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What Makes Couples More Likely to Get Back Together?

Research reveals predictors of reconciliation.

For many couples, the breakup is the end. For others, not so much. In fact, some couples continue to see each other regularly, even though they are no longer “together.” This can be confusing and emotionally challenging for both parties, who lack closure and relational clarity.

Why would anyone intentionally maintain this state of relational uncertainty? And what factors make it more likely they will get back together? Research has some answers.

Image by Dani Guitarra from Pixabay
Source: Image by Dani Guitarra from Pixabay

Post Dissolution Dating

Justin K. Mogilski and Lisa L.M. Welling, in a piece entitled “Staying Friends with an Ex” (2017) investigated the extent to which dark personality traits predict desire for post-relationship friendship.[i] Among many other areas of examination, they investigated the circumstances under which ex-partners were likely to resume a dating relationship with each other. The identified several practical considerations ripe for further exploration.

That Lingering Loving Feeling

Mogilski and Welling note that one of the reasons dissolved relationships are likely to rekindle is when partners are experiencing lingering feelings for each other. Lingering feelings of love and affection make it much harder to move on emotionally and can lead to second-guessing the wisdom of the dissolution. Depending on the reason two people decided to throw in the towel is critically important here, in order to reflect upon the wisdom of the decision, both logically and emotionally. Ex-partners should consider whether their wistfulness stems from love or loneliness—two very different things, the former being a much more rational reason for considering continued contact than the latter.

Still Single

Mogilski and Welling mention that another circumstance that makes a couple more likely to get back together is whether either partner has dated anyone else since the breakup. But of course, this would depend on the reason for the dating hiatus. There are myriad reasons people choose to take a post-relationship breather, most of them positively related to mental and emotional health, as well as readiness to date someone new. Accordingly, a period of singlehood does not necessarily mean someone is missing an ex-paramour. On the contrary, some people find it easier to move on mentally and emotionally when they take a break from dating altogether—in which case a period of romantic abstinence will not equate to a readiness to rekindle a past relationship.

Romancing the Resources

Another reason Mogilski and Welling identified as to why couples might reconcile is resource exchange. They report that people who receive a higher amount of resources from an ex-partner in terms of information, status, love, or even money, report higher quality post-relationship friendships, particularly if they are satisfied with the resources they receive. They note that this finding also suggests that post-relationship friendships may increase the likelihood of romantic renewal or a future of valuable resource exchange.

One issue here is whether access to resources is a healthy reason to remain in a relationship, as opposed to unconditional love, respect, mutual affection, or other positive non-tangible benefits. Relationships that include all of the above might arguably be less likely to result in dissolution in the first place.

Initiating Contact

Barring dangerous, toxic, or other negative reasons for a breakup, how do ex-partners fan past flames? Regarding gender differences, Mogilski and Welling note that women, as opposed to men, are more likely to initiate in-person contact with a desirable ex-partner. But regardless of who makes the first move, how quickly should the parties move into a discussion of reconciliation? Most people would agree it depends on the reason for the breakup, with plenty of factors in the mix, including family dynamics, geographical challenges, as well as other personal and professional considerations.

From both an empirical and a practical standpoint, the bottom line appears to be that couples who decide to give a relationship another try are much more likely to succeed when the relationship was emotionally healthy and made both partners happy.


[i] Mogilski, Justin K., and Lisa L.M. Welling. 2017. “Staying Friends with an Ex: Sex and Dark Personality Traits Predict Motivations for Post-Relationship Friendship.” Personality and Individual Differences 115 (September): 114–19. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.016.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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