Should You Take Him Back?

It's happened to everyone at one point or another: The ex you're missing so much suddenly wants to get back in touch. Here's how to handle the shock—and decide what's the best move for you.

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

ou’ve cried a river, taken out stock in Ben & Jerry’s, put away the mementos. And then just when you think you’re starting to reclaim your life, you get the text.

I miss you. Can we talk?

Now what? If this guy really meant something to you, your heart probably did a little flip before reality
What if he IS the one and now you two have a real shot?
set in. The bottom line is you broke up. And while you might desperately have wished to hear those words for weeks, months or even years, running straight back into an ex’s arms without a little forethought may be a risky proposition for your love life.

But what if he IS the one and now you two have a real shot? Well, that is precisely the kind of thing you have to think about prior to responding. Because along with the chance for a fairy-tale happy ending there is also the very real possibility of getting hurt all over again if you don’t realistically assess the situation before seeing him (especially because it’s harder to think clearly whilst looking into the eyes of someone you once loved — and may still love). Of course, no matter what you ultimately decide, you will be taking a chance. So your best bet is to think things through and try to make the best decision for your unique situation. To help you figure it out, however, ask yourself the following questions, because while everything in you may be screaming “Yes! I want him back!” the heart-smart proceed with caution.

Why did you break up in the first place?
There are some situations in which you should never consider reconciliation. For example, was there abuse involved? Or is there a serious addiction that hasn’t been addressed? These are very difficult if not dangerous issues that must be addressed outside of a relationship… not while you’re in the throes of one. If you had the strength to extricate yourself from a relationship that was potentially deleterious to your own well-being, why would you willingly put yourself back there again?

If infidelity was to blame for the breakup, you will have to decide if this is something you can realistically get past. “If your guy cheated and you take him back, are you both prepared to make trust the White Elephant in the room and live with it? At least for a while, counted in years?” says Joel Block, Ph.D., co-author of Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Save Your Relationship…Without Leaving Your Bedroom. “It is eyes wide open, taking the long view and being honest with yourself regarding what you are up for handling.”

On the other hand, if in looking back you realize that you broke up because both of you ran up against some issue or problem which you just couldn’t get past at the time – like fear of deeper commitment, some transitional life crisis, or even a fight that you both left unfinished – then it might be worth trying again if with the benefit of some time, you have had growth or insights about those problems. “All couples have disagreements, even fights, and that is not necessarily a sign of a bad relationship,” says Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and author of Secrets You Keep From Yourself. “What matters is how you get past disagreements. If you and your ex have a pattern of being able to work through things, that bodes well for the future. If not, better to move on.”

What was my part in this breakup? Why would I want him back?
Yes, maybe he screwed up. Big time. But remember, there are two parties in a relationship. Before you even think about reconciliation, you need to consider what you contributed to the breakup as well and how you view it now. “If you are blaming your ex — even though he may have acted badly — but not looking to see if you had any part in this, a reconciliation isn’t as likely to be successful,” says Neuharth. “Own your part.”

This doesn’t mean assigning self-blame for the relationship’s demise, but it does mean being honest with yourself about what you want as well. Perhaps the relationship came to an end precisely because you realized that you two were not compatible on some level or that there were characteristics you couldn’t live with. “You deserve a great relationship, and part of having a great relationship is picking the right partner,” says Neuharth. “Make sure there are far more green lights than red flags, especially on important issues like shared communication styles, honesty, key values and chemistry.”

Am I missing him or being in a relationship?
Sometimes you undoubtedly feel lost while missing an ex…but is it really the guy you are
“Visualize the future—not just the present.”
missing or the benefits of being part of a couple? That is a loss as well…one from which it’s often hard to shift status. Going from coupledom back to singlehood can make a gal feel even more alone in the big, bad world of dating. But if you are mostly missing the relationship – having a partner, having someone to go to movies with on weekends, having someone to talk with, sleep with, play with — remember that that can be created with anyone. “It may take time and you may feel lonely, but online-dating sites are full of people looking to connect!” says Neuharth. “You can have a new relationship that supplies all those things, and you can do it with someone who is a better match for you than your ex, particularly if there were problems with you and your ex that are not negotiable.”

