When Is It A Good Idea To Get Back Together With An Ex?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder … right?

by Natalia Lusinski
Originally Published: 
Photo: Caleb Gaskins/Stocksy

In light of some celebrities getting back together (hello, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck), and some reality shows wherein exes reunite — you may be wondering if it “works.” When is it a good idea to get back together with an ex? What has to have changed so that you don’t fall into the same patterns, and type of relationship, that broke you up the first time around?

Shan Boodram, Bumble’s sex and relationships expert, says that before reconciling with an ex, she recommends you do some self-reflecting and genuinely understand why you want to get back together. Ask yourself questions like: Are you afraid that others are judging you for being single, and going back to an ex seems like an easy solution? Are you afraid you won't find someone else?

“If you truly want to consider getting back with an ex, it may work if the reason that you two broke up is no longer an issue,” she tells TZR in an email. “For example, if you originally ended things because you were in a long-distance relationship, but now live in the same city, it may be worth reconnecting.” But if you want to reconnect out of fear, think again.

Boodram also says to be very honest with yourself and ask: Is it the familiarity that you miss, or the value? “If it's the former, ask yourself if you genuinely allowed yourself to see what else is out there before deciding that what you know (your ex) is the only thing possible in a romantic connection.” And, on that note, ahead, Boodram and other relationship experts weigh in on when you should reconsider reuniting with an ex — and when you shouldn’t.

When You Should Reconsider Reuniting With An Ex

You may be wondering what other “good” reasons are for reuniting with an ex. Boodram says it may work if you’ve independently worked — during your time apart — to move toward the compromise that you couldn’t find while you were together. “This might look like individual therapy, personal development, or making major lifestyle changes during your break,” she says.

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Stef Safran, “Chicago's matchmaker,” dating expert, and founder of Stef and the City, tells TZR that if we look at the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez example, both have gone through a lot of changes and grown as people over the years. “The last time they were together was almost 20 years ago, when their careers were just beginning,” she says. “Both have their own children, and each has been married and in other serious relationships. The fact that some of the big decisions in their lives have happened (their careers are pretty settled, their kids are a little older) means they are at a point where a serious relationship is something they both have more time for, too.”

And Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, believes there is always a chance a relationship with an ex can work out. “To me, the keys are acceptance, forgiveness, and growth — internally and externally — for both parties,” he tells TZR in an email. “It’s totally possible the time you were together wasn’t ideal, and more healing, learning, and growing needed to happen before getting together again.” He says this is especially the case if infidelity was involved. “Acceptance and forgiveness then play huge roles in making getting back with your ex work,” he adds.

When It Is Not A Good Idea To Get Back Together With An Ex

So let’s say you have some hesitations about reigniting things with an old flame. When should you follow your gut? “Unless they have each taken responsibility for — and addressed — the issues that contributed to the breakup, then it seems likely that another try at a relationship will fail,” Frank Thewes, therapist and founder of Path Forward Therapy tells TZR in an email. “People break up for a reason (or reasons), and these don’t usually go away on their own.”

Keischa Pruden, therapist and owner of Pruden Counseling Concepts, agrees. She tells TZR that “when one or both parties continues the behavior(s) that caused the breakup in the first place — and/or has acquired new troubling behaviors — things don’t look good.” Boodram expands on this, saying that if there is no concrete evidence that what broke you apart previously has been aggressively worked on during your break, proceed with caution. “Changing takes much more work than simply changing your mind,” she says. “If promises are all that either party can point to in order to ensure the same issues don't resurface, it probably isn't the time to attempt another try.”

Furthermore, she says to ask yourself some key, soul-searching questions: Was your relationship toxic or unhealthy? Did your friends, family, and loved ones dislike your ex-partner while you were together? Do you feel like you’re trying to justify any of their actions that would typically be a deal-breaker of yours? Did your ex constantly cross a boundary of yours? “Though deciding to get back with an ex is never black-and-white, if you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it might be worth reconsidering whether you should truly get back together,” Boodram adds.

Edwards adds that the reunion may also be doomed if there is an expectation that things will just be like they were. “That is the ultimate recipe for disaster,” he says. “Both you and your ex are in different places in your life now, and there is no going back to what it used to be. If you can show up looking to create something new with the same partner — who actually isn’t the same person you previously were dating — it has the best chance of creating a new foundation that can last this time around.”


What Couples Can Do To Safeguard The Relationship

If you decide to take the plunge, there are some strategies you can try to help ensure things will go more smoothly this time. One is couples therapy. “I am the biggest supporter of it, regardless of whether you are getting back with an ex or in a long-term, satisfying relationship,” says Boodram. “Couples therapists will often say that people only enlist the help of a licensed professional counselor when it's too late, so it's never too early — or unnecessary — to bring in a skilled perspective.”

Thewes agrees, saying people who decide to reunite with an ex can make it work by being intentional as to why they want to try again — and by communicating extensively with their partner. “The couple should definitely go to couples therapy as they try again,” he says. “Substance abuse, or unaddressed mental health issues, can precipitate breakups. They can be fully addressed by either (or both) partners in this case — and that can open up the path for a new and healthier relationship.” Plus, the couple should examine all the reasons they broke up — what wasn’t working, bad patterns and habits that led to the breakup, and what they need to focus on to make sure they are successful this time around.

Whether it’s with or without a therapist, Boodram recommends sitting down with your ex-partner and aligning on the issues that may have caused the breakup in the first place. “Sometimes, you look back on relationships with rose-colored glasses, especially if it’s been some time since you’ve spoken to your ex-partner,” she says. “Rather than scrolling through your Instagram and looking at photos of you two at the beach or on a fun vacation, it’s essential to have a realistic understanding of what the relationship encompassed: The good, the bad, and the ugly.” She says it may also be worth chatting with friends — who lived through the experience with you — or scrolling through old text messages to understand the former relationship entirely.

And you can also engage in other therapeutic practices that don't include a therapist, Boodram suggests, like reading books, taking classes, or doing quizzes. “Or find your own medium that allows time for the two of you to reflect, connect, and work on your relationship during consistent intervals,” she says. “But unless you both resolve the situation that initially broke you up, you may see this issue rear its head again and again.”

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