Thinking of getting back with an ex? Ask yourself these questions first…
After a breakup, even a bad one, it’s impossible not to think about your ex. It’s even hard not to see their face, if you use any kind of social media, live in the same neighbourhood, or, worse yet, work in the same building.
But if after some time you find yourself thinking about your ex a lot (in a non-obsessive way), and wondering what could have been—or if you hear from mutual friends that your ex is thinking about you—it’s not impossible to try again. There are many cases of successfully reunited couples. But to avoid what went wrong the first time and start from a level playing field, you both have to ask some questions first.
1. Why did our relationship fail?
If just bringing up the subject with your ex starts a major argument, there’s no point in going further yet. There’s too much bitterness and underlying hurt to start again and not suffer.
But if the two of you can look at your past relationship clearly, without the distortion of anger, resentment, or bitterness, and understand what actually happened—no matter who was to blame—you stand a chance of starting over without the previous drama. Emotions have to be brought up to the level of consciousness to be processed and released.
2. What were the main issues we couldn’t resolve?
If you answer this with: “Because you cheated on me constantly, drained our bank account, and verbally or physically abused me”, it’s likely not worth returning to that relationship, no matter how good-looking your ex is.
To answer this question dispassionately, you could each write a list of what you saw as the main issues, and then sit down to compare. Let your ex read through all their concerns before reading through yours. If none of your issues match up, it’s an indication the relationship lacked strong communication—you didn’t know that bothered me? While this is not insurmountable, it’s a red flag.
You may want to set boundaries around some of the issues, as in: “I know you don’t like my family, but seeing them once every six months can’t be a deal-breaker.” Also be clear on what the deal-breakers are, so you’re going back into the relationship with eyes wide open.
3. Why will things be different this time?
This may be the most important question on the list. If you look at this question and honestly can’t see how things will ever change for the better with your ex, why would you go back to the relationship? All relationships are challenging at one time or another, so just because you have some conflict doesn’t mean it has to be a relationship deal-breaker.
And if you answer this question, “Well, they’ve got a great job now and we’ll be wealthier,” that’s another form of denial. You both have to want to be better partners, so you can create a better relationship in the long run.
4. What is the vision for our new relationship?
This is an exciting point because it allows you and your ex to start creating something together that’s greater than either of you could make on your own. Oftentimes the lack of a vision is what dooms a relationship (or competing, incompatible visions).
Discuss where you’d each like to be in six months, a year, three years—and see how much of your separate visions line up. If nothing matches (emotionally, financially, spiritually, sexually), reviving the relationship might be a lost cause. For a lot of couples, the decision to have children, or not have them, must be part of the joint vision.
5. What kind of partner do I need to be to create the relationship I desire?
Take a hard look at yourself here and ask yourself what is required of you to make the relationship work? The fastest way to get stuck with this question is to let your ex say exactly what they need from you and you tell them what you need from them. Don’t do this! Focus on yourself and what you need to do to be a better partner in the relationship.
This information is crucial to moving forward with a clean slate, otherwise, you’re both likely to fall into the same patterns that crashed your first relationship.
6. What are my individual blocks stopping me from being that type of partner?
Once you know what type of partner you must be to create your ideal relationship, examine your behaviour to see what keeps you from getting there. Does fear of abandonment keep you aloof and unwilling to really commit? Do you have trust issues from a previous relationship that is yet to be fully resolved? Are you angry, defensive, or go on the attack when you feel threatened? Whatever you answer here is an indication of the personal goals you need to set for yourself to bring about the change you want.
7. What will we do this time if the relationship goes sour?
While this question can feel a little pessimistic, especially against the sunny optimism of some earlier questions, it’s necessary and practical. Nothing in the world stays the same and everything living was born and will die. It takes wisdom to see when something is ending and to end it well.
If the relationship goes sour, have an agreement to let it go gently instead of bringing things to a painful point. If you can both step away before the pettiness, rage, and depression set in, you’ll come out of the relationship as stronger, wiser, and more compassionate people.
Explore these questions in couples therapy
A good couples therapist can help you explore all of these questions and more in a safe and structured environment where each of you can focus on listening and understanding what your partner is saying.
A couples therapist can also see the unconscious patterns that are playing out between you that keep you stuck in cycles of negativity and destruction. If nothing else, you can at least explore all the options of whether you remain separated or decide to work on the relationship in a calm and considered way, that can help you get clarity about your future together.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.