ll remember the irritants that were there before or you’ll continue to behave in a way that drives your partner up the wall.
Instead, if you’re serious about making a go of things this time, it will benefit you to approach the relationship in a different way. For a start, take a step back and take your time. Try to open up to your partner about how you are feeling. Set out your concerns about going back into the relationship and try to encourage them to talk to you about how they’re feeling too. The likelihood is they won’t want to plunge head-first into another doomed relationship either.
Talk to one another about what would need to change, from your perspective, if the relationship were to be better than last time. And if you were to avoid whatever it was that caused you to come unstuck before. Then make a promise to one another about what you’ll do to try to facilitate that change.
Of course, this may take a bit of trial and error. It is hard to undo patterns of behavior that built over time. But with perseverance and openness and a genuine desire to do things differently it is more than possible to nurture that amazing relationship you're looking for.
There is no black and white answer to this age-old question. In fact, the most honest answer is perhaps : "Sure, why not? If it’s the right thing for you!”
There is no reason at all why returning to a previous partner is always, inherently a bad idea. If you’ve gone through all the whys and wherefores, and really tried to think with your head over your heart. There is always a chance you simply let a good ‘un get away the first time.
After all, we don’t always know exactly what we need from a partner, sometimes it takes us a little while to figure things out.
So, our best tips are to take time with your decision, don’t leap straight back in where you left off and really try to think with your head over your heart. And better still have an open, honest conversation with your ex-cum-prospective partner to ensure they understand exactly what needs to change from the last time you were together, and what you need from them.
And be open to making changes yourself, too. Don’t let negative relationship patterns come back to the fore. Ask your partner what you will need to do differently from their perspective and make sure you’re happy with the answer they give. You may even find that the separate life experiences you’ve gained in the meantime make you better together than before. In fact, sometimes a break can actually help a relationship.
If you are choosing to go back, make sure it’s because you are committed to creating a healthy relationship with someone who you believe is an amazing person. If you and they are prepared to do the work required to give one another the reassurance and trust you need.
Go for it. Why not? It might just be the best decision you ever made.