Should You Get Back Together With Your Ex?

« Previous 1 2 View All Next »

Your break up sucked. Sure, your relationship had it’s problems, but so does everybody’s, right? But hey, you put all that behind you. You’re past the “hiding in your own apartment, listening to angry music and writing bad poetry” stage. You’ve quit complaining about it to all of your friends. You can get a beer again without breaking down into tears about your poor broken heart.

But you’ve survived. You’ve worked past the pain. In fact, you’re stronger now than you ever before. Whatever doesn’t kill you better run motherfucker, amiright? For the first time in you don’t know how long, you’ve got your head on straight and you’re in a really good place.

And then after all that pain and sorrow, your ex just waltzed right back into your life. A bit tentatively at first; a ping text or two trying to reconnect with you. A request to reconnect on Facebook.  Then, as you think that maybe you should be willing to be friends with your ex, you’re finding yourself increasingly in contact with them. A couple of e-mails back and forth. A hesitant, awkward chat over IM. Maybe a phone call.

And you know what? Sure, you got really fucked over by that break up but things are feeling… pretty good, actually. Sure, you’re both a little gun-shy but you seem to be on good terms here. Almost like old times, really. In fact, it might just be your imagination, but you could swear that you detect a little bit of that old spark.

Sure, there was a lot of anger and built up resentment after the two of you broke up, but maybe, just maybe… you’ve been given a second chance.

But should you take it?

Why Go Back? Or: The Joy of Sex (With Your Ex)

Break ups, as a rule, suck. Even in the cases where the break up was relatively amicable, the circumstances that lead up to it – or the fact that you had to break up at all – is usually painful enough to make up the difference. One would be forgiven for thinking that the pain associated with the relationship would be enough to keep you from wanting to go back to the person who hurt you so badly.

You’d be wrong, of course.

But it’s understandable that you’d think it.

(If a bad break-up were all that it took to make folks cut their exes out of their lives, I’d be out of a job; at least half of the questions I get fall into the realm of “My girlfriend dumped me for the guy she was cheating on me with how do I get her back?” )

Like moths to an emotionally destructive flame, we frequently want to get back into our failed relationships – often against our better judgement. Or that of our friends. And occasionally the courts.

There are any number of reasons that someone might want to get back together with an ex, very few of which are good. The problem, of course, is that it we rarely realize what the actual reasons are; we tend to tell ourselves that we have nothing but the purest of motives in wanting to take our former lovers back. It takes a very self-aware person to realize right away that sometimes the impulse to run back to our ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend isn’t as straightforward as we’d like.

Before you make that offer to take your ex out for coffee and talk about the relationship, you need to stop and take a very long and hard look at what you’re getting back into… and why you want it so much.

Why Did You Break Up In The First Place?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: why did the relationship end at all? Whether the break up came like a bolt out of the blue or it was the end result of the long, slow, painful death of a relationship, most relationships end for a reason and more often than not, those reasons haven’t changed. If she dumped you because you were a lazy slob who’s only ambition is to play World of Warcraft and get really, really high and the only difference is now you play a Blood Elf shaman instead of a Dwarf hunter1 then you can look forward to having the same fights. If you were sexually incompatible in the long-term – you had mismatched libidos, he had needs that you couldn’t or wouldn’t meet, she was poly and you couldn’t handle it – you’re still going to be incompatible, even if the sex is great in the short term. If your ex was physically or emotionally abusive… well, convincing his victims that he’s changed is a prominent part of the cycle.

Regardless of the reasons of why you broke up, running straight back into the relationship without examining it is just an opportunity to replay the exact same failure a second time, only this time you have the added bonus of seeing it coming and realizing that there’s still nothing you can do to stop it.

Even the circumstances are different this time, it’s very hard to resist the tendency to fall back into the old dynamics of the relationship, and those dynamics are what ultimately lead to the two of you breaking up in the first place and your house being set on fire in a fit of jealous rage.

“It’s ok. I know we can work through this!”
The biggest problems, however, come in your motivation for wanting to get back together in the first place. There are very few good reasons to want to get back together (breaking up convinced them to get their shit together, you’re better together than you are apart) and a metric shitload of very bad ones. For example:

You Never Got Over Them

One of the words I hate more than any other when it comes to relationships is “closure”. Looking for “closure” in a relationship translates as “Things didn’t end in a way I found emotionally satisfying.” Sometimes that search for closure includes holding on to the idea of a reconciliation with all of your might because you can’t accept the fact that things ended at all.

Break ups, especially if you’re the one who got dumped, can be a stinging blow to the ego. You’re often left feeling like a failure, or that you are somehow deficient and the failure of the relationship is all your fault. You may feel betrayed because you didn’t accept your ex’s reasons as valid. All you know is: you broke up… and you’ve never managed to let go. You’ve been holding on to that little ember of hope that maybe you could make your saving throw vs. failed relationships if you just got a second chance.

