Starting a new relationship can feel like diving headfirst into a body of water and trusting that you’ll remember how to swim. But re-starting an old relationship can have a stranger sensation: upon going under, you’ll realize that you’ve paddled through this puddle before. The stages of getting back together with an ex can simultaneously feel comforting and terrifying — the familiarity of nostalgia, mixed with the memory of when tides were rough.
I've always had difficulty letting people go, from
toxic friends to unhealthy partners. In college, I’d give out second chances like information pamphlets. I was so determined to forge a deep connection that I was willing to overlook countless red flags, all in the hopes of finding my “happily ever after.” Driven by optimism, I’d impulsively get back together with my exes, wiping the slate as clean as my hard drive. But over time, I've come to learn that relationships are nothing like computers: you can’t compartmentalize your baggage by dragging it all into an unmarked folder and forgetting that it exists. Somehow, your old files (and flames) will always come back to haunt you.
To avoid being bombarded by old sentiments, I began feeling out my experience each time I got back together with an ex. These phases allowed me to address any concerns, doubts, or insecurities I was struggling with — because when your life is in flux, it’s
perfectly normal not to feel OK. Remember to acknowledge your emotions instead of bottling them up beneath the surface, and above all else, to always prioritize your mental health and happiness.
Acknowledging these stages can also help to manage expectations, which
Kristie Overstreet — a clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, and host of the podcast Fix Yourself First — says is the key to a smooth transition when getting back together with an ex. “We all have expectations, and a lot of times we end up feeling disappointed and frustrated, not realizing that we had an unrealistic expectation,” she tells Elite Daily.
It’s easy to imagine that once you’re back together, everything will be perfect. But the inevitable whirlwind of emotions doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice — it just means you’re going through the confusing stages that arise when getting back together with an ex.
When you decide to get back together with an ex, you'll likely have trouble silencing that little voice in your head — the one that won't stop questioning if you're making a big mistake. Overstreet assures that to an extent, this inner voice is just there to check in on us. But when it gets out of control is when it’s time to engage that voice in a conversation.
“What can happen, especially people more
prone to anxiety, is that it can get really loud and we can go into a dark spiral,” Overstreet cautions. When stuck in an overthinking spiral, she suggests writing your thoughts down to nudge your brain back in the present.
The truth is: There's no golden standard when it comes to relationships, and therefore, no outcome can ever be 100% predictable. So as hard as it may feel at the time, try to distinguish between your self-doubt and your
gut feeling. Follow your intuition, not your indecision. 02
The Never-Ending "What If's?"
Ah, those two pesky little words. Once you've made peace with your decision to get back together with your ex, you might experience a wave of comfort that comes from resolution. But despite that solace, you can still be confronted by the nagging notion of, "
What if?," which comes not from a place of doubt, but anticipation. What if we can't get back to where we were? What if we're two different people now? What if we should have never broken up in the first place?
In the past, it has always helped me to address my reunion jitters directly with my partner. A relationship can always benefit from
honest communication, and odds are, your significant other is already feeling the same way. You don't have to go through this confusing period alone! If you feel comfortable opening up to your partner, consider starting a dialogue. And if you're hesitant to bring up your concerns, ask yourself why that is — it might be an indication of a larger issue in your relationship.
If you do want to start this dialogue with your partner but are worried about creating an argument, Overstreet suggests explaining that this is simply something you are struggling with and hoping to work through together. “Use ‘I’ statements and take accountability for your own thoughts and feelings about the situation,” she advises, “rather than pointing the finger at the other person.”
Once you've addressed any feelings of anxiety around getting back together with your partner, you might feel as if things are beginning to fall back into place. But if you still experience any discomfort around both emotional and/or physical intimacy, and prefer to
take things slower than they once were, don't worry: Breakups can be incredibly painful, and you might be afraid of feeling that hurt again.
“Our defense mechanisms serve to protect us,” Overstreet explains. “If people were hurt last time in any kind of way, you’re probably going to walk in not being super vulnerable.”
Putting up a guarded wall is often our instinctive response to getting our heart broken. If it takes time to break down that barrier, then by all means, don't rush the process — you're only human, and trust issues are to be expected. “As trust is built, vulnerability follows,” Overstreet says, “and that wall will dissolve over time.”
As you're taking your time, growing comfortable with each other again, you might find that things are
eerily familiar: It's hard to treat a first date as such, when you know exactly what the person on the other side of the table is going to order.
While our pop queen
Olivia Rodrigo wasn’t available for comment, therapist and relationship expert Nicole Richardson previously told Elite Daily that “ getting back with an ex can feel like putting on an old favorite pair of jeans.” They’re comfortable and familiar, but there’s also so many experiences already associated with them (cue the flashbacks to nights out the moment you put on that classic black pair). Nostalgia can be tricky: While it can be a helpful tool when reconnecting, it also can distract you from the present moment. Instead of getting caught up in what once was, consider sharing new experiences: Take a class together, or travel to a neighborhood you've never visited. Make a new memory to avoid reliving the past.
Once you've both settled into a routine, your relationship may appear to sail more smoothly — but not necessarily seamlessly. Schedules and organization can be a good thing, as they can provide a welcomed distraction that keeps you from nitpicking at the little things. But you might notice that things still feel a little weird, perhaps because you're both afraid to mess things up. This can manifest itself in the form of acting too politely towards one another, being submissive in conversation, or acting overly apologetic. Remember,
arguing is a completely healthy aspect of being in a relationship. It is much more productive to address your emotions head on, rather than living in fear of stirring the pot.
In brand new relationships, there may be an inclination to tip-toe around your partner. But Richardson explained that when getting back together with an ex,
you're both bringing baggage from your joint past that can’t be swept under the rug.
“Keep in mind that
it is not a clean slate. You are both coming in with an idea of how this could [or] should go and some [hurt],” Richardson previously said. “It is important to try and address resentments head on right away and not ignore them in the initial, ‘OMG I’m so happy this is working’ phase.”
When I first started dating my current partner, I was so worried that every little argument meant our relationship was imperfect, and therefore, doomed to fail. But I've since learned that compassion and compromise are the true cornerstones of a strong connection — not accordance and undisturbed bliss.
Accepting The New Normal
When you finally stop living in fear of creating cracks in your foundation, you can stop imposing expectations on how and where your relationship
should be, and start enjoying and experiencing where it is!
A “new normal” is simply your relationship’s way of becoming sustainable and creating room to grow. “It can’t take on the same form as before, because there’s a reason why you split in the first place,” Overstreet explains. “There has to be this new normal.”
Sure, your partner might be someone who has been in your life for a long time, but right now, they're fulfilling a different role — and that's an exciting place to be in. Once you face the "new normal" status of your relationship, the stress of striving for something more will melt away. There's a difference between knowing what something should resemble, and truly seeing what's right in front of you; look for the latter.
Getting To Know Each Other (Again)
The most wonderful stage of getting back together and accepting your new circumstances, is the realization that follows: You might both be two very different people now. While that might sound scary at first,
becoming (re)acquainted with an old flame can completely refresh your relationship in an unexpected way. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, previously explained to Bustle that in the period of time when couples are broken up before getting back together, they have their own separate and new experiences. Whether it be starting therapy, changing careers, or dating other people, this can allow them to bring a completely new perspective to the relationship. “When time and circumstances have truly changed who you both are,” Dr. Klapow said, “you have a shot at starting, essentially, a new relationship together.”
Instead of entering each encounter assuming you know what they're thinking and how they'll behave, give your partner the benefit of the doubt, and truly have fun
getting to know them all over again. Think of this as the start of something new (sorry for the High School Musical reference), rather than the continuation of something stale.
There is no right way to ease yourself back into a relationship. Whether it takes you a couple of days, or a couple of months, don't force yourself to feel a certain way, and make sure you're often checking in with your own emotional needs. As long as you're coming from a place of honest intent, there's no harm in taking the risk and canon-balling back in. This time around, you might just enjoy where the current takes you.
Experts: Kristie Overstreet , clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, author, and host of Fix Yourself First podcast Nicole Richardson , therapist and relationship expert Joshua Klapow , Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff. Don't miss a thing
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