Ah, the power of the ex. Is there anything more alluring than The One That Got Away? Probably not.
But before you go ahead and try getting back together, remember that life isn’t like Friends (Ross and Rachel), Sex and the City (Carrie and Big), or Grey’s Anatomy (Meredith and McDreamy). The appeal is real…but so is the drama.
It’s not really your fault: While you probably broke up for a very legit reason, your desire to rekindle an old flame is pretty normal. “We are wired for attachment and also for new experiences,” says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago. “When we can have a bit of both by getting back together with a former lover, many of us jump at the opportunity.”
And let’s face it: Getting back together with an ex is just easier than spending hours swiping through Bumble (and going on craptastic dates). “We often aren’t interested in someone new because we have to get to know someone new and that takes time,” says Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship and professor at Oakland University in Michigan. “When with our ex, we already know what we like, don’t like, and how they act.”
It’s definitely possible to have more success with round two, Klow says—but you need to approach it the right way. Here’s how to get back with your ex without making a total mess of it.
1. Take it slooow.
I know, I know. The texts! The dinners! The sex! It’s all very exciting that you and your ex are hanging again. But before you go posting couples shots all over Insta and jumping right back into double dates with their parents, take a sec to chill.
There’s no proven formula for what speed you should move at (obviously…who could study that?), but Klow says it can be incredibly helpful to slow down and take a beat before you slap a label on things again. Why? Because you need time to…
2. Figure out what really you want.
Orbuch says this is your chance to lay all of your cards out on the table, so don’t be afraid to get real (like, really real) about what you need to be happy in a relationship. She recommends asking yourself what your expectations are in a relationship, as well as what qualities you need from a partner.
Was there something major missing before that your partner could actually fulfill this time around? That’s an important Q to be able to answer before reconciling. For example, did you feel like they took you for granted last time? Didn’t know how to speak your love language? That’s all fixable on take two.
But if you felt like they didn’t quite match up in terms of goals and values, that’s a different story. (Perhaps you’re super ambitious and they’re A-okay working at their dad’s company with no plans of moving up or taking it over someday—that’s likely not going to change tomorrow.)
You’ll also want to have your deal breakers in mind. “Then share these expectations with your former partner and have your former partner do the same and share the list with you,” Orbuch says. “This is important for all couples to do together, but even more important when you reconnect with a former partner. Be open and honest.”
3. View it as a new chapter in an old relationship.
“Yes, you’ve already dated and know one another, but time changes people,” Orbuch says. “So get to know your former partner again, ask questions, see what they think and feel.”
That said, “it’s impossible to have a truly fresh start with someone you’ve already dated,” notes WH advisor “Dr. Chloe” Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating. “It’s really important to recognize that this is a rekindling of an old relationship, not the start of a new one.”
When getting back together with an ex, you need to do everything you can to separate fact from fiction and the past from the present. Ask yourself if some of the beliefs you have about this person are based on the behavior and statements they’re making to you now, versus who they were when you initially started dating and things were good.
“Women are especially vulnerable to sticking with their first impressions of people,” explains Dr. Chloe. So check yourself: Is it your mind telling you that this person is your rock-solid? Is that thought based on what has actually happened in the relationship or are you letting what you want things to be like overshadow how things actually were?
If you’re having trouble sussing this out, Dr. Chloe suggests try making a timeline of your past relationship, highlighting significant events—both good and bad. This exercise helps you see what your ‘ship was actually like versus your brain’s fantasy of it, and can help you pinpoint times when your ex didn’t live up to the image you’ve made yourself believe.
4. Talk about what you did when you were apart…
Now’s the time to speak up if you were with someone while you two were broken up. You don’t have to go into details. A simple, “I dated someone for a few months” is good enough—unless that someone was his best friend/coworker or anyone else that might trigger hurt or jealousy.
It’s important to at least mention it so that there are no surprises down the road, Klow says. If your guy is upset about it (even though, hello, you weren’t together anymore), then talk about it and address any concerns or fears—and then move on.
5. …And why you want to get back together.
Are you frustrated because your last date was a lousy kisser or turned out to be a d-bag, or do you really think there’s something positive and healthy worth pursuing with your ex? If it’s the former, Klow says that’s not a great reason to run back to your ex. But if it’s the latter, go for it.
