If you’ve ever been active on the dating scene then I’m willing to bet that you’ve found yourself at some point considering doing something that – when not driven by either loneliness, lust, or liquor – you would NEVER do in a million years: think of getting back together with an ex.
No harm, no foul. No one could actually wag the finger at you. You’re not the only person on Earth to ever think about it. Sometimes we just get to a certain tipping point when we are in such a need for intimacy or companionship that we entertain the notion of rekindling an old flame. There’s nothing innately wrong about the proposition. It largely depends, though, on the circumstances revolving around why that relationship ended. Sometimes the breakup ended amicably. Sometimes not. Regardless, if you find yourself considering calling up John, it’s a good idea to run through some questions and get some hard answers (stop it, you juvenile,) before making that leap.
So, should you get back together with your ex?
The following is a list of ten questions that I’ve come to ask myself when I’m in that situation. I don’t claim to be an expert but I do profess a ton of experience. (Do with THAT what you will…) I do find them capable of focusing my thinking in a way that honors reason and emotion because you have to include both if you hope to make a healthy choice. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to write from a gay man’s point of view but it certainly applies to any flavor of relationship.
1. Did he respect you?
This is something you CANNOT compromise on. If you look back and see a trail of behavior on your ex’s part that generally left you traumatized then under NO circumstances are you to relight that flame. Trust me. You will get burned again. Respect is foundational to any relationship – intimate, platonic or familial. That’s why it’s in the number one spot on the list. Someone who disrespects someone they are supposed to love is emotionally dangerous. Did he honor your time? Did he keep his word? How did he speak to you? All subsets of the same question of respect. Don’t do it, Mary.
2. How did he make you feel when you were together?
This is really an emotional variant on the question of respect but is solely about how he affected your feelings. It’s real simple: do you largely remember him showing love? You innately know what love should feel like. Memories about him should be about how he smiled at you or cried with you. How he realized when he was wrong and apologized for his part. How he remembered your birthday or maybe even an anniversary. Did he help with the laundry? (Hell, find me a man who will wash my socks and underwear and I’ll show you a keeper.) The point is when you look back at this person you should smile more than you frown.
3. Before you get back together, how much reciprocal energy did he put into the relationship?
Have you ever dated someone who always expected you to do all the driving or run all the errands or do all the cleaning? Did he make sure he made time just for you? Did he participate in suggesting things to do as a couple?
A few favorites of mine are apple picking in the mountains and Christmas tree harvesting each year. My partner, Alex, and I sat down a long while back and decided on some novel things we would do solely for the sake of enriching our relationship. We decided on these two activities and he followed through on his part. It’s great to have someone willing to put in the effort and we have a ton of fun. Don’t get it twisted: I end up cutting down the tree because I don’t trust him with a handsaw – but it’s ok. He’s right there smiling and making fun of me for lying on the ground while cursing a pine tree the whole time…but he’s there and that’s what counts.
Maybe your ex was like that. Maybe it was actually a strong suit of his, or maybe it wasn’t. Just be honest with yourself.
4. Was he someone you felt ok introducing to your family and friends?
When someone asks me whether they should or shouldn’t do something, I always say if it’s something you’d feel comfortable telling your mama about then it’s probably ok. This applies here. If you dated someone for a while and had reservations about telling others about that person, it’s a BAD sign. So, if you’re thinking about getting back together you need to decide if you finally would feel comfortable introducing him. If your answer hasn’t changed then you need to take note of it. (The only things you should ever feel GREAT about not telling your folks are activities of the sexy-time variety – as long as it’s consensual. Girl, I have done things with exes that would curl wallpaper. Don’t tell your folks about stuff like that. You’re welcome.)
5. Speaking of which – what was the quality of your intimacy with that ex?
I mean, I think this one is kinda cut and dry. I have had exes that really – and I mean REALLY – knew what they were doing in the bedroom. Then, I’ve had some that felt like I was fornicating with a dead fish. As in, truly awful. This may be a relatively straightforward question, but it actually does have a bit of nuance. If this consideration isn’t high on your list of musts, maybe it’s ok. You just have to be blisteringly honest with yourself – as with all these questions. I just know personally I need meaningful intimacy and it doesn’t have to always be of the bedroom variety.
Sometimes, Alex will hug me from behind when I’m making supper and smooch me on the back of my neck. Mary…I promise you, there have been times when he’s done that and my first thought was to rake all the dishes off the kitchen table and make room for an appetizer, if you know what I mean. But most of the time it’s sweet, intimate and affectionate and that means just as much as a roll in the hay. If you weren’t getting that outta your ex then you have to judge whether or not it’s important to you. Conversely, was the relationship solely physical with no emotional roots? You can’t build a relationship on orgasms. Believe me.
6. Were there issues in the relationship – besides the interpersonal ones like intimacy and emotional needs – that led to the initial breakup with this person?
Maybe there was a significant age difference that didn’t seem to matter at the outset of the relationship but that gradually caused issues, or the person was of another faith than you. Maybe the relationship was interracial. Unfortunately, we’re still too primitive a society for those to be completely meaningless details.
