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

Here’s everything you need to know
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  • When a relationship ends, whether it lasted for a couple of years or decades, it can be traumatic and often complicated. Especially if you share a house together or there are children involved.

    And sometimes, we might even wonder whether it was the right decision.

    Recently in an interview with the New York Times, Batman star Ben Affleck said he ‘regrets’ divorcing Jennifer Garner, his wife for over ten years. The couple parted ways in 2018 after Affleck’s drinking habits and accusations of an affair put strain on their relationship.

    And he’s not the only one to regret the end of a marriage.

    Credit: Getty

    Famously, Hollywood icons Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor divorced after ten years of marriage – only to remarry a year later.

    But for others, there might never have been a wedding if it wasn’t for the break-up. Our very own Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reportedly separated for some time at university due to William’s busy public lifestyle and life as a royal. But as we know, they soon got back together and later married.

    In fact, according to a survey conducted by dating site match.com, over half of all couples in the UK who split actually end up getting back together. As a nation, we apparently tend to reunite with our exes an average of twice, before either staying together forever, or finally calling it quits for good.

    MORE: Why marriage counselling might actually be beneficial for happy couples

    However, it’s reasonable to be sceptical of getting back together with an ex. Especially after some time has passed – when you’re out of the thick of the relationship, it’s easy to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses, and forget about the reasons why it didn’t work.

    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 an ex-partner – and how to make it work in the long term.

    Why do people get back together with an ex?

    Ammanda says there are a number of reasons why people get back together with an ex-partner. “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.

    “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 explained to 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?

    “If you’re not sure what the original problems were, then maybe you should start to think.”

    She continued, “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. 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.”

    MORE: The secret to a happy marriage could be spending five days a month apart

    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 or with whom you couldn’t be vulnerable, or couldn’t be yourself – then best avoid getting back with them.”

    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.”

    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 when it comes to raising children and the money that’s saved by having one household instead of two – 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. She said, “[There are] 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.”

    “That’s what the main advantage is,” she adds. “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

    • Consider relationship counselling

    As Ammanda explains, “Relationship therapy helps people look at quite a deep level at what went wrong last time. What contributed to to the problems? What was my bit and what was your bit? Why did we have those particular issues?

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

    • 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?”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

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