Also keep in mind that maintaining your newly single status opens up the possibility of finding Mr. Right, whereas jumping back into a relationship with Mr. Wrong will only preclude you from finding a more suitable someone sooner. “If your reasons for considering getting back together are about abject loneliness and desperation, then you would be much better off getting a puppy,” says Block.

What questions do I want to ask him when we speak?
Probably the most important thing you need to find out from an ex trying to win you back is “Why now?” What is it that has prompted him to come back and seek your forgiveness at this juncture? If he was the dumper, you will want to make sure you really understand why he did it and why he wants you back. “If he left you because he got scared and is coming back because he loves you, that is one thing…then you can talk about why he got scared, and what he will do to make sure he can push through his fears in the future,” says Neuharth.

Other things to consider: Why does he want to reconcile? What has he learned from this breakup? What is different this time? Why should you take him back? Is he just lonely and hasn’t found a better replacement, or is it really you that he’s missing? “If he left because he got bored, met someone else or stopped being into you, those things will almost surely recur,” says Neuharth. “Tell him no deal — and that you are moving on to find a great relationship and he had his chance.”

What has changed now that will make things work out when they didn’t before?
To assess this question, you must carefully think about your prior relationship and what precipitated the breakup. (If it weren’t a serious issue, you wouldn’t have ended things, right?)

Did you have clashing desires, needs or temperaments? Did you get bored? Did you bring out the best and the worst in each other, or make each other feel anxious? Did one or both of you actively dislike some of your partner’s recurrent behavior? Had you discussed this previously and tried to correct it? If you did and it didn’t change, why do you think it will be different now?

“I’ve seen more than a few couples who say, well, we broke up before, but when we got back together, we went right back to the way things were,” says Neuharth. “You broke up for a reason, and if it was a good reason, the last thing you want is the old status quo.” In other words, if you don’t address the issues you had when you were together and see how they might have changed or how you can work on them, your shot at success will be minimal.

This brings up the long-term view as well. “When making any important decision, it is essential to visualize the future — not just the present,” says Block. “How will it be living with a recovering addict after the rehab experience wears off and you start hiding your wallet?” In other words, while evidence of change might be in front of you at this moment, take time to think how you’ll feel down the line if this does turn into something serious. You need to make decisions for your future life, not just what feels good and comfy right now.

What steps would I want to see taken if we were to try again?
Slow and steady wins this race! There is no such thing as taking a reconciliation too slowly. “Failed reconciliations are generally either those that rush, or those in which one person just cannot get past the mistrust or hurt from the earlier breakup,” says Neuharth. “You want to see steady progress. There may be setbacks or bumps in the road, but you want to be sure you’re going in the right direction this time.”

While the temptation may be high, try not to jump straight back into a sexual relationship, either. Great sex can lead to better communication, or it can serve as a blindfold for the problems that were there before (which will not go away just because you’re passionately attracted in bed). It’s important for you to discuss how and when you will reestablish sexuality in your relationship.

If you’re both open to it, some counseling might be a wise idea. It’s also important not to go from barely seeing each other to spending every waking minute together again. Approach it like you’re getting to know each other all over…only this time with the benefit of already knowing your partner’s strengths and foibles.

Be open to making a plan together. If you’re truly going to be a duo, then you need to work at reconciliation like a chemistry project…with both partners working toward the same goal.

And always, always listen to that little voice. Because the decision to take him back or not lies within you, and intuition is frequently the determinant factor.

Finally, realize that if you open your arms again, he’ll be lucky to get you back.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann, author of The Real Reasons Men Commit: Why He Will — or Won’t — Love, Honor and Marry You, is a writer and a performer. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Marie Claire, Health and other publications.
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