Can getting back with an ex ever work out? We ask an expert

Here’s everything you need to know about getting back with an ex, plus warning signs to avoid

Illustration of two heads together with heart between then on light pink background, to illustrate the question of can getting back with an ex ever work out
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does getting back with an ex ever work out? When a relationship ends, whether it lasted for a couple of years or a couple of decades, it tends to be traumatic and complicated more often than not. Both parties may even wonder if it was the right decision down the line.

It's a situation we've seen in Hollywood time after time, with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez becoming the latest set of exes to reunite after some time apart as the two married in Vegas in July 2022, 20 years after their initial break up. 

Famously, Hollywood icons Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor divorced after ten years of marriage - only to remarry a year later. And even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reportedly separated for some time at university, before later getting married.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by dating site, over half of all couples in the UK who split actually end up getting back together an average of twice, before either staying together forever or finally calling it quits for good.

However, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of getting back together with an ex, especially after some time as passed. When you're out of the thick of the relationship and back on dating sites, or trying to meet someone new in person, it's easy to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses and forget about the reasons why it didn’t work.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez at the premiere of film Marry Me

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez reunited after 20 years apart

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ammanda Major is a trained relationship and psychosexual therapist at Relate, a charity that offers counselling and other services to people across all kinds of relationships. She spoke to woman&home about what to look out for if you're thinking about getting back together with an ex-partner - and how to make it work in the long term.

Why do people get back together with an ex?

There are several reasons why people get back together with an ex-partner, Ammanda explains. "Sometimes people are lonely, sometimes people feel that there is unfinished business, and some people feel that they still love their partner and want to be with them despite the difficulties," she says. 

"Some people never actually separate, it’s a cycle in their relationship where they move apart and then come back together.”

What are the risks of getting back with an ex?

Reuniting with a former love can feel scary, but if it's what you want, it's worth spending time thinking about what led to your initial break-up, to avoid the same thing happening again.

Ammanda told w&h, "Generally if you broke up with your partner and you've had some time apart and you're thinking about getting back together, the main thing to consider is do you really feel like you understand what caused the original problems?"

She says if you're not sure what the original problems were, then maybe you should start to think. "So if you just drifted apart, what was it that enabled you to do that? If it was a massive bust-up break-up like an affair for example, what were the circumstances around that? When you understand these things, you’re in a much better place to understand your relationship going forward. With all the positive thinking in the world, if you get back with someone and you’ve got the same old problems, you’re most likely to have the same sort of outcome.”

Of course, there's always the risk that you may have your heart broken again, but only you can decide whether you're willing to take that leap of faith, and if it's worth it.

How do you know when to leave a relationship in the past?

As much as you might love someone and miss your life together as a couple, sometimes, it's better to put the relationship behind you and try to move on.

Ammanda says this is best option in some cases, especially "if you’ve been with someone who made you feel bad about yourself, caused feelings of anxiety, or you were with someone and you couldn't be vulnerable about them, you couldn't be yourself. In those cases, then best avoid getting back together with them." These are among the top red flags in a relationship.

She also adds, "Don’t be tempted to reengage with a partner who has been domestically abusive in any way. No matter how much they plead or declare undying love, it’s just not worth it.”

Couple holding hands over a table in a cafe with phone nearby, wondering whether getting back with an ex can ever work out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are there any advantages of getting back together with an ex?

We all know there are a few logical plus points of being in a couple, as society is skewered so towards those in a partnership, from mortgage-approval rates to plus one notes on wedding invitations. But what about the emotional advantages for yourself?

Ammanda says that getting back with an ex should make you feel safe and comfortable, as any good relationship should. “The main advantage is all the benefits that come with being with somebody that you care about, someone that you feel vulnerable with and that you’re happy to share their own vulnerabilities with them.”

She continues, "But you're not going to get to that position, I would suggest, unless you do get a really good understanding of what went wrong last time and what has changed. Have you been able to talk about that openly and honestly, before deciding to become a couple again?"

So there’s nothing wrong with deciding to reunite with a partner, as long as you know what went wrong before and are willing to work through it - and as long as you know they aren't any reasons for concern surrounding the person, such as being controlling or abusive.

If you’ve decided that your relationship deserves another chance, here are Ammanda’s tips for making sure that it lasts.

Ammanda's four pieces of advice if you're thinking of getting back together with an ex

1. Make sure you have an open dialogue with your partner

"Check in with each other," Ammanda advises. "Ask each other, how is this working? Are we sure that we're not slipping back into old habits?" This will also help you learn how to build trust in a relationship again.

2. Consider relationship counselling

"Finding a therapist and going through relationship therapy, or marriage counselling, helps people look at what went wrong last time at a deep level. It forces them to confront what contributed to the problems, what one partner did and what the other one did, and why they had those particular issues," Ammanda says. 

"A couple that has genuinely looked at why their relationship has failed and come back together can look back on how they are in a better place now because they understand each other better and their own contributions to the relationship better."

3. Take things slowly and don't make assumptions

This one isn't difficult, Ammanda says. "You just have to think through what you're hoping to achieve. Make sure that the person you're thinking about getting back together with is on the same page as you, and shares the same value system about what may have happened before."

4. Forgive the past

Remaining caught up in old arguments, or resentments, can be a major roadblock to rebuilding a relationship.

Ammanda says, "It's important to forgive past misdemeanours. If you can't do that, then the past has the power to undermine what you have the potential to achieve now.

"It’s not about forgetting because if you forget, then you’re in danger of repeating the same thing. It’s about having the capacity to forgive, to make sure that you're using what happened in the past in a positive way, to help keep you on the straight and narrow this time."

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer.

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.