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Reconnecting With an Ex

What are the challenges?

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

You and a past intimate partner have met again and both of you realize that you still have feelings for each other. You realize that you may have left the relationship prematurely and are considering giving it another chance.

What can you do to better ensure you can make it work this time around?

Authentic and open answers to the following 10 questions can create the explorative dialogue you’ll need. As you process the answers together, you will gain the data you need to better predict the future.

1. How and Why Did the Relationship End?

Some relationships slowly unravel over time as the partners share less and less quality time with each other, and invest more in outside interests. At times, multiple crises that neither partner could have predicted can rob the relationship of its crucial resources, leaving too little for the couple to feed upon. Revisiting those choices and how you would handle it differently this time are crucial decisions.

2. Which Partner Left and for What Reasons?

Very few relationships have mutually agreed-upon endings. More often, one partner decides to end the relationship, leaving feelings of abandonment, grief, and loneliness in the other. As the partner who exited, you may have felt guilt and sorrow for hurting the other and now must revisit that pain. As the partner left behind, you must now look at how you handled that distress. Did you try to hold on? Did you want to punish? Were you left feeling worthless? To have a chance for a successful reconciliation, both of you will need to own what and why you did what you did.

3. How Long Did the Relationship Last?

A short-term, passionate relationship that ends rapidly often leaves the abandoned partner confused and broken, especially if unexpected. A longer, more committed relationship has more mutual investments and was probably harder to untangle. If you are the one left behind, you may have leaned on others who might not welcome that ex-partner back with open arms.

4. What Was the Collateral Damage?

Especially in longer-term relationships, many other people are part of the relationship. Friends, family, children, memories, shared investments, relocations away from loved ones, or lost individual dreams are now the innocent and powerless victims of the relationship’s failure. These damaged relationships must now also be healed by both of you.

5. How Was Each Partner Affected Both Short- and Long-Term?

People most often have histories from prior relationships that bleed into their current ones. If one of you has been traumatized by prior losses or had to disconnect from committing too quickly, your ex may be wracked with doubt about your future behavior. Either one or both of you may have finally moved on and tried to do better with other partners, but the pain of your past relationship will emerge despite what you may have learned from others.

6. Were There Warnings?

An unexpected and unpredictable loss is far more painful to experience for anyone, just as a tragic and rapid death is more deleterious than a longer time to say goodbye. If you were constantly fighting, invalidating, blaming, defending, or issuing continuing threats of leaving, you will have more understanding of why the relationship finally died. Too often, one of you may have already started a relationship with someone else. If that new relationship flowers right away, your ex-partner may feel humiliated and trust will be harder to achieve.

7. Was There Still Love and Connection When the Relationship Ended?

Some relationships end prematurely for the wrong reasons. The partners are torn from each other without understanding, exploration, or commitment to work through what may seem like an irresolvable set of experiences. If one or both of you ran before trying harder to make the relationship work, you may have been unable to stop thinking about that other person. You have tried unsuccessfully to find that connection in other relationships but never have been able to. You finally realize that your ex was the one and you just didn’t stay long enough to realize it. Feelings of “coming home” predict a much better second time around.

8. What Anger, Resentment, Disappointment, and Disillusionment Have Yet to Be Aired?

No matter how much you may want to reconnect, you must be willing to explore why you broke up. That is hard to do when you only want to see the good. But there were reasons—even if misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions—or specific actions that tore you from each other As love reemerges, so will the feelings that once destroyed it. You have to be willing to face those unresolved experiences and plan how to do things differently in the future. Both of you must look at your individual contributions and own them, showing each other why those heartaches will not happen again.

9. How Have Either of You Changed?

Relationship failures can make people more likely to repeat the same mistakes if they haven’t taken accountability for who they have been and worked on reshaping their relationship behavior. They must now be able to communicate to each other how those changes have occurred and why they will hold. A relationship that failed in the past is doomed to fail again if both of you have not taken accountability for what you did wrong in the past.

10. Can Things Be Different Going Forward?

This question is the crucial core of the potential success of a reunited couple’s relationship. What do you now want in a relationship with each other? What are you bringing to the table that could affect the future of your new relationship? Why were you unable to work things out before and what do you both need to do to ensure you do not repeat prior mistakes? What are your shared dreams of the kind of relationship you both want? What will you need to do differently this time to make sure it works?

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