The problem, of course, is that your unwillingness to let go means that you’re unwilling to let yourself change and grow emotionally. You’re holding yourself in frozen in one point in time because you can’t accept that things don’t always go the way you hope, no matter how badly you may have wanted it at the time. You’re deliberately cutting yourself off from other relationships – ones that you would benefit from, with partners who match what you need instead of what you want.

Closure, ultimately, is something you have to give to yourself; it can’t be found by trying to recapture the old magic while you’re hoping for a different ending. It can only come from being willing to accept the past and let go of it before it begins to fester.

They Found Someone New

Jealousy is an ugly emotion. Unfortunately, it’s also a very human one. You would have to be a literal saint in order to not feel jealous of someone… especially when you’re watching someone is make out with a person who used to be your exclusive snugglebunny.

"Oh shnookums, you know it gets me so hot when we rub our happiness in your ex's face!"

It’s a quirk of the human psyche that there’s nothing we want so badly as that one thing we’re told that we can’t have. We may have been relieved to see the back of that relationship, but the instant their relationship status on Facebook changed to “is in a relationship”, suddenly those old screaming matches and tear-filled nights seem way less important than they did before. Now all you can think of is that gnawing feeling in your gut whenever he makes another shmoopy post about his new squeeze and how much you wish you could have him back.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons I advocate the nuclear option; not only are you potentially torturing yourself by watching your ex find eventually finding happiness with someone else, you’re just setting yourself up for wanting her back just because she got over you first.

The Power Of Nostalgia

Memories is a funny thing. We like to think that a memory is a perfect snapshot of an event; a moment in time indelibly frozen in our minds that we can recall with perfect clarity and accuracy.

Unfortunately, the reality is that memories are notoriously unreliable. Not only is our recall imperfect at best, but we are also prone to subtly re-writing our memories to better match how we want to remember things. Which includes editing out the bits we don’t like… like all the bad parts of our relationship. It’s not terribly surprising; after all, who wants to recall all those fights were so vicious you couldn’t stand to be in the same room together afterwards. Who wants to keep the exact look on your lover’s face when you saw his heart break for the last time or dwell on all of the ways you were an asshole to someone you supposedly cared about?

And while we’re busy toning down all of the bad parts of the relationship, we’re highlighting all the parts we did enjoy.

Hey, reality's subjective, right? That's what I learned from dropping all that acid back in the '60s...

We wrap those warm, happy memories around ourselves like a blanket. We want to feel the way that we felt back then when everything was new and every day was a gift. We enjoy comfort and familiarity and that is part of what makes getting back together with an ex so tempting. It’s like sliding into a broken in pair of shoes.

Except of course, the shoes may still not fit, no matter how well worn they may be. The temptation of an old relationship is how easy it is, but that an unwillingness to leave your comfort zone – even one that ultimately leads to suffering and misery – makes it impossible for you to meet someone new. Meeting new people is frustrating. It can be stressful. Hell, it can be downright terrifying. But it’s also how you find someone who’s right for you… not by trying to relive the past.

“It’s Better Than Being Alone”

Sometimes getting back together with your ex is less about what you had and is far more about what you don’t have: someone else. Sometimes there can be nothing quite as depressing as an empty bed and Saturday night is the lonliest night of the week. Yeah, you may not really love each other. Hell you may not even like each other very much. But who wants to face another long stretch of holidays alone, spending your nights in bars nursing your mix of bitterness and whiskey while resenting the fuck out of all the happy couples around you?

"You have no idea how much I wish I could kill you with the power of my hate."

Then, one day, you’re back in touch with your ex. And hey, you’re both single, you’re both lonely and God knows neither of you have any prospects… so why not?

Well, because sometimes the properties of individuals aren’t additive. You aren’t really together; you’re just alone with someone else, using each other as a way to try masking the void you’re both feeling.

And that’s if you’re both on the same page. You may be using her as a balm for your loneliness… but she is trying to make an honest second try at this. Now not only are you trying to numb yourself to what you’re really feeling, but you’re doing incredible damage to your partner.

You Want The Power Back

Sometimes, wanting to get back together is less about nostalgia or an unwillingness to let go of a relationship that you can’t accept ended the way it did.

Sometimes, it’s about wanting to fuck somebody else over. You got dumped. You were hurt, not just because the relationship ended, but because you weren’t the one who did the dumping.

Straight talk: I had no idea that this was a thing until it happened to a friend of mine. Then another. And then I found out that someone I had dated briefly had tried to pull this on me because I had the temerity to be the one to end things.

Mind. Blown.

Look, even under the best of circumstances, we can’t control the way that relationships end; sometimes you’re the dumper, sometimes you’re the dumpee. If you are so hung up on the power dynamics – or so bitter from a bad break up –  that you’re trying to get back together with someone for revenge, then you are profoundly fucked up and a horrible person. See a goddamn therapist before you dip your toe back into the dating pool.

You Are Not The Exception

Getting back together with your ex isn’t automatically a bad idea… but it’s rarely a good one. Even under the best of circumstances it’s incredibly tricky and filled with potential pitfalls. But even though we all know, intellectually, that the odds are stacked against us, the siren call of the past and the hope for glorious reunion sex can override the logical parts of our brain. Everybody knows of at least one couple that broke up then got back together stronger than ever, overcoming time distance and circumstance with the power of True Love, so why couldn’t you be that couple?

Well, one of the perks of my job is that I get to apply the Chair Leg of Truth to people’s fantasies.

And the truth is: those couples are the exception to the rule. You are not. How do I know you’re not? Because you’re relying on the idea that you might be. This is the same thought process that leads to people buying lottery tickets: somebody’s gotta win, so why couldn’t it be you? The fact that you’re hoping to be the one person to beat the odds is an indicator that deep down, you already know that this is doomed from the start; you’re just trying to convince yourself that it’s not.

It’s not about being delusional in one’s commitment to an idea or a fantasy, it’s about the attitude you’re bringing to the possibility of a second chance. It’s one thing to know that the odds are not in your favor, but you’re willing to put in the effort and emotional toil that it takes to make a relationship work because it’s that important to you. It’s another entirely to pin your hopes on the notion the roll of the cosmic dice is going to come up sevens instead of snake-eyes.

Unfortunately, confirmation bias and the temptations inherent in rekindling a failed romance are powerful forces, and it takes a strong, self-aware person to overcome them.

If you really want to get back with your ex, you need to put your heart (and libido) into check and take a very long, hard look into what you’re trying to do… and what you really want.




  1. Alliance scum… []

« Previous 1 2 View All Next »

Pages: 1 2

  • Miyakitt

    I often find myself telling people to not get back together with their ex, but then they just call me a hypocrite because I did and everything worked out fine. Next time, I'm gonna refer them to this article.

  • James (Thortok2000)

    Blood Elves can't be Shamans. They can be Warriors, Hunters, Rogues, Warlocks, Priests, Mages, Death Knights, and Paladins.

    Because that's totally important. =P

    • MikeMc69

      You have this idiot's job…your grammar is MUCH better.

  • James (Thortok2000)

    One thing that's always really frustrated me is seeing 'good' girls with 'bad' guys. Especially in middle and high school. As I've gotten older, women have gotten smarter and I see that a lot less often.

    However, another thing I find frustrating is the 'off and on' relationships. They break up, they get together, they break up, they get together. "A case of the love bipolar" as I've heard one song describe it.

    On the other hand, working through problems and actually making change to make things better can make a relationship better, stronger, and last longer. Every relationship has rough patches.

    So the key aspect here is change. If things don't change, then the results won't change either. The strongest point in the article is how the Doc mentions that there was a reason you broke up. Unless that reason's changed, the result will be the same.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    However, if things have changed, you can try again… But not by continuing. By starting over. Take the movie 'The Breakup' that's been quoted on the Doc's blog before. At the end of the movie, there's a hint that they might want to get back together. But so much has changed (supposedly): They realized how immature they've been and both grew up a little. Their old relationship is dead… There could be a chance for new one, maybe not, but that's like it is with all new relationships, you don't automatically get one just for trying.

    But when I see people stuck in a rut with a relationship that isn't working, trying to put a good face on it through nothing more than sheer persistence, I'm reminded of a quote from Pay It Forward. "I guess it's hard for people who are so used to things the way they are – even if they're bad – to change. 'Cause they kind of give up. And when they do, everybody kind of loses."

  • Matt

    Man I wish I had this blog to read before I got together with my recent Ex. If I did then maybe I would have been able to grow properly and we could still be together. But that is in the past and now reading this article…yeah I see your point. A small part of me wouldn't mind getting back with my Ex, but I know that is impossible. She broke up with me because of me, I was lazy in a lot of things and I couldn't handle some things well. That and the fact that after two weeks she got together with someone else (I don't blame her, we only dated for a month and a half and I actually the reason she broke up with the boyfriend she was dating for a year (though she was emotionally distant by that point) when we started talking) also tells me that there is no chance in hell.

    Still, good article Dr. I like the advice. There is a lot of advice here that I need to go over and apply, which is why I'm not actively searching for a girl right now. Thanks!

  • Vince

    I'm wondering why so many of the Doc Nerdlove community are so quiet on this one? I know this has got to be a topic that hits home base for a large sect of people. Maybe that's why?

    • Marth

      I can only speak on my behalve, and not the entire nerdlove community.

      It is just that this topic isn't really relevant to me, since I dont have any exes.

    • I once broke up with a woman. We were still hanging around, though. And then we started banging around.

      We got back together, then we moved in together and that's pretty much when shit hit the fan.

      Ever since I've been preaching thou shalt not get back with thy former lady friend.

      • Paul Rivers


        I once dated a women. She seemed nice, we seemed to get along, and then about two months in she suddenly seemed to go crazy, I couldn't take it, we broke up.

        Clearly, the lesson I learned is to not date women longer than 1.5 months – ever. Now I hit that 1.5 month mark, and immediately break up with her!

        Or maybe the lesson I should learn is "never date a women at all"…lol…

        Obviously I'm being over the top, but I'm just saying – if you got back together with an ex and it got all the way to moving into together before the shit hit the fan, frankly, that's better than most non-ex relationships…

        I'm just saying that when someone says "I got back together with my ex, but eventually it didn't work out" that's not proof that it's a bad idea – most non-ex stories are "I dated this person but eventually it didn't work out".

    • OtherRoooToo

      I'm sure that's why.

  • Paul Rivers

    This article seems like it's a lot of "just don't get back together with your ex".

    But the *vast* majority of married or ltr couples I know have, at some point, broken up then gotten together again.

    I must know 30 people who are married or in a very long term relationship – and I think only 2 of them have never broken up.

    • Paul Rivers

      The good don't get back together with your ex stories, in my opinion, aren't "it didn't work out" – that's the majority of relationship (because it doesn't end if it doesn't work out). They're stuff like:

      – We had issues. We broke up. We got back together. Turns out we still had the same issues, so we broke up again.

      – "I thought things would be different this time, but neither of us had changed…"

      – I thought I would like her more this time, but again a girl I was more interested in came along and I broke up with the ex I had gotten back together with to go out with the new girl – just like last time

  • I had to go nuclear with an ex for a couple years, we're both crazy b!tches but our crazies just didn't mesh well. Well, we just now started hanging out again as friends.

    I think this article may be what I needed to get my gears grinding in a forward direction again, as they were starting to roll backward. I just took a restock and had to remind myself that I was waaaaaay to much of an ass wipe for her to even consider dating me again. Yes, I admit that *I* am the reason we broke up. Twice.

    Thanks for the timley article! You have just saved me from making an ass of myself, for a THIRD time, with her.

  • Kevin

    This article helps me realize I need to re-think our breakup. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

  • MikeMc69

    Your grammar is so atrocious, that I can't even finish reading this shit.

  • eselle28

    These always make me laugh.

    Somehow I don't think the typical DNL reader goes much for spellcasting, or that anyone here would endorse bewitching your spouse back from a competitor as the means to a happy marriage.

  • Moe

    Really really wise article. Helped me alot.

  • Lizette

    I found this very helping but it didn't answer my question what if you and your ex come from a cheating relationship should you give him a second chance ?

  • bob

    Should u give cheating ex a second chance? Definitely. Why go through that pain once when you can go through it as often as you want. Sorry. Dont know the detail but do I need to? A cheater cheats.

  • Stacy

    Ex and I, together for 3 years, had 1 child and a horribly bad breakup. Now, 11 years later, trying again and still the same song and dance. Wish I would have run across this article about 10 months ago.

  • Ex Terug

    It took me more than a year to get over my ex. All the things mentioned in this article sound very familiar. Jealousy, not wanting to be alone. I think for me nostalgia was the toughest. Spent a lot of time thinking about the good moments and conveniently forgetting all the reasons that lead to the break-up in the first place. Only after a year could I finally let go. I’m so glad I did. Feel free as a bird now.

  • ex caz

    hi thank you for writing your article my ex wanted me back after we had tried twice to sort things out . He rang my mother making out he was concerned over my mums health when he was not as he asked my mum if I was ok
    as I had made no contact with him until he texted and phoned me I had said I was not interested and he phoned my mum again why I don't know but my mum said we had tried twice and it did not work . I read your article and nit helped me make my decision with him and im so glad I did so thankyou alot

  • Lilo734

    My ex and I broke up because of things we both were dealing with outside of our relationship (work and family problems, mostly) that were putting a major strain on us. I do know communication was a bit of a problem for us during that time, so I'm hoping to work on that, and ask him to do the same. We've been talking recently, and he's brought it to my attention that he wants to give us another try, so I told him we'll see. Right now, we're approaching this by hanging out with each other and seeing how things progress. This article is helpful though, and if anyone has any insight to lend, that would be awesome, too!