reconnect with an ex?Recycling is a good idea, except when it comes to relationships.

Regardless of what people tell themselves about the time invested, the good times missed, the great sex, or the feeling that things will be different; in most cases the re-connection with an ex rarely brings a better outcome.

Research tells us that rekindling a relationship decreases happiness. Studies of college grads as well as larger national studies of older couples reveal that those people who cycle back to relationships, often over and over again, experience less satisfaction, more uncertainty and more disillusionment in their relationships than non-cycling partners.

Let’s face it – breaking up is hard to do. When it has happened there is usually a good reason on the part of one or both partners.

Why then do people look backwards? Why do they imagine it will be different?

The answer is complicated and related to the original reasons that we are attracted to and fall in love with people. They are reasons that are conscious and unconscious, real and imagined, logical and irrational.

  • There was something about him that intrigued me.
  • I knew when I saw her that I could love her.
  • She made me feel special the way no one had.

Whether the cause of a break-up is betrayal, verbal or physical abuse, dishonesty, contempt, abandonment or value clashes, a person’s plan to go forward to a new, future relationship is often compromised by fear, self-doubt, dependency, jealousy or loneliness.

With enough denial, looking backward can feel safer than looking forward because it is familiar. It can even start to feel like the best thing to do. Why did we break up? 

Suddenly the pain is overlooked and the “desire and beginning excitement” of the relationship is remembered. Retrospective memory is selective and often the reasons for breaking up start to seem far away.

The safety warning in rear view mirrors is worth remembering. It reminds us that the perspective is faulty.

“Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

Given that as humans we are driven to connect, even at any cost, and that it is far easier to question the rationale for someone else’s decision to re-do a relationship than our own, here are some crucial considerations before pursuing an “ex”:

Necessary Loss:

  • No matter how bad a relationship may have been, it was a bond. As such it is inevitable that a break-up will be experienced with some feelings of loss. Sometimes if loss has been suffered in connection with other significant people, the pain can be significant.
  • The problem is that it is often miss-read as proof of love for the partner that you have left or who has left you. Often the need to quiet the feeling of loss becomes desperation about re-connection – which too often leads to another break-up and re-experience of loss.
  • Suffering loss is human and does not equate with instability, inadequacy or dysfunction. It is a necessary dynamic to finding self and ultimately finding a different type of partner.
  • Handling loss in a healthy way is facilitated by friends and family who serve as networks of support.

Guilty Partner:

  • If you took the courageous step of leaving an abusive partner, it is likely you will at first feel relief and then stability.
  • From a place of emotional safety, you can start to feel empathy for the partner you once feared.
  • You will likely remember the good times.
  • You may even be made to feel guilty by the partner’s request that you return with a promise to be different.
  • Abuse does not stop because you return. It stops when an abuser recognizes his/her problem and gets help.

Jealousy:

  • Regardless of how correct the break-up with you ex may have felt, it can start to feel terribly wrong when you find that she/he has re-connected with another partner.
  • Images of the beginning magic you once had become what you assume he/she now has with another person.
  • Sometimes there is even the assumption that your ex has become the person you always wished- but with someone else!
  • Fantasy may be good in the movies but no one walks out of a problem relationship and into a phone booth to turn into a super-hero.
  • It is worth considering that your ex is still the same person but may have found a match – something you did not want to be.
  • It is worth considering that if you feel you were by-passed for someone else – you were with the wrong person for you. If you are not appreciated for your authentic self – you are not going to be appreciated.
  • If you decide to pursue your ex by becoming the person he/she needs you to be – you may end up with your ex – but lose yourself.

Couple at any Cost:

  • A common prompt for pursuing an ex is a feeling of loneliness in a world of couples. It is only natural that at times you will remember the “we” that was good and overlook the pain of being hurt or the strength it took to step away.
  • A common trap is the need to be a couple again as soon as possible. If it doesn’t drive you to return and try to accept what was once unacceptable, it may lead you to settle for connections with partners that are not suited to you- something that may convince you of the need to pursue your ex (whether he/she is available or not).
  • The result is unfair- mostly to you.
  • While it is understandable to want to be with someone wonderful, positive connections usually come as part of a journey of nourishing and finding yourself.
  • That does not mean being alone. It means making new friends and dating as much as you can, if you want – but as a journey of finding out about yourself.
  • When you look for yourself in the new experiences you have with all kinds of people, you often find what you would have missed in life.

Divorced couple photo available from Shutterstock

 







    Last reviewed: 20 Jul 2012

APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2012). Re-Connect With an Ex? Crucial Considerations. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2012/07/re-connect-with-an-ex-crucial-considerations/

 

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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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  • Lin Agostinacchio: Great writing. You pinpointed so much about divorce. I know many friends and relatives that are...
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