Should you ever get back with an ex?
This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter answers the one relationship question we’ve all asked before
Friday 24 March 2023 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Jack Richardson
Out of all of the things people ask Google about relationships, this is one of the most common. It sounds silly: why ask an online search engine such a serious question? Well, if you’re anything like me, you will ask Google plenty of serious questions (recent ones include: ‘how long is a novel?’, ‘what does shamanic healing do?’ and ‘why has my cat’s fur started sticking out?’). Make of that what you will.
‘Should I get back with my ex?’ might just be one of yours. And if it is, I don’t blame you. Because it’s a question that everyone seems to have a wildly different answer for. It’s only by taking them all in that you’ll realise what yours is.
To be clear, there are a few instances where I think the answer is almost always a non-negotiable ‘no, you should not get back together.’ These may include (but are not limited to): if the relationship featured abuse of any kind, if getting back together would mean sacrificing something important to you, and if you’re only considering it because you’re worried you won’t find anyone else.
The first one doesn’t require a huge amount of explanation – at least not from me. By the second, I mean having to upend something, like a job or a house, in order to get back with your ex. Maybe you broke up because they moved to another country, for example, and getting back together would mean having to relocate. Or maybe you broke up because they wanted children and you didn’t.
That’s not to say you can’t get back with someone in these circumstances – you can. But you need to be realistic about how much you’re willing to compromise for the sake of the relationship, otherwise resentment will build and, chances are, you’ll end up unhappy and break up again.
As for the third, this is something we can all be easily guilty of because it’s prompted by a ubiquitous fear: dying alone. It sounds dramatic – and it is – but it’s something most single people feel at some point during their dating adventures, particularly if they’re going less than swimmingly.
Whenever I speak to my single friends at the moment, there seems to be a universal feeling of total despair. And it’s one that, in some cases, has led them to run back into the arms of their exes for all the wrong reasons. Cue further despair.
With all this being said, though, sometimes getting back with an ex does work. And please note that one of the three aforementioned reasons was not ‘cheating’ – many couples get back together successfully after infidelity (read The State Of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel) – but there are some strict ground rules to cover all circumstances.
The most important one of them all? The past does not exist. At least not to the degree that you rehash it every time your partner does something that annoys you. If you’re giving things another shot, you need to be willing to move beyond old resentments and leave them behind. Consider this a totally fresh start. This also means you have to be able to forgive your ex for their past mistakes – and vice versa – because it’s only by doing this that you will give each other the opportunity for growth.
In some cases, despite your best intentions, this might not be possible. In which case, the faster you realise this and call it quits for good, the better. Remember, you broke up the first time for a reason. So, tread carefully; there’s no point staying in a relationship that’s making you miserable.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate