Swell’s theme for September is Recharge, Renew, Reset. It’s been a rough year, rife with uncertainty, but new seasons offer us a welcome moment to clear the air. How can we wipe the slate clean this month? How can we reset sexually, emotionally, physically, politically?
You know the siren call of that late-night text or social media DM.
I love you, the message from your old flame might read. I want you back. Twelve hours and an equal number of orgasms later, however, your hopes to get back with an errant ex dissolve like morning dew, as they once again slide out of your bed, DMs, and life. Or perhaps, you are the person who’s sent the sweet I miss you messages, only to realize after one dinner date that the breakup of your previous relationship truly was for the best.
We’ve all longed for an ex-partner after a breakup. But, according to writer and relationship coach Natalie Lue, that feeling should be taken with a grain of salt. “It’s totally normal to miss your ex,” says Lue, “But it doesn’t mean that it’s time to get back together.”
As the relationship expert behind Baggage Reclaim, Lue has helped thousands of readers build better boundaries, deeper self-esteem, and healthier relationships. One of the most common questions from readers is: Should I try to get my ex back? Lue has developed a golden rule for such situations: “The only good time to get back together with an ex is if the reasons that broke your old relationship in the first place no longer exist,” she says. “Or if the two of you, not one of you, are working through them.”
Whether you’re itching to text a former partner, in the middle of an on-again-off-again relationship, or simply want to answer a question that has stymied humanity from time immemorial, here are six questions to ask yourself when you’re considering getting back with your ex.
Have You Taken Time To Grieve?
There’s no way to get around it: Breakups are hell.
The loss of a relationship isn’t just the loss of that person in our life. In an ideal past relationship, it’s the loss of a best friend, too. It’s also the loss of the person we were in that relationship, and the future hopes and dreams that we planned to experience with our partner. As painful as this loss is, it can be a necessary transition from one period of our life to the next.
Rather than attempting to end your post-breakup pain by impulsively reaching for the phone, take time to mourn. Often, that pain can tell you something about yourself, what you need, and how you can take care of yourself. “Our feelings aren’t facts,” says Lue. “But our feelings are real.”
A breakup can be both right and painful – especially if the relationship we ended depleted our self-esteem.
To learn what your feelings are trying to tell you, says Lue, approach them from a place of curiosity. You can ask yourself: Are you feeling intense grief because your ex was precious to you, but simply not a good relationship fit? Are you experiencing the painful withdrawal of a trauma bond – a toxic connection that made you feel dependent on someone who harmed you? Or is your grief actually a sign that you ended things prematurely, and should give the relationship a second chance?
If a relationship is truly right for you, it’s not going to disappear just because you’ve taken time to collect yourself. If you’re meant to be, taking a break to mourn what you had will enable both of you to build something better if and when you reunite.
Did the Relationship Build You Up?
Grief can make us see someone with rose-tinted glasses. In the intensity of loss, we can imagine that our ex is the antidote to our sadness – when really, they may have caused our pain in an unhealthy relationship. “People imagine that you only miss people who are amazing,” says Lue. “That’s a whole lot of brain trickery.”
Lue has witnessed countless clients feel intense longing for exes who treated them badly, even abusively. In part, she says, that’s because we assume that if breaking up is the right decision for us, it won’t be painful. But a breakup can be both right and painful, especially if the relationship we ended depleted our self-esteem. In toxic and abusive relationships, the harmful partner’s manipulation may make us feel that we need them. That’s a trauma bond, and when that bond breaks, it can leave us reeling. “The feeling is almost a withdrawal,” says Lue.
“If you feel as if you can’t survive without somebody, if you feel that you don’t know who you are anymore, it’s a sign you got lost in the relationship,” Lue says. Other red flags include blaming yourself entirely for the relationship’s failure, even though you know your ex didn’t treat you well, or feeling like a failure because the relationship ended.
The only true sign that your ex wants to get back together is them saying directly, in person, that they want to get back together.
Rather than reaching back out to the person who hurt you, you can interpret that pain as an invitation to nurture and love yourself, seek solace in community, and build up the self-esteem this person robbed.
Do You And Your Ex Want The Same Thing?
