It's the plot of basically every romantic comedy, country song, and sugar-free gum commercial: The one that got away. Whether or not you did the dumping or were the dumpee, saying goodbye to the person you're pretty sure was your soul mate is up there with forgetting it was picture day in middle school. It majorly blows.
And chances are, you've probably thought about trying to rekindle things too. But instead of drunk texting your ex or sending them all the gifts from "The 12 Days of Christmas" like in that episode of The Office, there are a few things you might wanna consider before trying to win your former flame back.
This is why we asked a whole bunch of relationship experts what you need to consider if you're thinking about "catching up" with the person whose name is in your phone as "Do Not Text." Read carefully, please.
1. Do some serious soul searching.
Before you decide you’re going to stand outside your ex’s window with a boombox, licensed marriage and family therapist Payal Patel says it’s a good idea to spend some time reflecting on your relationship first.
“Unfortunately, people don't often take time to focus on the things they did or didn't like about themselves and their partner in the relationship,” she explains. “I would reflect on why things would work this time, as well as what’s different about you or them that would potentially make this reconciliation work differently.”
Because sorry, but in a lot of cases, someone’s your ex for a reason, says sex educator and author of Building Open Relationships, Liz Powell, PsyD. “Unless something significant has changed, there's no reason to think things would be better now.
However, if things have significantly changed—you've gotten a lot older, you've worked through your baggage, etc.—then there's some chance it could work,” they explain. “Either way, I think it's worth taking some time to really look at why things ended and whether anything has actually changed to make things different now.”
2. Be realistic.
After taking a long look at why your relationship ended and whether or not things are any different now, Dr. Liz says to get real about what your current feelings mean. It’s natural to still have some lingering love for your ex, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to rebuild something.
“Our desire to reach out to an ex is often about a wish for an idealized, sentimental version of the relationship more than because the relationship could actually work better in the present,” says Dr. Liz. “I think we can also get lost in our own ideas of what would be good or beneficial and lose track of whether our ex would even want to hear from us.”
Dr. Liz suggests asking yourself why the relationship ended, why things would be better now, and how hearing from you might affect your ex. Reaching out for no clear reason might cause more pain or reopen wounds that have already started to heal.
3. Consider getting professional help.
Everyone can benefit from therapy. If you're experiencing a breakup or wondering whether or not you should try to rekindle something with an old flame, psychologist Mariana Bockarova, PhD, who teaches relationship psychology at the University of Toronto, says this is the perfect time to call in the pros.
Oftentimes when we think back to relationships, we do so with rose-colored glasses on and aren't actually viewing the past from an objective angle. A therapist can help you focus on all aspects of the relationship—and not just the ooey-gooey picture-perfect ones—to help you decide whether or not it's worth reaching out again.
And FWIW, if your ex is in a relationship, I'll save you some time and money and let you know the answer is a resounding "no, you should not try to get them back."
4. Give your (ex)partner actual space.
This one will probably be harder if you were the one broken up with, but trust, it’s important. If you can’t respect your ex-partner’s basic wishes of needing some space, you’re not off to a good start in making them want to date you again.
Of course, if you’re trying to get back together, you will want to reach out eventually—but there’s no concrete amount of time to wait, says Dr. Bockarova. A good rule of thumb: Break the silence when you feel more clarity about the relationship.
This means if you were broken up with and have been blaming yourself for the split, only reinstate contact when you stop feeling that way. If you did the breaking up, shoot a text only when you’re certain that you miss your ex for the right reasons, rather than out of boredom or guilt.
5. Don’t think of it as a competition.
“I would avoid the mindset of ‘winning over anyone,’” says Dr. Bockarova. In a world that looks at dating culture as a “challenge” anyway, it’s quite unhealthy to try to re-win your ex over by thinking of it in the same way you’d think about a football game—where there’s one clear winner and one loser.
Seeing a reconciliation as anything other than a combination of mutual growth and effort is a pretty unhealthy approach, confirms Dr. Bockarova, and it probs signifies that you shouldn’t be getting back together in the first place.
6. Hold back on the bad-mouthing.
Obviously, breakups feel shitty. It’s only natural (and needed) to have a vent session with your closest BFFs. You can, however, be hurt without acting vindictive—especially if your ex is someone you already think you might want to get back together with.
