Megan Roantree wonders if a relationship can be better after a break.
Breakups can be excruciating, and heartbreak can take a long time to get over. But after putting years into a relationship that had magical moments, it can be tempting to give it another go. So when an ex comes back into your life, is it worth trying again, or should you let the past be the past?
Firstly, it’s important to establish why you want to get back together. Is it because you don’t want to be alone and it’s almost easier to go back to something familiar? Or is it because you know it’s worth working on? If you’ve decided that you’re getting back together for the right reasons it’s crucial that you deal with any issues that led to your last breakup because if not, the issue is likely to come up again.
For example, one issue that causes couples to break up is the tricky subject of cheating. “It most definitely is something you can get passed but it depends on a number of factors,” says relationship counsellor Beth Wallace.
You have to look at why somebody cheats. It depends on how long into the relationship it happens. If they cheat early on in the relationship that spells disaster because the excitement should still be there. If it’s two or three years in, after a significant life change that has caused you to become distant to each other, I do believe that can be repaired with the help of communication and therapy, but both people have to really want it.
“Sometimes one person doesn’t want to get into all the issues, but you really do have to, and each take responsibility for why it’s happened and work it out.”
For some people, taking a few years apart to grow and figure out who you are is exactly what’s needed to make a healthy relationship work. Laura and her boyfriend Dylan got together when they were just 18 and were in a relationship for three years, but broke up because they were busy with work and college and were no longer prioritising seeing one another.
After five years of occasional chat, they began talking about why their relationship didn’t work.“Before we got back together, we did talk about what happened, we just acknowledged that we should have made more time for each other and once we did that we started going for drinks and going to the cinema, and decided to officially give it another go,” Laura says. Laura and Dylan are now both 29 and it’s been four years since they gave their relationship a second chance.
“You can’t forget what happened in the past, but you can always use it to make the future better,” says Laura. “This time around it’s very different, we are older and our priorities are different, we are very supportive of each other and if we have any issues we just discuss it and sort it out and move on.”
Beth says that because the breakup was generally amicable, and neither did something very wrong, this can be a very successful situation. “Taking a break can be really good, especially when you’re so young. It’s quite mature actually to say ‘this isn’t working, let’s take some time apart’. And in a case where nobody really did anything wrong, it can be very easy to try again after a few years apart gaining personal experiences on their own.”
Rushing back into a relationship before issues are truly dealt with can be a major factor in whether or not it’ll be successful the second time around. This is something Eva, 30, experienced firsthand.
After about three years together, Chris got a job that meant he was away a lot. Before that, I was so dependent on him, but when he was away, I just felt a new sense in of independence. I thought I couldn’t function without him but when he came back I was my own person and I liked to do things with other people. We stayed together about 8 months but we were both different people.
Eventually, those differences were too difficult to ignore and they broke up. “It wasn’t a messy breakup, to begin with, but while we were broken up things got messy. He was really angry that I had been with other people and he claimed he wasn’t with anyone. He made me feel really bad and guilty about being with someone while I was single. I wanted to meet up to clear the air about some things, but when we met up we just liked each other’s company again.
“We began chatting a lot more and then a few months after the breakup we gave it another go. I honestly felt like we just got back together because it was easy, and we did miss each other’s company. And four years was a long time so it seemed to make sense at the time.”
However, issues arose that were never dealt with when they were in talks to get back together, which was inevitably the reason it didn’t work out the second time. “When we did get back together, I found out that he had been with someone during our breakup after punishing me for doing the same thing. We never really spoke about it, and I just tried to move on, but I never trusted him again. That’s why we broke up in the end. You couldn’t solve those issues because when you lose trust you lose everything.”
Beth reveals that the length of time you spend apart can actually have a huge impact on your chance of success the second time around.
Research shows that if you get back together after only four or six months, you have less likelihood of success because the motivation for getting back together is more likely to be because you’re lonely, because you’re afraid you won’t get anyone else, it’s the comfort of an old jumper.
So it can work, but it very much depends on why the couple broke up, the quality of the relationship and even the quality of the breakup. “If it’s reasonably amicable between you, I think you need to give it at least a year before you give it another go. If you are looking at wanting to be back together again, this would increase the likelihood of success. I would be wary of couples who break up with a view to get back together already in mind because then, you’re not actually single, because you’re looking forward in time to when you’ll be back together, and that impacts the shape of singlehood.”
If you’re looking at revisiting a past relationship, it’s crucial to analyse whether you’re doing it for the right reasons. “I think a really good question you should ask is what am I doing this for? What do I want out of this?” says Beth. “You have to ask yourself those questions rather than just going along with it. Stop and pause and ask, am I just in this because I don’t want to be alone, or do I really love this person and feel that we can create a solid, happy life together? That requires honesty – with your other half yes, but most importantly, with yourself.”