In any case, these types of issues are not ones that can be resolved in the same way as intimacy issues or emotional needs. They can be worked through to some extent. Maybe you’ve decided that your family might not care so much because your partner is another race, or it’s finally ok to have a Jewish boyfriend. Maybe it’s ok to be in a relationship with someone who’s twice your age.
Complete transparency: I’m 50 years old and my partner just turned 25. My family doesn’t mind but his family had some issues with it. We decided together, though, that we’d stick it out for US and not put as much energy into trying to win over his folks. They’ll either get used to it or not in our reckoning. Also, it’s something I’ve come to be ok with in past relationships. I told a therapist friend of mine several years ago that I don’t go out looking for younger guys and he called me out on my bullshit. Makes me laugh every time I think about it. But, hey, I’m not attracted to people my own age and I’m honestly very happy for the fact that there are a LOT of younger guys with daddy issues. Works out very well for me. I’m a dog, I know. Moving on…
7. Did you not put in enough work for the relationship?
As in all relationships, there is always a different side of the story, and that other side is all about you and your actions. Sometimes, the nature of the relationship can be because, for one reason or another, we became the toxic factor. Did you not show enough intimacy because you were being sidetracked by work or whatever? In other words, sometimes we are the reason the relationship failed.
It’s not fun to have the mirror put up to your own face, I know. Keep in mind, though, that if you do so you stand a good chance of learning something about yourself – even if it’s not so pretty. It’s still important information to know, though, because it can teach you how NOT to treat someone. If you’re lying in bed and you’re thinking about that guy you really liked a few years ago and you’re thinking of reaching out to him – remember – he may very well run through a similar list of questions to decide if it’s worth his time and effort. Turnabout is fair play, my friend.
8. Speaking of our part in situations: do you respect yourself when you’re involved with someone?
For example, do you find yourself gravitating towards unhealthy relationships that follow a predictable pattern that invariably leads to breakup and heartbreak and regret? Don’t feel bad. I’ve been guilty of the exact same thing. There was a long period of my life when I was so lonely that I started actively pursuing profoundly unhealthy relationships because I had convinced myself that I was only good enough for certain types of people. At first, it was with abusive partners.
My very first relationship was with a guy that beat the shit out of me on the regular and held me emotionally arrested for years. After that didn’t pan out, I tried relationships with people who tended to pathologically cheat. Soon after that, I only dated addicts or alcoholics because by that time it was what I had personally become. Girl, there is nothing pretty about two addicts trying to make an unimaginably toxic relationship work. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work either.
I was only able to move on toward healthier relationships after I’d done some pretty gnarly work on myself with the help of therapists. Point is, you could very well be the reason the relationship didn’t thrive. If you can’t own that, then you can’t honestly answer whether or not you could now be something for this ex you’ve had on your mind. Only the other person can decide that. If he says no, it’ll sting like hell, but at least you have measured growth that you can apply to your next relationship.
9. Are you romanticizing this past relationship by remembering only the good things and being willfully blind about all the bad?
Listen to me: all of the questions on this list are important but this one is VERY important and you HAVE to answer it with raw honesty. This one question is like the sum of the parts for all these questions. Are you so lonely or so horny that you’re willing to forget what caused the relationship to go south in the first place? You can’t lie to yourself about this. If you want to make a clearheaded, healthy, adult decision about getting back together with someone you have to be willing to see the ugly parts of the relationship. They’re the reason you broke up, right? I mean, you didn’t break up because everything was going great.
10. Finally, what do you think was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the past relationship?
I’ve found this to be a great question that comes intentionally at the end of the list. Here’s why: a breakup is nearly never a sudden thing. Sure, there will always be assholes who blindside people with a breakup. Largely speaking, though, it’s a cumulative thing. Starts off with small grievances and then rolls downhill gathering more and more shit until you just can’t take it anymore and you finally break up – typically, with a lot of profanity and similar fanfare. THAT’S why I put this question at the end of the list.
Emotions are very often tied to big events and coming to the end of your rope is a VERY emotional event. Before you decide to call that guy you dated two years ago, close your eyes and try to remember what he did that finally made you call it quits. It’s the memory closest to you in time and it represents the finality of the whole thing. If you can remember that one event and feel the emotion tied to it, odds are you will then begin honestly remembering all the other stuff.
Getting Back Together: Final Thoughts
We all get lonely. As humans, we instinctively seek out relationships with other humans. We all need intimacy and closeness and connectedness with someone for whom we care. Unfortunately, more often than not, relationships tend to go south because it’s a stab at happiness made by imperfect people who hurt other imperfect people. It’s a shitty state of affairs but that’s just how it is.
Sometimes, in that loneliness we can feel so desperate for connection that we will rehash past relationships – failed relationships, I would remind you – and feel like reigniting that flame. It’s not necessarily a bad idea. Sometimes a breakup can teach us what we needed to know going into the relationship in the first place and can help heal it and revive it. Just as often, though, getting back together can be a very bad idea because it’s one considered out of a place of emotional weakness. Only you can decide. It’s good to have some perspective to help guide that decision. These questions have helped me on many occasions. I hope they will do the same for you.
If you need a little extra guidance navigating these questions, reach out to us! At Modern Era Counseling, our therapists can help you really think critically about your own thoughts and experiences so that you feel more confident making these big decisions. Shoot us an email or give us a call at (704) 800-4436 to schedule with us today.