“I know you have a boyfriend, but I’m going to say this anyway . . .”
I was pretty surprised to see my ex calling me after so many years. I was even more surprised to discover he was calling to tell me he wanted to get back together. Our relationship ended more than three years ago, and I was currently dating someone else. Needless to say, I left the conversation with both my head and heart spinning.
Do I dump my current boyfriend? Do I get back together with my ex? Do I ditch them both and just get a puppy instead?
You might not find yourself in the exact same situation (for the record, I hope you don’t because the whole thing was quite bizarre), but even after the messiest of breakups, we often find ourselves wondering: Did we do the right thing? Should we get back together?
You’re not alone. Studies show we’re attracted to what’s familiar to us, something known as the Law of Familiarity. There’s also something called the Mere Ownership Effect, which proves if you own something you inherently ascribe more value to it. Obviously you don't "own" your boyfriend, but UCLA psychological researchers Joann Peck and Suzanne B. Shu took the research a step farther to note that even touching something causes us to feel more connected to it and more ownership of it. When you invest time, money, energy, and even physical contact into a person you tend to value their relationship more than another.
This theory goes a long way in explaining why we’re so drawn to our exes. Combine the physical contact, familiarity, and our desire to fix what’s broken, and it’s no wonder we often pine away for even the worst of our former flings.
And yet we also know better. Exes are exes for a reason…right? How do we know if it’s worth giving this person another chance?
While there’s no formula for success (this is a relationship after all), there are a few signs worth looking for and questions worth asking when considering whether or not we should pursue former relationships. Here are a few things I considered in the process.
01. The Opinion of a Friend
Kimberly Klages is a doctoral psychology student at the University of Memphis who studies the psychological implications of healthy relationships. She says accountability, both inside and outside of the relationship, is vital. “Accountability helps us accept responsibility of our own actions and admit when we are wrong.” Having a community of people hold us accountable in our relationships, whether to pursue them or not, is an invaluable part of the process.
As much as we desire independence and autonomy, the opinion of the community around us matters. When I explained to my best friend what happened with my ex over burrito bowls at Chipotle (where all deep girlfriend conversations inevitably happen) it's because I truly value her opinion and wanted her opinion on the situation. I’m not saying we should make decisions based solely on other people’s advice; but I think it’s healthy to listen to those with an outside perspective who have watched the relationship both unfold and then fall apart.
My friend knows me better than I know myself, and she’s incredibly protective so I knew I could trust her wise counsel. What she said that day really stuck with me. “He was your best friend. I’ve always thought he was either going to walk you down the aisle or be standing at the other end of it. But at the end of the day it’s your decision.”
02. Whether We Have Both Grown Since the Breakup
My ex and I had been apart for three years before he called me. The main reason we split up in college was because we were young and immature, but also because I didn’t feel as though he was leading our relationship. I felt like I put in more effort and was hurt by his lack of pursuit.
Well, calling someone to tell them you want to be together even though they have a boyfriend might be an unconventional sign of growth, but it communicated volumes regarding who he had become. So that certainly seemed like something to consider.
Dr. Katherine Blackney, a certified marriage, family, and sex therapist recommends asking a few questions. “If you are to get back with that individual, ask yourself: what is going to be different this go around that will ensure a more successful outcome? How realistic am I being to expect change? What is the dating pattern of your romantic partner to help give you insight into what lies ahead?”
If neither party has grown post-breakup then it’s not worth reconsidering. It’s important to remember that we did break up for a reason, and if no one has made strides to grow as individuals then it won’t be possible for the relationship to grow together.
Personal growth should be easy to spot. There should be some tell tale signs that he’s different and he has changed. But, you’re not off the hook either! Your own personal growth is just as essential to the relationship potentially rekindling and then succeeding.
03. Whether We Have Similar Expectations for the Relationship
When we were dating, my ex and I hadn’t been on the same page about our expectations for the relationship or the future. So when he called me, wanting to know if we could get back together, we made a point to be honest about what we wanted and it really helped me evaluate our situation to make a clear decision about getting back together.
Klages’ advice on whether to reconsider dating again was simple: “Be aware of your own and your partner’s expectations for the relationship and ensure that you both are on the same page. Communication is always a key factor to consider when assessing the ‘temperature’ of your relationship.”
Most often we end relationships because of unmet expectations and failed communication. Communicating expectations and getting on the same page before restarting a relationship allows us to see if we’re actually compatible after time apart. If you still don’t see eye to eye on big, important decisions such as faith, family, and money, then odds are the relationship will face its previous fate.
At the end of the day, these are important considerations when deciding to continue past relationships that we’re reconsidering for the future or even relationships we are considering for the first time.
You might be wondering how my story ended. Did me and my ex get back together? Honestly, it didn’t happen overnight, but we did eventually end up together. Our story is a little messy and a little broken in places, but I realized not only was he worth it, but we were worth a second chance. All of that goes to show: never say never, because after some serious reconsideration and reconciliation, you could totally end up getting back together and it could be better than ever.
Photo Credit: The Manchiks