3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Returning to Your Ex
When navigating through a breakup from a long-term relationship, the sense of loss you experience can become overwhelming. It can swallow you up (literally...a friend of mine actually has a “breakup onesie” for just this occasion). And it can warrant real grief.
In situations of this kind, where you and your partner were together for a long time and built and shared a life with one another, it’s likely that both of you had grown accustomed to a certain level of comfort and familiarity in your relationship. That’s because, over time, we tend to develop and fall into patterns and habits with our partners. We begin to operate as a unit in ways that serve to make each individual party’s life inherently easier.
And if you’re like me, you probably didn’t even realize that this was the case until your partner was no longer a part of your life. You'd not only become accustomed to them, but to life with them.
As a result, the scope of the loss you experience not only encompasses the loss of your partner - it also applies to the loss of the life you had with them. And it throws off your equilibrium. You suddenly feel unmoored, like a ship that's listlessly floating along after losing its charted course.
The sensation you’re left with is akin to homesickness - a nostalgic craving for the familiar. A yearning to return to that relationship. And if or when you find yourself feeling that way, you should be very, very careful.
When we feel homesick, we desperately miss home and want to return to it - even if just for a brief respite. We get lost in fond memories, suffer from a deep sense of lacking, and dwell on wanting to be elsewhere - all the while painfully aware of how our current situation and environment differs from the one we once had and wish to return to.
And maybe at some point we’ll even decide to make that trek home and visit for a stint. Maybe we’ll stay and rebuild our life there.
But in the context of a relationship that has dissolved, depending on the circumstances, returning “home” to the comfort and familiarity of your ex can be dangerous territory to tread.
Unless you and your ex-partner have reflected on the problems that you had and unless each of you has done the work necessary to grow and approach things differently, odds are, you’ll return to the same old patterns or reenter the same negative cycle that caused your breakup fairly quickly.
When you’re faced with the prospect of rekindling that old flame, it can be immensely difficult to figure out what you should do. You wonder if you should trust your head or your heart.
You wonder if your ex will end up hurting you. If you’ll end up hurting them. If the relationship will implode again. But you also wonder if it could end up being better than it ever was before.
I’ve been in this position myself (more than once) and have a great deal of empathy for anyone who has found themselves at a similar crossroads. So over time, I developed three questions to ask myself when deciding whether or not to get back together with an ex.
These questions have served as helpful guideposts for me whenever I’ve been faced with this sort of conundrum. And in case they could be similarly helpful to you, I figured they might be worth sharing.
So here are the questions I’d recommend asking yourself before deciding to get back together with your ex:
1. Am I living fully in the present moment, or am I dwelling in the past?
Sometimes we allow the past to hold too much power over us in the present. Particularly after going through a breakup, we have a tendency to want to remember and reflect, wrapping ourselves up in the comfort of our memories and replaying them for ourselves like a movie.
And although engaging in this type of behavior can sometimes feel pleasant and familiar, it isn’t healthy for us longer-term. Why not? Because it serves to distract and pull us out of the present moment - out of reality. Out of the only domain in which we have the capacity to learn, change, and grow.
Take a moment to consider, have you (like me) ever been guilty of putting the past up on a pedestal? Have you ever caught yourself romanticizing a past relationship? Ever found yourself focusing on the happy memories while marginalizing or forgetting the darker, more painful ones?
This behavior isn’t abnormal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s constructive. Nothing helpful or healthy will come out of engaging in this type of review.
Nostalgia in small doses is fine, but dwelling too much on the past can be detrimental. When you focus too much on the past, you neglect the present moment and prevent yourself from growing.
Instead, try to resist comparing the present to the past. Change has occurred, so it’s now your responsibility to embrace it as gracefully as possible and move forward.
2. Have I given myself the time and space necessary to move forward and grow since the breakup?
When you first leave home, it's natural for you to need some time to adjust to wherever it is that you’ve chosen to live. Similarly, you likely won’t just seamlessly transition into life without your ex. And that’s okay.
You need to give yourself time and space to get your bearings. And it’s going to be uncomfortable. But this transition period is an important step that should not be bypassed.
Because this is the space in which you’ll learn. You’ll get to rediscover who you are again, independent of the relationship. You’ll obtain greater clarity as to what you want and what would make you happy. You’ll heal.
It’s common for us to attempt to resist withstanding the pain and discomfort that can characterize parts of the post-breakup process. (If you find yourself struggling with this, I’d encourage you to check out my piece on “The Hidden Gift of Pain”). But if we don’t allow ourselves to experience that discomfort and instead run back to our previous relationship too soon, again - we won’t grow.
Another common reason we may find ourselves looking to get back together with our ex is because we are uncomfortable with, or even fearful of, the idea of being alone. (If you’re grappling with this sort of fear, please read the article that I wrote on “How I Overcame My Fear of Being Alone”). It’s critical that you don’t allow your fear to drive your behavior.
Take time. Take space. Only fools rush in.
3. Above all else, am I being respectful to myself?
Sometimes it's difficult (read: impossible) to harness the requisite objectivity to know what actions we should or shouldn’t engage in post-breakup. If you find yourself caught in this conflict, take a moment to consider the following:
Would it be respectful to yourself to run "home" to your ex-partner?
If your ex asked for your forgiveness and proposed getting back together, would it be respectful to yourself to give things another chance?
In these situations where it's tough to muster the objectivity to know what would be respectful to yourself versus not, there are a couple different approaches you can take. You can seek input or advice from trusted friends or family. But personally, I prefer to consider hypotheticals.
Imagine that someone you love - maybe a close friend or a sibling of yours - is in your position. How would you advise them? What would you be okay with for them? What would you want for them?
I had the opportunity to attend a talk that Dr. Brené Brown gave last night, and she closed with the following words of advice: “Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.”
Seek to grant yourself the same respect and compassion that you’d grant to others. Then make decisions from that space.
In the end, only you can decide whether or not you want to give things with your ex another shot. Others can (and usually will, if solicited) offer up lists of reasons for or against the proposition. And they may or may not prove helpful because relationships are complex - we are complex - and there isn’t always a “right” answer.
But if you can ask yourself the 3 questions I’ve outlined above and be honest with yourself in answering them, my hope is that doing so will enable you to more capably move forward in making the decision you need to make, while also making the decision that will be best for you.