Is it relationship sanity to date the same Ex over again, but expect new results? Alison and Jay of Babble of the Sexes consider the relationship mulligan.
After a breakup, it’s not uncommon to be angry and resentful. You might easily find yourself singing along to Taylor Swift’s anthem, “We are never getting back together.” We put up walls in hopes we will not be hurt again when we say the word never. Fool me once, shame on you, and all that.
But what happens when the person you are no longer with asks for a mulligan? Does it ever make sense to try again?
Take that mulligan
I’m not much of a golfer, but I think there are practical reasons to consider reconciliation when it is safe to do so. I’m also not much of a cook, but if a recipe goes badly the first time, I don’t always scrap it entirely. I look at it and try to determine what went wrong and how could I fix it the next time. People are a lot more complicated than a cake that is too dry or burnt biscuits. That being said, baking is basically chemistry, and like relationships, chemistry it’s about finding the right formula for success.
Formulae are also common in math. Algebra is about solving for an unknown variable. Reconciliation has its mysteries, and you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out, but at least it’s not entirely unknown. You know the value of what you have to work with and that can make all the difference. It’s about familiarity, which as we know, can also breed contempt.
It’s easy in a relationship to fall into the habit to taking one another for granted. Reconciliation can be a time to examine someone with whom we are already familiar with fresh eyes. Distance and separation can bring new perspective to old problems.
A breakup can be a time out to take stock and reevaluate our assumptions about one another.
Old love, new experiences
It’s an assumption that it will always be the same. The definition of insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Getting back together can be about starting over and not making those same mistakes again. You have the benefit of experience. You know what doesn’t work, and now you can take the time to figure out what does. Re-reading the same chapter will get you nowhere because it has nothing new to say. When you embark on a new relationship with an old love, you hold the pen together to write a new love story.
Starting over together isn’t a good idea for everyone. In situations where reconciliation poses a risk to the health and safety of yourself and children, a reunion should not be romanticized. There are good reasons why some people should not be together. These people should sing along with Taylor and never, ever, ever get back together.
For others, it might be worth considering if it is time to expand musical horizons and sing a new song with an old duet partner.
Alison, I agree that the end isn’t always the end. I know some therapists believe that breaks in serious relationships are a death knell. I don’t agree.
I believe sometimes a break, even a prolonged one, is just what is needed.
Time apart can allow for emotions to cool. It may be that leaving the pressure of the relationship is necessary to allow someone to become less entrenched and able to see new perspectives. It may be that new experiences are the catalyst for growth.
Whatever the reason, I’ve seen many relationships part and come back together successfully. I know couples that have even divorced, remarried, and are happier than ever.
Of course, being a therapist I can’t let it go at that. If a relationship didn’t work before, there needs to be something different.
So before trying to jumpstart an old relationship, ask yourself some questions.
Am I remembering this person in a balanced way?
It isn’t unusual that as time goes by we forget much of the bad and remember more of the good. That can be a useful thing for helping us forgive and move beyond bad experiences.
It can also work against us if we make decisions without honestly remembering why things ended. It isn’t likely to work if you aren’t honest with yourself about the good and the bad.
Do I really want the person back or do I want what I thought I had?
We enter relationships with hopes and dreams. As the relationship develops we create a picture of what we believe it is and where it is going. Those ideas can be powerful. And sometimes they are hard to let go of.
Unfortunately, we sometimes find that the relationship we thought we had isn’t what we actually have. Someone is hiding something or we make excuses about why bad things are happening. Or our dreams aren’t the same. We want different futures.
Be sure you aren’t holding onto a idea of what you want and trying to reach it with someone that isn’t on the path to the same place.
There are three basic places change can happen—in ourselves, the other person, or circumstances. So what’s different now?
For you and the other person it may be that there has been growth in things like relationship skills, tolerance, maturity. It could be that one or both of you has dealt with an issue like addiction, or depression that was a barrier before.
Maybe values have changed. What one or both of you now want something different that creates more alignment between you. Or maybe it is just a better understanding of varied perspectives, allowing more understanding between you.
And circumstances can change. Maybe you no longer live 1,000 miles apart or one of you has a new career.
Ask yourself those questions. And answer them honestly. Don’t let your desire to be in ANY relationship let you choose to get back into one that didn’t—and isn’t likely to—work.
If things have really changed, give it a go. Beautiful things may happen!
Photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr