You might have heard the line, “An ex is an ex for a reason.” Which is technically true. Never has a breakup occurred without some sort of rift, no matter how maturely you’ve worked through it since then.
However, sometimes the reason your ex is an ex is entirely fixable. Maybe the timing was off, one of you needed to grow, or you needed perspective on the relationship—but overall, the two of you go together like peanut b*tter and jelly, mac and cheese, or Tom and Gisele. (Well, maybe.)
If those intense miss-your-ex vibes have started to creep into your brain, hold up a second before acting on those feelings. We asked a couples experts to break down the million-dollar question: When might getting back together with an ex actually work?
1. Your Timing Was Off
So cliche, yes, but timing is everything. Sometimes a person needs to hit some personal growth milestones, transition their career or location, or date around before they can ‘get there,’ so to speak.
“I had a friend who dated a guy for a couple months and he ended up disappearing on her. She was totally confused and hurt,” says dating coach Neely Steinberg, author of Skin in the Game. “A year or so later he popped back up again, but this time around he was ready and in a better place in his life to devote his time, energy, and heart to a relationship. They are married with two kids.”
Beware, though: Steinberg says a fair amount of time needs to pass for this reason to be legit. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
2. You Were Emotionally Distracted When You Met
Whether you met while you were with another guy, or you were fresh out of a different relationship, you have to heal from a breakup before you can pursue a new beginning.
“You might have thought you were ready when you finally came together,” says dating coach Laurel House, author of Screwing the Rules. “But sometimes you’re emotionally tied to an unhealthy ex and not yet ready to open your heart to someone else—even if your ex was an a*s and the guy in front of you was pretty great.”
3. The Breakup Gave You a New Perspective
You thought meeting a new guy would be the key to your happiness. (Eureka!) But alas, such has not been the case, and you’re starting to seriously miss what your ex added to your life.
“It can work if you’ve had a chance to step away and perhaps look more objectively at the relationship, as opposed to trying to do that when you’re in the middle of it—very difficult,” Steinberg says. “You may have tried dating other people and, through that process, have had epiphanies about your previous relationship.”
In this case, absence may make the heart grow fonder…in a good, healthy way.
4. Your Priorities Were Off Balance
There are wants and there are needs. Needs are the items on your checklist you cannot live without, whereas wants are wish-list items.
“Maybe you confused what you wanted—hot guy, lots of money, tons of fun—with what you needed, which is someone emotionally and financially supportive, nurturing, understanding,” House says. “Basically, your priorities were off.”
For instance, your ex’s perpetual spontaneity or unconventional career path may not a dealbreaker, but a difference. If your state of mind has evolved, and overall your ex made you really happy (and there weren’t other ticking bombs), the relationship may be worth rekindling.
5. You Were on a Strict Timeline
Life doesn’t happen in a series of A-B-C steps just because you want it to work that way. There’s also your timeline, his timeline, and then your couple timeline—and yours doesn’t get to win out.
“Perhaps you had a timeframe with certain critical, self-imposed, time-sensitive components in place, like proposal, marriage, and kids,” House says. “He wasn’t ready to move at your speed, so you left to find someone else who was on your schedule.”
Except, no one compares to your ex, and you now believe that you left the guy who could have been The One. If you had a great relationship, and were possibly being unreasonable about something, take some time to consider whether you both ultimately want the same things—and are able to start fresh.
If you’ve decided that Round 2 with an ex is worth it, just make sure to approach the relationship with the right mindset.
House says that one partner leaving the other creates an environment of distrust, which will manifest itself in other issues “like a lack of emotional availability, coldness, a disinterest in what makes you happy, and the little niceties things that help maintain a relationship,” she explains. “Go down before you go up. Fix that problem before building your relationship back up. Yes, it might feel like you are taking 10 steps back in order to move one step forward, but that’s the healthy way to do it.”
This involves some honest talk about what went wrong the first time, why one person left, and how things will be different the second time.
“If you’ve spent some time apart and had time to think about what the issues within you and within the relationship that were creating problems, and you are still convinced in your heart that this is the right guy for you, I think it could certainly be worth it to try a second time,” says Steinberg. “Just be ready to tackle those issues openly, honestly, and compassionately.”