So you’ve just received an “I miss you” message from your ex. Does that text actually mean they want to get back together? Not so fast, says Lue.
Often, our ex may be reaching out because they feel nostalgia and regret, or because they’re feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day, not because they truly want a future together. Alternatively, they may be manipulating our feelings of abandonment or grief in order to extract something for themselves. “We have to be careful of letting ourselves be used by exes,” says Lue.
There are some classic signs that you and your ex aren’t on the same page. “The biggie is people staying friends,” says Lue. If you or your ex say you want to just be friends, but you feel upset about the breakup, jealous of other people they’re seeing, don’t want them to get involved in a new relationship, or secretly hope they will want to get back with you after some time, that’s not a healthy friendship.
The same thing applies with continuing to sleep together. If you’re hoping that NSA sex with an ex will lead to rekindling the relationship for a second time, you are likely not on the same page. After all, says Lue, “Friends don’t try to screw you, they don’t try to screw with your head, and they don’t try to screw you over.”
The only true sign that your ex wants to get back together is them saying directly, in person, that they want to get back together – and then following up with concrete action.
Have You Been Down This Road Before?
While on-again-off-again bonds can seem like passionate romantic relationships in the pages of gossip rags or vampire novels, it’s often destructive in real life. If you and your partner have broken up and gotten back together more than twice, says Lue, “You really need to be looking at what’s going on here.”
Decide whether or not to get back with your ex based on how they are now, not how you wish or hope they’ll be in the future.
She suggests asking yourself: Are you using breakups to avoid or manage conflict, rather than doing a lot of work on your communication skills? Are you continuing to break up and get back together because you truly think you’re meant to be together, or because you want to “win” the relationship?
Whenever we enter a relationship with a particular partner, we also enter a relationship with a particular version of ourselves, says Lue. We like who we are around that person, and we make a commitment about the kind of person we want to be. Thus, when we enter an on-again-off-again pattern, “We’re breaking some sort of promise to ourselves,” says Lue. Ask yourself: What part of myself am I looking for in this relationship? Can I connect with that part of myself in other ways?
It can be painful to tear ourselves away from an on-again-off-again dynamic, even if we know that leaving is the best thing for us. If you’re trying to call it quits for good, it can be helpful to implement firm boundaries. For example, you may want some version of a “no contact” rule: not picking up your ex’s calls, no video chats, not seeing them in person even in groups, no one-on-one meet-ups. You can enlist friends to check with you as you attempt to maintain these boundaries. Be generous with yourself if you mess up; it can take several tries to move on.
Are Both Of You Taking Concrete Steps To Grow?
A good rule is that your ex should demonstrate that they’re actively addressing past issues and deal breakers, independently of you. Lue frequently hears from readers whose exes promise that if they get back together, they will go to therapy. Promises aren’t a good starting place. “That is a negotiation tactic,” says Lue. If there were mental health or addiction issues that negatively impacted your relationship the last time, look for signs that your ex has already started seeing a psychotherapist or counselor, for their own sake.
Finally, remember that we date people, not potential. Decide whether or not to get back with your ex based on how they are now, not how you wish or hope they’ll be in the future. Lue says you should ask yourself: If I get back with this person, and they don’t change, can I truly accept them? If your answer is no, it’s probably better not to get back together.
Growth Takes Time, and That’s Okay
We are only able to maintain healthy boundaries with former lovers when we’re being truly honest with ourselves and giving ourselves care. “If we don’t have that clear boundary, next thing we’ll be around there in our fur coat and our knickers begging for sex,” says Lue. Healthy boundaries mean that, if we do show up at our ex’s door in fur and lingerie, that’s the result of an affirmative choice, not an impulsive text.
As someone who has dropped my knickers for a no-good ex more times than I can count, I can attest that building healthy boundaries takes time and patience. If you find yourself wanting to exit a merry-go-round of breakup and makeup, know that eventually, with love, care, and confidence, you will be able to get off the ride.
If, on the other hand, you sit with your sense of loss, reflect on what went wrong, and see a mutual path to growth, you and your ex may actually be good candidates for a relationship round two that improves on round one. Ultimately, no matter what happens, the process of post- breakup reflection will bring you closer to the kind of love you want – whether with your ex, or with someone new.
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