Getting back with an ex?
Updated: Jul 25
Amid speculation on whether it's "Happily Every After" (2nd time around) for Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, I have been asked to comment on getting back with an ex. (You can read the feature in Metro here)
There is no right or wrong answer, but the decision needs to be considered on a number of elements:
- What broke you up and has that changed?
- What will be different this time?
- Can you be explicit with your needs, and what will you do if your ex is not open to them? (relationships are much healthier as a negotiation rather than a game)
- IF something broke you up – are you clear on your “bottom line”
- Be aware of what you DO want – your values, your needs – and communicate them. (and be mindful of what you are or are not willing to compromise in yourself too)
- Recognise your own changes and work on your own self worth so that you know relationships are a bonus not a completion – you are not empty without one!!
- Don’t let the 4 horsemen of decision making affect you:
o Greed: I just don’t want YOU to have him/her
o Speed: I’m getting older
o Laziness: I can’t be bothered
o Haziness: I forgot what s/he was like
(Dale Carnegie Training)
AND Remember, you are worth more than that, alone.
But why might an ex lover or partner have such a hold over us?
Firstly we may need a sense of closure if we have not worked through the break up fully. Perhaps we have questions we need answering - while remembering it is not necessary to rekindle and old flame just to have a conversation.
Further, there is a beauty in Nostalgia. Nostalgia is not “living in the past” – but rather reflecting on it with a sense of affection. It can generate feelings of warmth and comfort, and that’s generally a very good thing. BUT The world has been to a great extent an uncontrollable these past 18 months – and right now, we are seeking things that we can rely on…perhaps an ex gives us a sense of security, especially if we are only thinking about the times that made us smile. Nostalgia can work as a “defence mechanism” which protects us against fear or sadness. Moreover, nostalgia tends to occur when we are going through a transitional period – a bit like leaving a job or a relationship – even if the change was desired…it is almost a way of making sense of the apprehension of the unknown (almost like giving ourselves an escape clause if we don’t like the “new” – that the old “wasn’t THAT bad.” Connecting with the past can also remind us that the present is temporary, especially important if we’re going through a tough time. While research has found that we are more likely to experience nostalgia when we are feeling sad, it can still be used as an aid to positive thinking. If we CHOOSE to actively focus on happy memories, we are more likely to generate more.
BUT Barbara Stern warned us that spending too long in the past can sometimes trap us – a bit like Miss Haversham – so we need to know that we are “just visiting”, perhaps to smile, perhaps to learn, but not to stay.
We also may need to remind ourselves that times were different, we were different, and perhaps the reasons why we chose to move on have not changed.
Sometimes the reasons are a little darker:
Unfortunately, there are some nefarious reasons why we find it hard to let go:
- Sometimes an ex simply wants to assert control…sometimes if one person has seen the other has moved on, it can give them a sense of satisfaction to “pop back” into their lives…sometimes by doing something like “satellite-ing” – or zombie-ing – zombie is when you get a text from them out of the blue; satellite-ing is when they suddenly appear in your network for example liking mutual friend posts.
- Jealousy, Loneliness, Desperation – again – not good reasons to reappear in someone’s life…especially if it looks like they have moved on. These behaviours are often indicative of poor coping skills – BUT that doesn’t mean it is up to YOU to solve their problems. You can simply respond with a “great to hear from you” (or not) and leave it at that…even asking them:
o Why are you contacting me now? If you wish to open a dialogue -asking WHY throws the responsibility back onto the other person to reflect on an explain their reasoning, and if they become defensive, they didn’t necessarily have a neutral or positive reason for their call.
But unfortunately sometimes you do simply need to block them completely so you can heal and move on.
And why do we care so much about other people getting back together?
- We may be empathising as we might have been through similar. For example, Love Island often led to us unconsciously projecting our own relationships onto the contestants leading some to be adored, others vilified. As humans we connect with what we see, and our brains have trouble separating fantasy from reality when it comes to experiencing emotions. We can get as invested in celebrities as our own relationships because empathy often means we simply experience the emotional reaction to their story without fully appreciating that it is not related to us personally. (This can actually cause problems if we have been through what we are seeing (or think we are seeing), especially if it was a negative experience for us. If we have not worked through our specific experience, understood our role in what happened (even if we were not to blame), any residual anger or negative emotional memory can be unconsciously or otherwise directed onto the person we see as behaving in the manner that hurt us. This is damaging to both ourselves and the object of our projections.))
- We love the idea that “true love finds a way”. This is the playbook of rom-coms and fairy-tales - couple meet and are attracted, circumstances/life/status (add barrier here) keeps or tears them apart – their feelings overcome all obstacles. Further, many people in a relationship are likely to have experienced one or more people not rooting for them, rooting for Ben and J-Lo gives us a sense of “if they can make it, so can we”. This is likely to be heightened if we find a sense of identification with the people involved themselves.
- Any form of “cliff hanger” is a draw – the soap-opera staple, and seeing a rekindling of a relationship gives us a sense of closure – a feeling of “their story is complete”…we don’t think beyond “happy ever after”…until the next media story.
- Watching relationships that work out gives us hope. If we like celebrities, or even characters in a movie, we tend to invest our time and emotion into them and when they are happy we are happy. This makes us feel good – and perhaps we need to feel good right now!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt