Love and Relationships

Should I get back with my ex? Here’s how to decide, according to a therapist

Steph Arnaldo

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Should I get back with my ex? Here’s how to decide, according to a therapist


Should you go after your TOTGA or let the flame die down for good? A relationship therapist shares her advice on how to know, and what to do about it.

MANILA, Philippines – “I miss him.” “I’ve always loved her.” “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be.”

Too familiar with these post breakup clichés? Maybe you’re currently in a TOTGA pickle – reminiscing about better days with your ex-partner, or getting muling ibalik teasing from your friends. Maybe an ex-flame has been knocking on your door lately, or you’re experiencing intense regret after a recent breakup.

In the midst of conflicting emotions and a yearning for comfort and familiarity, you might be asking yourself: Should I get back with my ex?

The truth is that there’s no black and white answer. Counseling psychologist and relationship therapist Lissy Ann Puno, author of Couple Goals and Stay Connected, told Rappler that it is important to first distinguish if the breakup was a rational one. If you broke up amid heightened emotions, intense stress, and without giving it serious thought, then it could’ve been done in a moment of weakness.

First, validate the reasons for your break-up

If otherwise, there may have been good enough reasons to break up. According to Lissy, a healthy and loving relationship should have the three pillars of deeper commitment: attraction for each other, bringing out the best in each other, and wanting the same things in life to achieve in the future. When several factors get in the way of the aforementioned three, those are usually the common reasons for breaking up. Lissy lists them down for us:

I. Attraction for each other

  • Lack of interest and time for one another
  • Quality of physical affection and sexual intimacy
  • Infidelity
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of respect
  • Lack of common courtesies
  • Falling out of love
  • Invalidation
  • Lack of appreciation

II. Bringing out the best in each other

  • Toxic behavior
  • Conflict, frustration and anger
  • Unsupportive
  • Negative attitude
  • Abusive behavior (verbal, emotional, physical, psychological)
  • Substance dependency

III. Wanting the same things in life to achieve in the future

  • Different expectations
  • Solo socializing
  • Individualistic attitudes
  • Not wanting children
  • Commitment phobia
  • Financial incompatibility

Other reasons could include different expectations on what the relationship can offer or how their needs will be met, a lack of relational skills and communication leading to conflict and argument, a lack of understanding and practice of what it means to be in a relationship, an imbalance in the “give and take” dance, lack of commitment, and having a shallow “getting to know you period” that reveals later on that you didn’t know the “real person” in depth.

Never in a million years?

The decision to get back with an ex is ultimately up to you. Which negotiables are you willing to forgive or look past?

Was it the right person, wrong time? Are the circumstances better now? Maybe you were both too immature and naive at the time, the timing was off, or the external circumstances didn’t match. These reasons make the possibility of getting back together more valid. However, Lissy believes that there are certain relationship non-negotiables that should not be overlooked when considering to get back with an ex.

First, make a personal list of your negotiable and non-negotiables in a relationship. If there is more of the latter than the former, then don’t make the same mistake and go back! Here are some of Lissy’s non-negos:

  • If you don’t feel loved or that they are into you
  • If they don’t bring out the best in you
  • If you don’t want the same things in life (marriage, children, migration, etc.)
  • If you don’t feel good about yourself in the relationship

On the flip side, if your former relationship was predominantly enjoyable, loving, and fulfilling, and if you felt safe (physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically), then that’s a good sign.

Lissy said that getting to know yourself first before getting into a relationship is crucial – you need to know what you will and won’t compromise on.

“Know your temperament and know what works best for you. If it’s in your negotiable list then it can be forgivable. It’s a balance of making a relationship work and not compromising on things that are important to you,” she said.

Why the temptation?

You think you’re “completely over it,” and suddenly you’re missing your ex. Why do people end up thinking about their ex or even reaching out? Lissy said that the feeling of loneliness is a common reason, followed by the dependency on certain daily routines, a doubt in their decision, a regret of impulsiveness, and the feeling of unfinished business; having things that they feel they need to say.

“You could be missing the familiarity, or having difficulty in getting back into the dating scene. The fear of the lack of a potential partner is also real,” she said. More practical reasons can also come into play, such as wanting to get material things returned, the settling of financial responsibilities, or regretting the time that has been invested in the relationship, even if most of it wasn’t a good time.

Can getting back with an ex work?

Yes it could, Lissy said, as long as there is a “sincere reflection on what the relationship needs and a willingness to make some changes that you feel will make a difference in the quality of the relationship moving forward.” There needs to be a greater awareness of the potential of the individual selves and both as a couple.

“There are many success and failed stories. Everyone deserves second chances if it is coming from a place of awareness, growth and the sincere intentions to change,” Lissy said.

However, you can’t go back to the same relationship. Since the “getting back” period is a time to “make it right” and intentionally “make it work,” the question is now: What will you both do differently?

Lissy shares a story of two high school sweethearts who, at the time, “didn’t really know their adult selves yet.”

“The relationship was in a long distance arrangement. They grew apart and felt they didn’t want the same things in life. They had a lot of arguments in trying to connect virtually or in the brief visits they had. They broke up,” she said.

There were certain needs they were asking from each other, like a a willingness to be in the same city and job stability for another, and a gesture that the relationship would be their priority.

“Both worked on these things and made it work. They felt reassured that the other was willing to at least make some changes to see if they could value each other once again,” Lissy said. It’s all about an “informed” second chance – trying again, but with newfound realizations and insights in tow, and the openness to learn and compromise moving forward.

Make sure

Before you decide on giving it another go, Lissy said you must first ask yourself and each other:

  • Why are you getting back together? Are these reasons valid?
  • What has changed since the breakup?
  • What have you done about the reasons for the first breakup?
  • What will you do differently that you think will make it work this time?

Since there is a greater pressure for it to work a second time around, there are risks to the decision. “The risk is getting hurt and disappointed once more and going through the lengthy recovery process once more. Experiencing self-doubt, self-blame, and unworthiness that can affect other aspects of life,” Lissy said.

However, it could also mean you get to keep a relationship that actually had potential. “You grow as a person in a relationship if you are willing to make a change that was lacking in the relationship in the first place,” Lissy said.

Just remember that it’s not a game, Lissy said. Before deciding, you have to “grow in your own emotional maturity,” she stressed, in order not to play with anyone’s feelings (including your own).

“Understand yourself and what you want. Be aware of what you can offer a relationship. And lastly, understand the world of your partner will always be different from yours.”

Don’t expect perfection this time around, but always aim for progress. It’s a decision not be taken lightly, but with proper consideration and reflection, it’s could be a choice that could greatly affect your life – hopefully, for the better. –

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.