Believe it or not, roughly half of all couples who split reunite, so if you're thinking of getting back with your ex, you're certainly not alone. And the good news is, even therapists agree that rekindling an old flame isn't inherently a bad idea, as long as it's for the right reasons and both parties are committed to changing things for the better.
"In my experience, couples can and do get back together successfully," notes Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator. "Some reunite and/or remarry and make it long term; there are many factors that determine whether it will work or not, and these impact success or failure."
Jordan Madison, a licensed graduate marriage and family therapist, agrees, citing a 2013 study which uncovered that over one-third of cohabitating couples and one-fifth of spouses had a split at some point in their relationships. "I've heard of plenty of exes that get back together, but the common factors are space and time apart from one another," she points out. So, apparently the old adage is true; sometimes, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Ahead, the two relationship gurus share what you should know before coupling back up with a partner. From resolving residual resentments, to reflecting on reasons for wanting to reunite, their professional insights will help you decide whether a new relationship with a former flame is really worth pursuing.
Don't Reunite For The Wrong Reasons
For starters, it's imperative to make sure you're not looking to reunite for the wrong reasons. Madison uncovers some of the most common reasons couples get back together when it's not for the best.
- You fear of being alone or "starting over" again. "If you're returning to the relationship just because it's comfortable, then you're operating from a space of fear, and not what is in your best interest," says Madison.
- You're lonely. "Spend time with yourself alone and be comfortable doing so," she suggests. "If you don't learn to value time with yourself first, you'll never know if you're choosing someone out of love or loneliness."
- Red flag: You're ashamed to tell friends and family you're getting back together. "This could mean you don't truly think it is the best decision for you, or you know they would raise questions or concerns that may make you second guess your decision," she says.
Missing Each Other Isn't Enough (Something Has To Change)
Turns out, there's more to second-time success than wistful nostalgia. "Thinking everything will be fine now because you missed each other or your shared life, and [you'll] just be happy to be back together, is a trap that many couples who want to try again fall into," explains Coleman. "The issues [that lead to the initial break up] need to be discussed and addressed, and both people need to own their contributions to the problems they had together." In conclusion, "Just because you miss an ex or the relationship does not mean getting back together will fix everything."
"I've experienced couples who separated, got back together, but nothing really changed," contributes Madison. She adds that unresolved issues have many of these pairs on the path to breaking up once more.
Maturity Can Be A Game-Changer
But one telltale sign that a relationship may prosper come round two? Maturity, says Coleman. "Maturity, which is an important factor is all relationships, may be missing the first time around," she explains. "After time apart, one or both individuals may have gained new relationship and life experience that will help them be better partners in a variety of different ways. This experience could help them see different perspectives, understand themselves better, approach problem solving and resolution in a more constructive way, and appreciate qualities in the other person that they could not the first time around."
Accountability Is Key
There may have been lots of finger pointing when things went south, but if you're ready to make amends, both sides need to own up to their faults, then work to change them. "For reconciliation to happen, it is important for both partners to be able to recognize, within themselves, how they may have contributed to the demise of the relationship and what they are choosing to do differently," says Madison. "In my opinion, if both partners are willing to make the relationship work, and stay committed, then the relationship can be rekindled." She adds that the exception to the rule is a history of physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse, in which case, permanent separation is likely your best bet.
In the spirit of moving forward, Coleman says that both sides have to let go of residual resentment. "[The couple] will also need to have resolved any bitterness or resentment from their shared past, as this will continue to come up and haunt them every time they experience a new bump in the road," she says. "Part of this resolution involves increasing their self-awareness and accepting their part in the past problem issues."
The More Times You Break Up, The Less Chance You Have Of Long-Term Success
If you and your person have become an on-again, off-again couple, beware. While it may have worked out for Carrie and Big (or did it?), a cycle of splitting usually isn't a good sign. "If a couple has a history of frequent splitting up and getting back together, their chances of making it this time around are greatly decreased," says Coleman. "They are also unlikely to be successful if the primary problem/issues they had have not been addressed by them separately and/or as a couple."
Therapist-Approved Tips For Second-Time Success
Want things to change for the better — and for good? Coleman and Madison give their top tips for rekindling the spark and keeping it alight for the long-term.
- Have a candid discussion. "Discuss what went wrong in the relationship the first time around, and how you two will both do something different this go around," suggests Madison.
- Try some written couples therapy exercises. "Have each person make a list of their relationship expectations and assumptions, then discuss these one by one in detail with their partner," recommends Coleman. Next, "write down your top concerns regarding issues that may arise when you get back together; these will need to be addressed."
- Attend counseling together. "Attend pre-unification couples counseling to discuss and work through their expectations and assumptions, any fears/concerns they may have, and/or any potentially unresolved issues from their first try at a relationship," says Coleman.
- Start fresh (and take it slow). "Rushing into the relationship and picking up right where you left off may not allow you the time to address issues that could have negatively impacted the relationship in the past," Madison says.