“Put yourself in your ex’s shoes,” Dr. Bockarova says. “Would you appreciate if someone you cared about spoke badly about you to all of your friends, [sent you] an avalanche of angry messages, or revealed secrets you had told them in a vulnerable state?” If you ever want to open the door to dating each other again, spreading weird rumors or sending mean-spirited texts won’t do you any favors.
Also, it’s just good practice for all breakups, regardless of your future dating intentions. It’s never good to divulge super-personal gossip about an ex—plus, it won’t actually make you feel better.
7. Change your life before seeing if your ex fits into it.
In your time apart, you might feel a little lonelier than you used to, especially when you’re making weekend plans or finding activities to fill up a rainy Tuesday night.
But learning to like yourself just as much when you’re alone is arguably the most crucial part of this process. Dr. Bockarova suggests investing in new friendships and hobbies and filling up your life with as much joy as possible, even if you’re still down about the breakup.
Once you’ve faced your fear of being partnerless, then and only then can you know if you genuinely want your relationship back. “If you only miss your ex when you feel lonely or when you compare your life to those of friends in relationships but not in moments when you feel happy and confident, it won’t make for a very fulfilling relationship down the line,” Dr. Bockarova says.
8. Assess if your issues are actually fixable.
Okay, so you’re sure you miss your ex a lot and do want them back. But there’s more to it than that: Were your reasons for breaking up actually mendable?
“Problems that are tangible are easily fixed,” Dr. Bockarova says. “If you broke up because a job took a partner into a new city and long-distance was difficult, then the problem may be fixed if one or both partners are willing to make a sacrifice.”
But if you had larger disagreements about your values or plans for the future (such as whether to have kids or where you ultimately want to live), you’ll most likely be just as incompatible down the line. And sorry to say, you might find yourselves in the same position as before.
9. Don’t overthink how you approach them.
Once you’ve decided that trying to get back together feels right and you’re pretty sure they’re not dating anyone else, it’s time to open up the convo. It’ll probably feel a little awkward, but the main thing to remember is to do what feels right for the relationship.
For long-term partnerships, Dr. Bockarova suggests being more up-front and honest about missing the person and hoping to meet with them. For shorter-term relationships or fizzled-out dates, she recommends keeping it simple and just asking them if they’re free to hang out.
10. Keep the actual meetup spot casual.
Although your old go-to bar with the dimly lit candles and velvet booths feels hella familiar and romantic, it’s probably not the best bet for this situation. Instead, Dr. Bockarova suggests something like an afternoon coffee so “there aren’t high expectations on the meetup and your partner doesn’t feel pressured into staying too long if they feel uncomfortable.” Plus, an open-ended, sober daytime hang lets you be clearheaded and honest about how you feel without any pressure.
11. Address the elephant(s) in the room first.
You may very well be tempted to flatter your ex a bunch to warm them up, but unless they’re totally oblivious, they already know what’s up. Buttering them up comes off as disingenuous, even if it’s not your intention.
“If there are any issues that need clarification or anything you’d like to apologize to your partner for, do that early on,” says Dr. Bockarova. “Sort out your issues so that your partner can tell you’ve given this some thought and it isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision to reenter into a relationship.”
12. End things on some great memories.
Okay, so you’ve sufficiently covered everything you’ve reflected on in your time apart. You’ve built a case for getting back together, and your ex has given their verdict. Maybe they’re enthusiastically into it—or maybe they’re very firmly against. Either way, you should reflect on the best parts of your relationship.
“You always want to end this conversation on a positive note—a memory you’ll always cherish or maybe why you are glad your partner entered into your life,” says Dr. Bockarova. If you love your ex enough to want to be with them again, you should try to look at your past with zero regrets, regardless of the final outcome.
13. If you do get back together, really do the work.
This goes back to the no “winning them over” thing. If you decide to give it another go, know that it’s not an overnight process.
“Although it will take some work to rebuild trust, this is your opportunity to form an even deeper bond,” Dr. Bockarova says. “But that can only be if you speak up to your partner about what you like and dislike, when you feel hurt and when you feel happy, and how you’d like to be treated.”
The point is, as fated and passionate as getting back together can feel, there were still reasons you broke up in the first place, and now’s the time to tackle them. But hey, when you’re with the person you want to be with, you already know you’re down to try again.