Remember, settling is still settling, even if it’s with someone you’ve loved before.
6. Listen to your gut.
If you found yourself ignoring some major issues the last time the two of you were a pair, then Orbuch says it’s important not to let that happen this go’round.
“Perhaps last time you were in the relationship with your ex, you didn’t see the red flags or didn’t listen to your gut,” she says. “[Maybe] you thought things would change, you didn’t believe in yourself or know what you wanted.” If you’re giving it a second chance, be sure you also trust your instincts if things start to backslide again.
You know that little ball of doubt in the pit of your stomach? It’s there for a reason…don’t ignore it if it comes back or grows.
7. Address old issues.
So, heads up: It’s pretty likely that old fights and problems are going to crop up again—it’s best to get ahead of them. You don’t have to reenact your Worst Fight Ever, but you should discuss the issue behind it, plus what you’re going to do to avoid another one of those in the future.
Talking about it when you’re both calm is key, says Klow, since you’re much more likely to get somewhere. “It is important for a couple to build on the past relationship, warts and all,” says Klow.
Note that if your ex is quick to sweep old issues under the rug, “that’s probably not a good start,” says Dr. Chloe. Feelings need to be validated—even if the other party doesn’t agree with them.
8. Have a trust chat.
“Given that the two of you have a past, trust has most likely been broken,” Orbuch says. “In many relationships, breakups occur because one or both of the partner have betrayed the other [in some way]. And trust, once it’s broken, is very hard to rebuild.”
Because of that, Orbuch recommends couples looking to rekindle their relationship have a “trust chat,” where you discuss what it means to trust one another and list realistic expectations for the relationship, as well as answer “what is fidelity and what does it mean to each of us as we go forward?”
During this talk, you’ll also want to decide what your definition is of commitment. “These are all questions that should be addressed in any relationship as you move forward, and even more so if you’re getting back with an ex,” Orbuch says.
9. Be ready to forgive.
Let’s say your ex cheated on you, physically or emotionally. You have to be truly willing to give them another chance, says Dr. Chloe—otherwise you’ll end up crucifying them for the past every time you get upset. (You know what I mean: They forget to call you back, you go on a downward spiral thinking about what they could be doing, then throw their past transgressions in their face when they ask why you’re annoyed.)
“It’s perfectly normal and okay to have old wounds, but you need to be able to talk about them calmly and respectfully together to avoid an unhealthy cycle of criticism,” Dr. Chloe explains. Keep in mind that forgiveness is a process, and if you’re struggling to move forward with it while being with your ex, you may want to hold off for a bit.
10. Collect your thoughts before bringing them up.
If you do notice ghosts from you past relationship coming up, it’s best not to speak about them the moment they pop into your head, says Dr. Chloe. This makes it all too easy for impulsive and unhelpful arguments to creep up on the reg.
It’s much, much better to write in a journal or talk to a friend until you have your thoughts together enough to have something constructive to discuss.
When you know what you want to say, approach it this way: “Here’s what’s been on my mind…” or “I could use some reassurance about….”
Always speak up about your feelings, but know that people respond best when it’s done in a thoughtful and organized manner.
11. Don’t expect everyone to be on board.
Just because you’re ready to move on with an ex, that doesn’t mean your family or BFF will be quite as keen on the idea. “They will remember what was bad about your ex,” Orbuch says. “And most likely because you’ve spoken negatively about the former partner to them, they will bring it up again as you announce to them about getting back together.”
When that happens, Orbuch says it’s important to remember that they have your best interests at heart. She recommends meeting their concerns with this: “I hear you. I understand your concerns and appreciate you telling me.”
Follow it up with the things that have changed about your ex and how you’ve discussed it all. You can also fill them in on your plan moving forward, and keep them looped in along the way.
12. Remember the bottom line: You’re still with the same person.
Sure, people change, but they’re usually more likely to stay the same. Basically, don’t think that things will be different after the “getting to know you again” stage is over. “It is very common for couples to fall back into the same patterns that they found themselves in the previous time,” says Klow.
Hated their habit of turning into a couch-loving sloth on Sundays? Or not a fan of how your anxiety subconsciously fed off of theirs, turning you into a big ball of stress?
Odds are, you’re going to deal with it again. So make sure they’re worth the time and effort. This isn’t a TV show after all….Life is short, and you don’t get endless reruns.