New love is entrancing and brings out the best in most people. Sadly, those initial feelings often wear off, leaving many needing to end a relationship. When partners are in agreement that they both want to move on, those endings are just part of life, and both people are willing to try again with someone else.
It's different when the decision is one-sided. If only one partner wants the relationship to continue, while the other is ready to end it, the person left behind is often saddened or heartbroken, while the other must bear the guilt of leaving a once-beloved partner.
Most people who leave a relationship are ready to move on. But some, after time passes, begin to regret their decision. Once they have put the negative aspects of that past relationship behind, they begin to miss the good times. Haunted by having left someone they perhaps truly loved, they wonder if they should have tried harder to make the relationship work, and begin to search for that lost love.
They may find that their past partners are no longer available, and so they’ve missed their chance. But sometimes they find out that a past love is unattached, and the possibility that they might have another chance awakens a compelling desire to try again. Even if their feelings may no longer be reciprocated, they cannot walk away without finding out.
I have personally observed many patients as they attempted to retrieve a past love relationship. Their journeys are hopeful and fragile. There have been multiple experiences for both people during the time they have been apart that may have changed their feelings for what they want in a relationship.
But some actually do connect and flourish. If they are willing and ready to remember what prompted them to leave the first time, what could be different now, and how they must change to be successful, they actually can make it work, often more wonderfully than they were able to in the past.
Partners who want to reconnect to an old love they’ve once left must make certain they understand what went wrong between them. Knowing whether their own characteristic behaviors were the problem can make the difference between succeeding or failing the second time around. Over the years, I have made note of the most common reasons someone may leave a relationship prematurely:
1. Fear of Commitment
The fear of premature commitment is one of the most common reasons people cite for leaving relationships. Those partners have difficulty understanding the difference between commitment and entrapment. They often feel pressure to make promises they may not be able to keep, especially on the other end of someone who is ready for a long-term relationship.
If one partner feels that the other wants a commitment and isn’t ready, he or she will sense that desire as a potential trap. Feeling locked into a relationship that might lose its allure feels too scary.
When a relationship no longer has new discoveries to experience, has continual conflict, or loses its attraction, most people pull back their energy and resources. The fear of commitment will logically become a fear of entrapment when relationships stop evolving and regenerating.
People who see commitment as entrapment may not be able to imagine a long-term relationship that doesn’t feel potentially confining or obligated. If they go back to a relationship they once left behind, they must redefine and resolve that fear, or the same behavior will likely recur.
2. Lack of Readiness for a Long-Term Relationship
Many people feel unable to stay in a permanent relationship, because they don’t feel wise or experienced enough to promise a future they cannot foresee. They don’t know themselves deeply enough to predict what they might want someday, and are not ready to stop exploring other alternatives that might be better.
This inability and unwillingness to foresee what might happen is natural in young adults, but older people can also feel unable to predict who they might yet become. It is not wrong or necessarily immature to opt for pleasure, to choose a life of continuing adventure, to embrace constant new discoveries, or to enjoy novel situations.
There are quality people who should never be in a long-term relationship. Though those intertwinements offer security, shared memories, and mutual dreams for the future, they require that both partners maintain their devotion and continue to regenerate their love.
When people want that security, but cannot give up their freedom, they must ultimately make a choice. They may leave relationships that feel wonderfully satisfying, but anticipate they will need to move on someday.
3. Going Back to an Unfinished Relationship
It is totally possible to love more than one person at a time. Many people leave relationships, even though they still have strong feelings for the other person, to recommit to a new partner. They rationalize leaving because there were just too many problems, or they felt unfulfilled. After time elapses, the partner in a new relationship begins to face a new set of problems. He or she begins to remember the magical moments of their past love. Negatively comparing the present relationship to the one that's gone, memories pervade consciousness, and the present relationship dims in importance. The desire to go back to the old love intensifies, and the present relationship becomes a casualty.
4. Lack of Faith in Successful Long-Term Relationships
Childhood experiences compounded with sequential adult interactions heavily impact the trust anyone has in whether a long-term, quality relationship is even possible. Many people, for example, have parents who failed to stay together, often through disastrous interactions and painful outcomes.
When people allow their past experiences to determine their future options, they will love the romantic phases of new relationships but become easily discouraged when the lust/discovery/honeymoon period wears off. Instead of energetically embracing that next emerging state of deeper friendship and commitment, they begin to focus on what isn’t going right.
People become what they anticipate and get better at those choices as they practice. If they are looking for problems, they will find them, and assume they are unfixable. Their basic, underlying unconscious mind tells them continuously that all relationships are eventually doomed, and they begin to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To make an old relationship work, those naysayers must change their ways of thinking by understanding where their attitudes came from and how those limitations have affected the outcomes of their relationships. Otherwise, going back to a lost love will not work any better than it did the first time.
5. Choosing Easy Over Challenge
Long-lasting, successful relationships take work, and the partners within them don’t shirk that commitment. They know that their continuing regeneration is absolutely dependent on continuing to care deeply about each other and the relationship.
When relationship seekers don’t understand that basic principle or aren’t willing to put in the effort, they often pick partners who don’t ask much of them. The relationship doesn’t need much, but also doesn’t offer much in the long run.
Boredom is often the result of a too easy, too predictable relationship. All human beings seek security, but also need novelty and challenge to be at their best. When relationship seekers opt for easy, they risk becoming involved in a relationship that will cease to hold their attention. As boredom increases, many partners will seek novelty and excitement outside the relationship. The couple begins to spend less time and energy on the relationship, and the distance between them increases.
6. Lacking the Skills to Transform Romantic Feelings to Deeper Love
When love is new, it is often spectacularly intense and magically seductive. New lovers are spellbound—enraptured and captured by the experience of each other. Both put their best feet forward, keep their liabilities hidden, and devote themselves selflessly to the needs and desires of their new partners. They willingly put all other involvements on the back burner, offering all of their resources first to each other.
People who have not learned the skills to transform their romantic feelings into deep love and conviction come to a halt when the love/lust part of the relationship naturally wanes. They have had either the unrealistic expectation that those feelings should always be there throughout the length of a relationship, or have never known the wonder of deeper love. When they are no longer enamored and caught up in the seductive process of new connection, they fear that they will never experience those feelings again.
Before anyone tries to go back to a prior love, they must look deeply into their own reasons for why they chose to leave before. Do they pick the same kind of partners that will never work, no matter how hard they try? Do they feel that any permanent decision in their lives is doomed to end in entrapment? Are they just not long-term relationship material? Do they always regret their past decisions? Do they have faith that any long-term relationship will work? Do they pick people who don’t challenge them, so they don’t have to think about long-term decisions? Have they never learned the skills to transform new love into mutually committed treasuring?
There are reconnections that do work, and beautifully, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. The chances of success are much greater if people know why they left, have changed their behaviors, have learned the skills to do it better the next time around, and have a willing partner at their side. When a person is ready to do those things and has a welcoming, accepting partner, I have personally observed the heart-warming sweetness of these rekindled loves.
My free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring.