4 Questions You Need to Ask Before Getting Back Together

2. Would you be going back for the right reasons?

Posted Aug 17, 2016

Peter Bernik/Shutterstock
Source: Peter Bernik/Shutterstock

It had been eight months since Evelyn's relationship ended, and the more time passed, the more she missed her ex-boyfriend. She wanted to know whether they could reunite and share with each other the comfort and acceptance they'd grown accustomed to; maybe this time around, they wouldn't fight as much and she could finally become satisfied with the subdued love their relationship offered her. But Evelyn always felt as though something had been missing in their relationship of two years, something she couldn't quite put her finger on, but desperately wanted to discover.

Day after day, Evelyn's mind wandered to the same question: Should she get back together with her ex?

Research shows that between one-half to two-thirds of us will experience an on-again, off-again relationship, while the rest are able to make a clean break or don't break up at all. For those who decide to reunite with an ex, the future isn't typically very bright: Research shows that partners in recurring relationships are less satisfied in their revisited relationship—less satisfied with their partner, more likely to report negative attributes about their relationship (such as having communication problems or feeling considerable uncertainty about the future), and much less likely to report feeling love and understanding, as compared to partners who never broke up. "Reuniters" also tend to suffer from lower self-esteem than more securely attached counterparts and consistently make decisions that adversely affect their revisited relationship. Worse, even after a commitment like marriage, the on-again, off-again relationship cycle tends to continue, with the quality of the relationship diminishing with each breakup. 

Despite these limitations, research shows that the urge to reunite is kept strong by lingering feelings, one-sided breakups, not dating other people after a breakup, and feeling as though the on-and-off nature of the relationship actually improves it. If the breakup is mutual or we feel uncertainty about the relationship, it decreases our willingness to reunite with an ex.

If your desire to return to a past partner is strong, answer these four questions before going back:

1. Why did you break up?

Breaking up on the grounds of distance (where you or your partner needed to relocate for a new job) or a large misunderstanding (where outside forces like in-laws meddle in an otherwise healthy relationship) are very different reasons for terminating a relationship than more serious issues. If you broke up because of infidelity, abuse, toxic behaviors, or incompatibility, then getting back together is not in your best interest. Though it may not always feel like it, breaking up to get out of a relationship which leaves you feeling devalued ultimately ensures that in the long-term you will be healthier and happier, either single or with another partner. The happiness that comes from staying in a toxic relationship is fleeting and will not last, at least not without ample therapy, hard work, consideration, and understanding.

Carefully consider your reasons for breaking up, and whether your relationship is genuinely bound to be healthy in the long run if you reunite.

2. Are you going back for the right reasons?

Going back to a relationship because of extrinsic reasons, such as your partner providing you with a home, car, money, job, or other material goods will not make an intrinsically rewarding relationship. Similarly, if you feel emotionally dependent on your partner, meaning he or she provides you with the positive emotion and motivation you need to get through your day, or you simply feel lonely without a partner—any partner—your relationship is unlikely to last in a mutually healthy way.

If going back to your ex is a matter of not wanting to take responsibility—financial, emotional, or otherwise—speak to friends, family, community members, or professionals who can help you find the necessary tools and resources to become more independent.

Reuniting with an ex should only be an option if you genuinely feel love for him or her and believe you will be able to provide each other with the mutual, positive support needed to build a satisfying, respectful, and lasting relationship together—not because you are dependent on them.

3. Are you truly committed to making it work?

Re-entering a relationship with an ex should only be considered if you are truly committed to making the changes necessary to create a valuable relationship. That means uncovering and discussing all of the reasons it didn't work before and improving upon them by developing new skills surrounding relationship maintenance, coping, and communication. This is usually best done under the guidance of an experienced couples therapist. Committing to the improvements you and your partner will need to make, and holding each other accountable, will help ensure long-term love.

Remember: If you carry the bricks from your past relationship to the new one, you will build the same house. Don't go back if it is merely to restore the negative intricacies and patterns of your past relationship; it is ultimately a waste of time and unfair to you and your partner.

4. Is your partner on the same page?

While you may be fully motivated to rebuild your relationship and believe you can make it work, if your ex-partner is not as fully dedicated to repairing your relationship, it is unlikely to succeed. Before jumping in with both feet, openly discuss your ex-partner's thoughts, feelings, desires, and his or her willingness to rebuild the relationship and what revisiting it means for him or her.

References

Dailey, R. M., Hampel, A. D., & Roberts, J. B. (2010). Relational maintenance in on-again/off-again relationships: An assessment of how relational maintenance, uncertainty, and commitment vary by relationship type and status. Communication Monographs, 77(1), 75-101.

Dailey, R. M., Pfiester, A., Jin, B., Beck, G., & Clark, G. (2009). On‐again/off‐again dating relationships: How are they different from other dating relationships? Personal Relationships, 16(1), 23-47.

Dailey, R. M., Jin, B., Pfiester, A., & Beck, G. (2011). On-again/off-again dating relationships: what keeps partners coming back? The Journal of Social Psychology, 151(4), 417-440.

Vennum, A., Lindstrom, R., Monk, J. K., & Adams, R. (2014). “It’s complicated” The continuity and correlates of cycling in cohabiting and marital relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(3), 410-430.

© Mariana Bockarova, PhD