Is getting back together with an old flame a new chance at happiness or a recipe for disaster? Thandanani Mhlanga finds out.
Whether it’s Carrie and Big’s epic love story on Sex and The City or Adele’s sad phone call on ‘Hello’, former loves make for riveting plots and lyrics. Truth is, most of us can relate to feelings of anger, regret or longing that the mere mention of an ex’s name can elicit. These feelings can even lead you to consider reconciling with them in the hopes of finding true happiness the second time around. But what are the chances?
WHEN IT CAN WORK
‘If you were compatible and an external circumstance, situation or obstacle that had been destroying your relationship has been removed, it’s worth giving it another go,’ says relationship develop-ment coach and expert Shelley Lewin. But both of you must take responsibility for changing the original deal-breaker.
There are often serious, valid reasons for the breakdown of a relationship and returning to one without investigating those reasons can spell disaster.
WHEN IT WON’T
Being outside a relationship can be challenging for some, so much so that they might consider returning to a bad one. When you’re newly single, lots of date nights, couples trips and shared dinners fall away and can often end up leaving a gap filled by loneliness. During this transitional phase, some singles may struggle to take on the challenge of building a new social life, which may make getting back with an ex all the more tempting.
‘Getting back together because you are lonely and would rather be with anyone than alone is the worst reason,’ says Shelley. ‘All of the problems that ended the relationship will remain.’
There’s a tiny little part of all of us that wishes an ex would pine after we have left their lives and seeing the opposite can lead to irrational jealousy and ideas about getting them back.
‘Wanting someone back because you don’t want to see them with someone else is a childlike response,’ explains Shelley. ‘It equates to having a tantrum because someone took your toys away – even though you didn’t want to play with them anymore.’
Though there’s nothing wrong with feeling slightly jealous, acting on it is a completely different story. ‘All feelings are valid, but not all behaviours are,’ says Shelley. She advises keeping busy and distracting yourself instead. ‘Stop exposing yourself to scenes of your ex with their new partner. Anticipate their whereabouts and avoid them.’
Break-ups that are caused by one party cheating can be the most harrowing to endure because they can lead to anger, sorrow and confusion and usually deal a devastating blow to the ego. Can a relationship recover from such a knock? Shelley believes so.
‘Often, an affair is just a symptom of a troubled relationship, but instead of going inward, to figure out the solution to the problem, we go outward, getting comfort in the arms of another.’ If the break-up brings clarity and helps you to identify the source of the prior problem then the relationship can be repaired, she says. ‘Usually, though, this requires considerable patience, because the path to restoring shattered trust can be a slow journey back to health. If someone has cheated on you, there needs to be clear evidence of remorse and understanding of where things went wrong and how they will take responsibility to do it differently next time.’
Here are tips for recovery:
• Surround yourself with people and experiences that bring joy to your life.
• Cry when you need to.
• Try making new friends.
• Take up a hobby.
Not many things are as hurtful as loving someone who doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, whether because they won’t or because they simply don’t possess the emotional tools to meet you where you are at. Like Shelley says, ‘Not everyone is ready and available for a committed relationship’. Successful partnerships all require thought, time and effort. If someone is not ready, then they are not ready.’
It’s best to think carefully about the person you’re eager to return to if the big problem was their inability to meet your emotional needs. ‘Don’t date an emotionally unavailable person unless you are still open to having your heart broken,’ Shelley says ‘They don’t need fixing, they need space and time to mature into wanting a relationship. Make sure it’s not on your time.’
RELEASING ‘THE ONE’
Walking away from someone you’re convinced you’re meant to be with must rank right up there with climbing Everest in terms of difficulty. One of the reasons most people struggle with getting over an ex is the notion that that person and that person alone can make them happy.
However, Shelley says: ‘There is no such thing, as one person for everyone’. If you’re suddenly no longer welcome in someone’s life, mourn and grieve your loss and move on. If the relationship ended because of something you did wrong and they don’t want you back, add a strong dose of self-forgiveness in there too. I encourage clients to go where they are celebrated, not where they are tolerated.’ This can be a good mantra for deciding to move forward – with or without your ex.
Also, remember that being alone does not mean being lonely. ‘You can feel far lonelier in a bad or unhealthy relationship than you ever can as an individual with a great circle of friends,’ says Shelley.